307 Exchange Alley
New Orleans, LA 70130
Napoleon's Rating - ****/*****
The Green Goddess is quite unlike any other restaurant in New Orleans right now. It's a tiny place, tucked away in a spot that would seem more appropriate as a walk-up coffee shop. Yet the menu reads like an adventurous romp across the cuisines of the world, with dishes that pluck different flavors and exotic, often artisanal ingredients from different corners to come up with something unique. Green Goddess was opened by chefs Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues. DeBarr is in charge of dinner while Artigues oversees lunch and brunch, though there is enough crossover on their menus to give the place a consistent style.
The Green Goddess is found along one of the more beautiful stretches of the Quarter, the block-long pedestrian mall of Exchange Alley. Inside, the restaurant is packed to the gills with design details and it rings with the sounds of a busy kitchen, which is partially visible just beyond the cluttered bar. There is room for just a few tables inside, plus some perches at the cluttered bar. Outdoor tables on Exchange Alley double the seating capacity, but only in cooperative weather. It only takes a few parties arriving at once to make the place seem cramped.
Waiters here have a lot of explaining to do with this unusual menu, as we'll see below. Fortunately they usually seem just as excited about the food as the chef must have been and they do a good job explaining dishes you might be considering. The tiny space sets its own limits on service, and anyone sitting with a party of more than two will surely find themselves involved in the elaborate effort to manage various plates and glasses around crowded tables.
The menu here changes constantly, and in most cases there is no strict distinction between appetizer and entrée. A meal might start with a dish of diced tuna and matching watermelon cubes or a wedge salad loaded with enough boiled shrimp, bacon and egg to constitute a light entrée. One of the reliable head-turners is the "spooky blue corn crepes," made with a Mexican corn fungus and other mushrooms. It seems all the dishes have some twist, and some even have a story to tell. The "ravioli" aren't pasta at all but rather ultra-thin slices of golden beets filled with chevre and drizzled with flavored oils. The meatloaf is made with lean bison and bacon and served with asparagus wrapped in fine Spanish ham. Barbecue shrimp wear "grass skirts" of shredded phyllo and small, cup-shaped Thai eggplants are stuffed with mango and crabmeat. A big slab of foie gras might be seared and crusted with Japanese spices over sticky black rice, while a plate of spicy duck sausage links and mashed sweet potatoes provide a more down-to-earth option. There are many choices here for vegetarians too, like the Indian-inspired savory lentil pancake studded with seeds and green peas, and often the restaurant features all-vegetarian tasting menus with paired drinks.
The playful theme continues right along through the desserts. You might find an ice cream sundae here draped with bacon, which sounded gimmicky at first but turned out to be a surprisingly good combination of salty and sweet. A dense sweet potato biscuit in a pool of pecan chocolate sauce was deeply satisfying, and the "Norwegian-French toast" of ciabatta bread stuffed with bittersweet chocolate and caramelized goat cheese is delectable as well.
The drinks list at the Green Goddess is voluminous and just as eclectic as the food. This place puts a lot of care into its cocktails, from sourcing to preparation, and one of these original concoctions should have a part in any meal here. The wine list would be the envy of much larger restaurants, and it includes some helpful printed commentary on each selection.
Prices don't seem high here, with nothing on a recent menu over $17. But the portions and format are such that you end up ordering a few dishes and, combined with $10 cocktails, the bill inevitably rises. A couple should expect to spend $100 minimum, and more if they plan to put the place through its paces and really sample the field.
The Green Goddess may be too much for some diners, and too little for others. Certainly, the effusive menu descriptions and exotic edibles packed into each dish can seem overwhelming, while the place is physically so small that patrons must forego some of the standard comforts and finer points of the upscale dining experience. But if you approach the Green Goddess with a sense of adventure, and perhaps a sense of humor, it can deliver a unique and unforgettable meal.