Dominique’s on Magazine
4729 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - ****/*****
Chef Dominique Maquet made a name for himself at his eponymous restaurant at the Maison Dupuy Hotel, but when that French Quarter restaurant closed a few years ago he dropped out of circulation for a while. He came blazing back in the fall of 2010, however, with a new Uptown restaurant. This Dominique's on Magazine is quite different from his earlier, hotel-based venture, though the chef's fans will recognize his precise and artful touch.
This restaurant is another example of how well old New Orleans buildings can be adapted for new uses, and new lives. In this case, it's a double shotgun that still looks like a house from the street but which opens up to a single, large dining room. Old brick chimneys, now revealed, stand like columns. Drapes dress up the floor-to-ceiling windows and the décor is a mix of clean lines, bare wood and contemporary art. It's romantic, it's definitely upscale, but the overall feel is more relaxed than a special event restaurant. The beautiful bar makes a good spot for a pre-dinner drink or for solo diners, and there are a few outdoor tables to consider when we're visited by pleasant weather.
The service staff exudes confidence, even if they do sometimes cruise right past empty glasses and finished plates on busy nights. They generally have good suggestions for the menu and the wine list, but a little more attention to individual tables would go a long way.
First courses at Dominique's seem to leap off the menu, even when they're pretty straightforward. The proposition of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese as an appetizer at a fine restaurant isn't your everyday order, after all. In this case the chicken is fried in duck fat and the macaroni is molded into a patty and fried as well. Hunks of pork belly are pinned to cubes of watermelon by skewers and topped with sprigs of fresh mint. Grilled sweetbreads are slathered with a zesty chimichurri and even the steak tartare is laced with an Asian touch of tamari and ginger. These are all interesting, creatively done dishes, though they tend to be very small portions.
After the exuberance of the appetizers, the entrees settle in to a somewhat more familiar terrain of French technique, Italian influences and a mix of local seafood and high-end, pedigreed meat. The duck is seared, sliced and topped with fried duck "cracklin's." The drum fish is crusted with a mix of citrus and Scotch bonnet peppers, with a corn and mirliton risotto on the side. Grilled pumpkin and a pork fricassee provide the foundation for a large grilled pork chop. Most of this comes off as good as it sounds, thanks to top-notch ingredients and a creative approach to preparing and presenting them. I wasn't fond of the scallops with fettuccine, which was monochromatic and equally short on assertive flavor, but I can still taste the roasted, lamb leg, rolled around soft leeks and intensely flavored dried tomatoes rekindled in oil.
As much attention goes into the desserts as any other work from this talented kitchen, and you really should not pass them up. Lately, they've been abetted by a bouquet of cotton candy brought to the table as a complimentary flourish. This might seem a bit out of place in a place such as this, but presented in all seriousness it seems to work. The cheese plates feature great selections, and they beg for a dessert wine or cordial, or maybe even another cocktail.
There's no missing the cocktails here. This is one of those restaurants that calls its drinks list a "cocktail program," and the servers make sure you know about them. They are certainly unique, expertly-crafted examples that complement rather than obscure the food. The wine list is quite diverse, with an excellent variety across regions and price ranges. Half bottles are a good option.
Prices here are in line with expectations for fine dining, with most entrees in the mid-$20 range and most appetizers around $8 or $9. Add cocktails, wine and a dessert and your bill can easily top $130 for two.
Those who remember what the first Dominique's was all about will likely be relieved to find the same chef's style in a more accessible but still very fine setting. For those trying Dominique Maquet's cooking for the first time, this promising new Uptown restaurant should feel like a delightful discovery. The fresh, creative approach, the original compositions, the finely-done extras from the bar to the cheese service and the easy elegance of the restaurant itself make this place an alluring upscale option.