1016 Annunciation St., New Orleans
THREE STARS (out of four)
Chef Steve Manning led the kitchen at Clancy's for many years before opening his own place in the Warehouse District, and he brought much of that Uptown stalwart's DNA downtown with him. Fans of Clancy's will recognize the feel, the look and many of the dishes, making this newer restaurant seem familiar from the start.
This address was for many years the home of Deanie's, a downtown plate lunch joint unrelated to the Bucktown seafood restaurant of the same name. The renovation into a fine-dining restaurant was thorough and convincing, with a long, marble-topped bar, a glassed-in wine 'cellar' beside it and a dining room that looked vintage from day one. The crowd tends to be a little dressier than the neighborhood norm, with bow ties a plenty and seersucker in the hot months.
Service is generally engaging though from time to time there can be awkward gaps of time between courses. The vivacious maitre 'd can be a little over the top, posing for pictures and backslapping new visitors like old friends, but then an outgoing personality can be helpful at a new restaurant.
If you've been to Clancy's you already know a lot about the menu at Annunciation, and you're probably already acquainted with the legendary oysters appetizer. Get it here too fried oysters, over spinach, topped with melting hunks of brie. Order anything else and you'll feel that you're missing out. That said, that sweetbreads in Marsala are excellent and the green salad with lump crabmeat and Louisiana caviar is a great choice too. The crab claws were too plain the advertised lime and cilantro made little impression and the shrimp remoulade is a bit skimpy for what should be a Creole calling card. Soups are generally excellent.
You have seen many of these entrees before, even if the last sighting was a while ago in some cases. The chicken bonne femme in particular is a vintage dish that I was very happy to see and taste again here. Browned until the skin felt almost fried, it was wonderfully tender within and carried a great rustic flavor from bacon to onions to jus. Veal Oscar makes an appearance --- as thin, simple and classic as always if maybe a little underwhelming next to the robust seafood dishes. Leading these off would be any soft shell crab that might be on the specials list, with extra emphasis when topped with the plump crabmeat this kitchen seems to get by the bushel. Then there's an incredibly garlicky, oily pasta threaded with fried oysters that miraculously stay crisp. The daily fish (often drum) is reliably good (again look for the crabmeat addition on top), though the seafood risotto sounds better on paper than it proves on the plate. It's been plain and a little dry on my visits. But here's a kitchen making a bang-up version of shrimp Creole, and providing the setting where a dish like this feels at home.
Desserts are straightforward and fitting with the Creole menu. No one will be surprised to find a first rate bread pudding, and here it is with a sprig of mint and dollop of cream. The Budino, a sort of dense chocolate pudding, is rich and served attractively in a wine glass.
There is a full bar and a respectable wine list. That list does skew heavily toward pricey Cabernet Sauvignon, however, which is an unusual bias given the preponderance of seafood choices on the menu. Cocktails are first rate.
Familiar fine-dining prices are the rule here. A couple should expect to pay $100 to $120 for dinner, more if you start really mining the drinks list.
It's hard not to like Annunciation provided you know what you're in for, which is straight-up French Creole cuisine that's only marginally contemporary. This is distinctively New Orleans cuisine, a good few rungs up from the old fashioned Creole restaurants but certainly not aiming for anything to shift the conversation. Fortunately, it turns out that the bedrock of classic Creole with a few updates here and there makes for a conversation that doesn't get old.