310 Chartres St., New Orleans, 504-552-4095
TWO STARS (out of four)
The word SoBou was made up for this French Quarter spot as shorthand for “south of Bourbon.” It’s a fanciful name that actually fits the less-than-reverent approach here. While familiar faces behind the Commander’s Palace operation conceived and run SoBou, this is quite a different idea, with the emphasis as much on drinks as dinner. In fact, the proprietors have dubbed this place a “Creole tavern,” and tavern is definitely a good way to think of it.
This restaurant space is inside the W hotel in the French Quarter and for many years it was the Italian restaurant Bacco. The floor plan is the same today, but the look and feel is much different. One room in front is lined with empty bottles, back-lit for a glowing effect. Another – what might be considered the main dining room – is dimly-lit and loud. The bar is the center of the action, and here there are also tables with their own beer taps, for self-serve drafts. On any given day, the crowd is a mix of cocktail nerds drawn by the drinks, hotel guests and small parties out for a roving party night.
Appetizers and Entrees
The SoBou menu doesn’t really adhere to the standard restaurant format. There are some full-sized entrees, but these seem like add-ons for the hotel guests or for those who insist on having a conventional meal in such an unconventional spot. Mostly, the menu boasts upscale, concept-heavy bar snacks. A good example are the “tuna cones,” which are tiny, finger-sized waffle cones filled with chopped raw tuna and topped with avocado ice cream. The flavor combination works, but it’s a strange dish to behold and a stranger one still to try to hold and nibble. For shrimp pinchos whole, tail-on shrimp are threaded onto skewers, coated with sticky/spicy/sweet pepper jelly and then stuck into a slice of pineapple. Sweet potato beignets are more straightforward, but the promised foie gras is barely discernable. Foie gras figures more noticeable in a burger. At a hefty $24, it’s a very small burger, topped with a slice of foie gras and served with a gulp-sized “foie gras root beer float.” For more substantial fare, try the excellent gumbo, the satisfying oyster taco and basic side orders like boudin balls and fries with pimento cheese dip.
The “chocolate coma bar” is basically a dark chocolate torte with candied pecans and salted caramel and the white chocolate bread pudding with cherries jubilee is an interesting combination of two classics.
The craft cocktails have pedigrees and are a strong point and maybe even the essential reason for any visit here. The tavern tables equipped with their own beer taps don’t actually dispense the best beers (those are at the bar). The wine dispensers can be fun if you want to sample a few different bottles, especially with wines that would be very expensive if ordered by the bottle.
While most menu items are not very expensive, you need to combine several of them to have a meal here. Add some pricey drinks (especially wine) and you can easily spend as much here as you would for a full meal at a more conventional upscale restaurant.
This is a very casual, sometimes freewheeling spot, as much about drinks as food and certainly better suited for snacks, pre-gaming or after hours than as the destination for a full-fledged meal. In another neighborhood, it might not make much sense, but as it happens it does help fill a dining and social niche in the Quarter and makes a nice stop on a night on the town.