8115 Jeannette St
New Orleans, LA 70118
Napoleon's Rating - ****/*****
People who have stumbled out of Tipitina's music club early in the morning to line up on the sidewalk for grit fries, cochon de lait po-boys and boudin balls with homemade aioli were already familiar with the unique cooking style of chef Nathaniel Zimet. He made a name for himself and built a following serving his Southern-based but eclectic food on the street from his big, purple-painted catering truck, known as the Que Crawl.
From this start outside Tipitina's, he expanded to his first restaurant, Boucherie, which opened late in 2008 in the Carrollton area. This has given the young chef room to stretch his legs and exercise a creative style that marries tradition with more interesting ingredients. The result sees Asian and New Orleans styles, or Southern barbecue and French bistro conventions all commingling on the same menu and sometimes on the same plate. Some of the greatest hits from the Que Crawl days are served here alongside much more ambitious and refined dishes. Boucherie is a fun, exciting place, and it is one of the best casual fine-dining values in the area.
Boucherie is housed in an old cottage that many locals might know from its turns as earlier restaurants. Most recently it was the original location of Iris, which moved to a much larger space in the French Quarter late in 2008. It is an attractive and cozy place, though when it's crowded the restaurant can feel quite cramped and gets very loud. Lunch is more relaxed. There are also a number of small tables on the porch outside and a few perches at the tiny bar.
Though generally friendly and engaging, the service here has a tendency to bog down when the restaurant is busy, which seems to be most weekend dinner shifts these days. There can be awkwardly-long gaps between courses, for instance, and if you arrive for a reservation to find your table is not yet available there really is no comfortable place to wait.
If one dish can introduce Zimet's style at Boucherie, it's probably the steamed mussels. This is such a familiar and popular dish at many local restaurants, but here it's cooked in a much different fashion. The broth is laden with porky collard greens, making it more like deep potlikker, while a few crisp, fried grit crackers balance atop the mussel shells, waiting to be dipped into the bowl. Another popular starter, boudin balls, have a thin, crunchy shell, heavily seasoned with barbecue salts, while the sausage and rice mix inside is smooth and mild. Hearts of romaine lettuce are grilled for a singular Caesar salad and a grit cake is the foundation for a rustic sculpture of blackened shrimp lacquered with a thick vinaigrette and chewy nubs of bacon, like a riff on the classic shrimp and grits.
One of the early complaints some people voiced about Boucherie concerned the size of entrees. You still will not need to box up many leftovers after a meal here, but I've found the portions have become more satisfying and correct, especially in light of the very low prices.
Pork is the darling of the Boucherie menu. The ribs are meaty, lean and dense, while another dish uses strands of pulled pork to make a cake, which is seared on all sides and topped with purple cabbage slaw. For a straight-up meat and potatoes dish, Zimet does a hearty, filling briskest with a pile of crisp fries covered in parmesan and garlic butter. The meat is smoky and moist and wetted down further with a thin, vinegary barbecue sauce.
Zimet's seafood dishes are increasingly my favorites here. His smoked scallops are brilliant. The rare scallop flesh exudes smoky flavor, while they also wear thick, seared crowns and are doused with a vivid, lemony brown butter over nutty jasmine rice. There's always a vegetarian option, which most recently was pumpkin and cabbage done in the Chinese moo shu style with pumpkin seed oil pancakes.
Many of the entrees repeat on the lunch menu, which also adds a few po-boys. Of course, these are also unique. The duck confit po-boy, for instance, with its dressing of cinnamon pickled carrots and candied pecans, is not your average sandwich, but it works and is actually more subtle than it sounds. The duck is buttery and crisp at its points, tender elsewhere, and very salty, yet the sweetness of the very finely-crushed pecans and the tartness of the thin ribbons of carrot add refreshing contrast.
The dessert list at Boucherie is short but each item is distinctive in its own way. The most unusual must be the Thai chili chess pie, which outwardly seems a familiar slice of chocolate pie with rustic, house-made crust. Take a bite, though, and a bit of sweet, peppery heat rises up through the dense chocolate. The brownie with ice cream similarly seems straightforward enough, but embedded in its chewy chocolate body are tiny, salty, smoky bits of bacon. Even the bread pudding is different, made with Krispy Kreme donuts, though I found this far too sugary.
Boucherie's tiny bar issues some interesting cocktails, like a mellow-sweet carrot juice margarita and the "Smoky Lady," an odd and very potent mixture of fig-flavored vodka, tequila and scotch. Local beers, including NOLA Brewing products, are served on tap. Nothing on the wine list is priced over $40, with most bottles between $26 and $36.
Boucherie is almost stunningly inexpensive. No dish on the current menu exceeds $15 and, along with the friendly pricing on the wine list, two people can have a great meal for about $70. Some places start off very affordable and then ramp their prices up as they catch on and gain a following. Boucherie has certainly caught on, though in the past year at least it has held steady with its attractive pricing.
Boucherie feels young and vivacious. While the cooking can be adventurous and different, it is also rooted firmly in Southern flavors. Being in a small space and having drawn an avid crowd, dining here sometimes means going with the flow and accepting a few hiccups along the way. But the energy and creativity is palpable and exciting, and the fact that dining here costs significantly less than at its peers doesn't hurt one bit.