2700 Metairie Rd.
Metairie, LA 70001
Napoleon's Ratings: ***/*****
Restaurateur Ralph Brennan has grown his business by opening different concepts to suit different needs, and his latest, Café B, is all about filling the niche for an upscale but relaxed neighborhood restaurant. Tucked into the Old Metairie area, this is a place for a burger or a plate of Gulf fish with a glass of wine on a weeknight, or a destination for a low-key birthday dinner or similar family outing that calls for a setting and service just a notch above the neighborhood joint level.
This building has seen a slew of restaurants through the years, but even if you’re familiar with some of those earlier examples you might not recognize the place inside these days. Café B was the result of an extensive and savvy renovation that significantly opened up the space, putting a large, attractive bar front and center and splitting the room wing-like into two distinct dining areas. The colors are mellow, the décor is contemporary but not too wild and the windows let in lots of light.
Brennan restaurants seem to share a service playbook, and it’s been put to work at Café B with neat uniforms, personality, good menu knowledge and that eagerness to sell you on dessert, another cocktail or whatever other extra might hook you. The team here is good at adjusting service to your needs, so if you’re coming for a quick lunch they can get you out fast and if you’re hanging with a family party they let things develop at your pace.
The menu here is all about familiar New Orleans dishes, done with enough style that they stand out without veering too far from the bedrock flavor. For instance, the fried eggplant sticks follow the same idea that you’ve had elsewhere but with a different, and better, result. These were so velvety as to be almost liquid inside the crust, like a sauce. Crawfish beignets are fried dark brown and get a spicy dipping sauce while Abita beer goes into the BBQ shrimp and grilled ciabatta is served for sopping up the sauce. However, an oyster artichoke soup, another neighborhood restaurant standard, went awry, with a pallid green body, too much pepper and a faint funkiness.
The chef at Café B is Chris Montero, who was for years the chef at Ralph Brennan’s Bacco before that popular French Quarter restaurant closed. Café B doesn’t have too much in common with Bacco, but one of the former restaurant’s star dishes does turn up here: the shrimp and lobster ravioli, dappled with Louisiana’s native choupique caviar and draped with a surprisingly light Champagne beurre blanc.
It’s excellent, but also not very representative of the rest of the menu, which is more about big, bold flavors and restyled Louisiana comfort food. The hanger steak and the burger, both now standards of the casual bistro genre, turn up here and both are very good. Still, the kitchen tends to do its best work with seafood. In particular, the Gulf fish coated with balsamic vinegar and olive oil is my favorite dish here, with balanced, assertive flavors and a charred meatiness abetted by wild mushrooms and Vidalia onions. In an interesting recent twist, the menu’s chicken potpie has been update – and in my opinion upgraded – to become a crawfish potpie, loaded with tails and capped with a flaky pastry crust.
Fresh seasonal fruit makes its way into the dessert list – such as the recent Ponchatoula strawberry purée for a vanilla bean pot de crème. But my favorite is still the bittersweet chocolate mousse with its brown butter pecans and garnish of chocolate brittle.
The bar is a focal point of this redesigned restaurant, and there’s no missing that on the menu or with the service. Waiters assume you’ll want to try a signature cocktail or wine, even at lunch. The list is good, though short on bargains unless you come at lunch when $5 specials are offered.
While it isn’t fancy, Café B is more ambitious than the normal neighborhood restaurant, and it’s also more expensive. About half the entrees are below $20, but the star seafood items go up from there. Appetizers are between $7 and $14. With drinks, a couple should expect to spend $100 on dinner here. If you can dine before 6:15 p.m., there’s a very good early-bird special with three courses for $18.50. There’s also a two-course deal for under $20 at lunch, when most of the prices come down a good bit across the board.
This is an attractive, professionally-run and solidly conceived restaurant for that upscale neighborhood niche. It’s not luxurious, romantic or risk-taking, but that’s not its aim. Café B and its team showcase local flavors and local tradition with sensible updates and package it all in a setting that fits the bill for many types of meals and occasions. It’s the Creole-powered neighborhood restaurant, updated for the era.