3442 St. Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
Dining at the bar no longer necessarily means wolfing down a burger or a basket of wings. More and more bars and lounges around New Orleans are serving original, quality, downright upscale cuisine along with their pints, cocktails and wines by the glass. The Delachaise was one of the forerunners of this ilk, and it's still among the best.
This striking building is long, narrow and looks quite elegant. Inside, the long bar is the main feature, while small two-top tables line the wall and more are clustered in the big, curving, window-lined bow of the room. The Delachaise has created a small patio outside with umbrella tables and potted plants under the shade of an oak, and when the weather is right this can be a perfect spot to site as the streetcars rattle by. Things are calm enough early on here, though as the hour ticks on it starts to feel more and more like a bar. On weekend nights the place gets slammed.
While the food often reaches and sometimes exceeds the quality and creativity you'd expect at a full-fledged restaurant, the Delachaise is set up for bar service. Ordering means wedging yourself between other patrons lining the bar and preening for the bartender's attention as they fill drink orders. It's not a great situation if you have questions about certain dishes. The simple way to avoid any of these problems is to arrive early, before the bar crowd fully materializes. In any case, a cook delivers your meal straight from the kitchen, and then races back to the kitchen to tend other orders. They aren't waiters, so if you want something else or another drink you need to start smiling at the bartenders again.
When all you want is good food without a dining room experience, this service format won't be a problem. And even if you're after a regular meal, the food at the Delachaise is good enough to overlook the hassles. That's been the case here since chef Chris DeBarr (now of the Green Goddess) put the food here on the map, and that's still the case now that his successor R.J. Tsarov is running the kitchen. Many people simply assemble a meal of appetizers and snacks, which are good for sharing around a table or while crowding together at the bar.
Start with the fries - practically everyone does, and once you see an order headed to another table you'll want your own. These are cut in-house, cooked in goose fat and served in large paper cones with aioli and a spicy satay sauce on the side. Cheese plates are always well composed, if a bit meager for the price. The pate, made in-house and changing constantly, is always a good bet, as are the silver dollar-sized corncakes topped with smoked salmon and caviar. I'm a big fan of the fried frog legs, which are very tender and coated in a deliciously spicy remoulade, as well as the flank steak bruschetta, topped with shaved manchego and slathered with garlic sauce.
Pacing your courses is difficult here, since a table full of orders tends to all come out at once. But if you do want to structure a conventional meal at the Delachaise the entrees can be quite rewarding. Check the chalkboard - or web site - for specials, which typically boast creative interpretations of international flavors. One recent example was a Jamaican jerk pork chop with red beans and rice - only the beans were curried and the rice was basmati. There's always a different pasta too, and the manchego gnocchi with pork ragu, a frequent special, makes a hearty dinner on its own. Some of the more reliable entrée standards include a Moroccan-style chicken tajine roasted with apricots and almonds; an Asian version of shrimp Clemenceau, prepared in a Thai curry sauce; a Cuban pork dish that's first stewed and then fried; and the bistro classic steak frites.
Crème brulée is the dessert specialty here, and it changes frequently. Sometimes it's a deep, rich well of chocolate, while on another night it could be the bourbon vanilla mix.
The Delachaise does it all in the drinks department, but a particular specialty is wine. The by-the-glass list is long, and there are always a few reasonably priced options beside the heavy hitters. The draft beer selection is good and the collection of liquors, especially bourbons, verges on cult status.
The Delachaise is certainly not cheap. Few menu items top $20, but once you order a couple of $10 small plates and the drinks start going around the tab can add up. Two people should expect to spend $60 to $70 on dinner and a few drinks. For the bargain-hunters, get a $6 cone of fries and a $5 wine special and you'll be sitting pretty.
The Delachaise is there when you want interesting, unpredictable food but don't want to make reservations or commit to the full fine-dining experience. It's an excellent spot for an early meal or a well-fed happy hour, and it can be a salvation late at night when you need to eat but don't want typical bar food. Learn to navigate the peculiarities of its service format and pick the sort of crowd density you can handle, and this place will likely join your short list for impromptu feasts.