601 Loyola Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Napoleon's Rating: ****/*****
Oysters will be the obvious starter here as we get into their prime season, though anytime of year Borgne's broiled versions with garlic butter are a good first choice. There are crab croquettes and shrimp fritters with an Asian-style hot sauce dressing and stuffed artichokes for a pass-around appetizer. One of the more unusual items is a big plank of creamy Canary Island goat cheese, griddled until warm and just melting and belted with mojo verde sauce and topped with hazelnuts. It's great smeared on Melba toasts. If this seafood restaurant doesn't seem like the type of place to get meat pies, just try the pork empanadas and you'll think otherwise. Bubbly, flaky fried crusts enclose garlicky strands of smoked pork and if you're not careful you'll eat a whole basket of them. The shrimp remoulade is composed a bit differently, stacked like a sculpture, but the classic sauce is unmistakable. The gumbo and crab bisque are both dead-on, though for something different try the caldo soup loaded with pork and greens.
The main dishes start with eminently fresh, intimately familiar Gulf seafood, and though the preparations seem familiar too they often arrive with interesting updates and smart twists. "Fish in a bag" is Landry's take on the classic fish en papillote, cooked in parchment along with caramelized fennel, onions and crab butter. All of this infuses large pieces of sheepshead with full and aromatic flavor. We're used to grilled drum, but here Landry does it "a la plancha," or griddled with oil and garlic and finished with brown butter, pecans and crabmeat. Garnished with herbs, it's as pretty as it is delicious. The whole, head-on flounder, stuffed with crabmeat and oozing Meyer lemon butter, is a feast on a platter and the seafood pasta options are good too. Amid all of this, the meat dishes seem included just for the non-seafood eater tagging along with a group, but they are still worth a look. The twice-cooked garlic chicken holds its own, especially with a side of paella-like arroz a la pancha. The lunch specials, served daily, are particularly good and are excellent values at $10. Wednesday's rabbit sausage with pasta and broccoli rabe and Friday's shrimp and lima bean stew are highly recommended.
Desserts are straightforward and not a particular specialty of Borgne. But fruit cobbler, a brownie sundae and an Abita root beer float are all there if you're up for an indulgence. Hummingbird cake with pecans, pineapple and Creole cream cheese makes a charmingly homespun finish.
There is a full bar with a decent, if pricey, wine selection. In particular, the Spanish white wines make interesting pairings with the full-flavored Creole seafood. Beer works too, and Borgne makes a specialty of craft beers. Order one in a can and it usually comes wrapped in its own Borgne-branded koozie.
Borgne is pricey, maybe more so than the casual setting would initially suggest. The best entrees get up into the high-$20 range, approaching $30. Add apps and a few drinks and a couple can easily spend $120 all told for dinner. By contrast, the $10 lunch specials would be a good deal anywhere.
This is not the coziest New Orleans restaurant, and some locals might feel momentarily like they're conventioneers just by hanging out in its sleek, modern dining room and bar. But the tastes of home show up in a big and convincing way once the food starts arriving. Borgne fills an interesting niche for creative, expressively-local seafood done with style but served in an easy-going setting, even though you are paying on the higher side of the spectrum.