127 N. Carrollton Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
Napoleon's Rating - ****/*****
Rue 127 calls itself a new American bistro, though New Orleans people may first peg it as that happy rarity in the restaurant scene: an upscale neighborhood restaurant that really does feel accessible for any-time fine dining. The food is creative and often luxuriant, but overall a dinner here feels more like a reasonable indulgence than something to save for special events.
The setting must contribute to this easy vibe. Rue 127 opened in the fall of 2010 in a tiny shotgun house along the tight restaurant row of Mid-City. It had previously been Arabesque, and not too much has changed with the arrangement of the place since then. There is a small bar up front that makes a convivial spot for a quick dinner, and there is some outdoor seating in the front and along the side, which makes it look like a house party has spilled out onto the sidewalk a bit. The dining room has a warm, cozy feel, though it's also quite small. It doesn't take many people to fill the restaurant and there isn't a quiet spot in the place. Reservations are important even on what you might assume would be a slow weeknight.
Being such a small restaurant, Rue 127 has a small staff as well. They handle meal service well enough though when the room is crowded and busy you may not get as much attention as you'd like.
The menu starts off with dishes that sound familiar enough, but it's a credit to chef/owner Ray Gruezke that they don't seem ordinary at all once they arrive. There are steamed mussels, just as at any number of other restaurants, but these have a distinctive broth with a heavy garlic component and a dusting of parmesan over the top. They come with a cone of thick, crisp fries with more garlic and cheese, and this all makes a great appetizer to split around the table. A bit of duck confit goes into the gumbo, along with a scoop of horseradish-spiked potato salad. Two types of mushrooms are sliced into the extravagantly rich, perfectly textured risotto, which really should be bumped up in size and served as an entrée.
The same style extends to the entrees. Again, few of the choices scream for attention, yet they often make stunning dishes. Drum is one of the most common types of fish to find on local bistro menus now, but here it's served in a citrus broth with mild pablano peppers, grapefruit, mussels and disks of bacon. The thick, beautifully crusted, double-cut pork chop in doused in a roasted red pepper jus and liberally heaped with fried shallots and micro greens. Lemon butter and Dijon mustard light up the salmon, which has a crisp, panko breadcrumb crust and a texture just this side of sushi. The steaks are rather straightforward, as they should be, though the roasted chicken left me flat. Mine wasn't particularly crisp and I had to soak bites in the accompanying jus to moisten the meat back to life. Brunch is appealing here. A crab cake was pretty much all crab with some herbs holding it all together, a nice seared edge and poached eggs over the top. Sweet potato hash gets an unexpected Southwestern twist with chipotle, cilantro and a green chili hollandaise.
Rue 127 has a dedicated pastry chef, and the attention really shows. The desserts as beautiful as they are delicious, so by all means save room for this course. I particularly like the cheesecake, served as a bar with an almond brittle crust and a salted caramel. The fried cupcakes get a lot of notice because, of course, they're fried cupcakes. Hot frosting oozes out when you bite into the crisp surface, making the sweet dipping sauces on the side superfluous.
The wine list is short but sensibly chosen and reasonable. The by-the-glass pours tend to be refreshingly generous. There is an unusually deep selection of tea presented with the dessert menu.
Prices at Rue 127 are just a shade lower than the local fine-dining standard, but this seems to make a difference. Appetizers range from $7 to $12, entrees from $16 for the chicken to $28 for the rib eye. Two people should plan to spend about $120 here for dinner, though you can probably get by at $100 if you're careful. At lunch, sandwiches and entrée salads are in the low teens.
The cozy cottage feel and the creative, skillfully-prepared cuisine and make Rue 127 a promising new addition to the restaurant scene. Its fine dining ambitions are clear, high-aiming and usually achieved, while the overall winning, neighborhood ambiance makes it a natural choice for an easygoing night out.