Ste. Marie Brasserie
930 Poydras St., New Orleans
FOUR STARS (out of four)
Ste. Marie has been around for a few years now, but the CBD restaurant seemed to suffer from an identity crisis. That began to change earlier in 2013, and a new chef, new management and new approach have made a big difference.
One thing this restaurant has always had is a gorgeous space. It’s in the ground floor of a very new CBD high rise and sports an open, contemporary look, like a loft or industrial space given a dose of modern style. The bar is a good perch for solo diners, while the room reconfigures well for groups. An artful mural of an old neighborhood map carries across half the space, and floor-to-ceiling windows give views of the CBD street scene outside.
The staff do a good job responding and adapting to the changeable crowd here, which is especially contingent on what events or shows are happening nearby. It’s a good pick for pre-theater or concert meals thanks to a few extra steps they take to manage the pace people look for in those meals.
Chef Kristin Essig joined the Ste. Marie crew this year, bringing with her a reputation for a fresh approach to Louisiana flavors. Here, she melds that with a modern interpretation of French bistro classics. The beef tartare is a great example. The chopped, raw beef arrived in a sculpted column, set to the plate with a smoky bacon aioli and subtly enhanced with chipotle. The BBQ jerk shrimp is another standout that unites Louisiana and island traditions, with big, beautiful shrimp dressed with a thick, tangy, spicy sauce and mango chow chow over coconut rice. The fried oyster salad is very good, with watercress and shredded green apple adding a new fresh crunch, while the “cellophane noodle salad” is an Asian-inspired number with soft noodles, crushed peanuts and skewers of grilled steak. One of the more attractive dishes is a creative riff on the stuffed artichoke, this time filled with crabmeat and quinoa and strung with braised leeks.
Essig’s style continues across the second course in more substantial ways. The pork chop, for instance, is glazed with hot pepper jelly. The “chicken fried chicken” looks a little redundant on the menu, but on the plate it makes a lot more sense. It’s a thin cutlet of chicken, fried to a crackling crisp edge in a well-seasoned batter (like a good chicken fried steak), touched with the tang of hot pepper jelly and draped with a flavorful tomato gravy. Mussels are equally good as an entrée or as a shared appetizer. Far from the steamed standard, these are cooked in with shrimp, carrot and miso for a savory, spicy, salty broth you’ll want to mop up with the grilled ciabatta balanced on top. There’s a burger and hanger steak for those feeling less adventurous, or simply in the mood for straightforward beef.
Ste. Marie has a beautiful bar that does more than look good. The cocktails are original but also make sense (not something that’s always guaranteed as bars pursue novelty). The wine list is not long, but it has good variety and a few decent bargains in there.
Ste. Marie fits in the moderate-to-upscale territory, with most appetizers around $12 but most entrees closer to $20, and quite a few dishes under $20. Add drinks and a couple should expect to spend at least $100 on dinner. The shorter but similar lunch menu is a notch less expensive.
The look is the same, but Ste. Marie now feels like a whole different restaurant. It’s exciting to watch the place reaching its fuller potential and this feels timely as the neighborhood around it continues its own revival.