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Basin Seafood & Spirits

3222 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-302-7391

THREE STARS

Basin starts off on very familiar turf for New Orleans restaurants namely, local seafood. But this restaurant has different DNA than the standard seafood house and, one you zero in on some specialties, it can really provide an offbeat and highly satisfying meal.

Get a look at some of the highlights from the menu

Ambiance

This restaurant looks more casual when you walk in than the food you'll actually be served once you start your meal. Some people will remember the address as the long time home of Rocky's Pizzeria. There is still a bar up front, and then a semi-open kitchen. This makes the dining room feel busy, and sometimes pretty loud as the kitchen commotion spills out. There are tables outside on the sidewalk, where you can watch busy Magazine Street stroll past.

Service

The service approach here is laidback in a way that matches the setting but waiters can provide informed recommendations when requested. That's especially important given the unfamiliar nature of some of the dishes, and even some of the fish types on the specials board.

Appetizers

I am a sucker for the gumbo here, which is a downhome, seafood-laden version with a chocolate-colored, medium-spicy roux and has a dollop of creamy potato salad stuck in the middle. That gumbo and a glass of beer makes a pretty good lunch all on its own. But it doesn't quite speak to the dual identity of the place. For that, you should probably order raw oysters and a bowl of ceviche, the Latin-style raw fish salad. Big chunks of Gulf fish and marinated in a tart wash of citrus and dressed with onion and avocado. Broiled oysters are butter, deviled eggs are standard but fun and nicely presented and the wedge salad has the unusual but highly recommended addition of shrimp remoulade. Pair the sauce with the salad's blue cheese crumbles from a wonderfully sour/creamy bite.

Entrees

The printed menu is fairly short, but Basin rolls out an extensive list of specials each night. Check the chalkboard over the open kitchen windows and you'll see a variety of fish available, sometimes including types that rarely make it into restaurants. The kitchen is particularly good with whole fish, and when two of us split the whole grilled redfish, heaped with a spicy, chunky pepper and garlic relish, we spent the meal reveling in all the generous, char-marked, sweetly smoky forkfuls we could dredge from it. Cebollitas (or grilled green onions) and grilled corn finished the impressive platter. The whole fried snapper was less satisfying, probably because it was overcooked and dried out. But I've enjoyed rare grilled tuna seasoned and paired with Korean kimchi, Don't let the seafood focus steer you away from meat dishes if one sounds appealing. A thick-cut pork chop that periodically appears here is definitely worth a try. At lunch, some of the dinner specials reappear though the kitchen serves more sandwiches and po-boys.

Drinks

There is a full bar with a short list of genuinely interesting specialty cocktails, a short beer selection and a wine list chosen with an eye toward seafood pairings and good values.

Cost

Despite the casual appearances, you can end up paying high-end prices. It's generally worth it when you see (and taste) the quality of the seafood they're putting out, but just don't come expecting a neighborhood joint price range. A couple should expect to spend $100 for dinner with drinks.

Overall

New Orleans is filled with seafood restaurants, but Basin is one that goes off script in some interesting and usually rewarding ways. You can play it straight with fried seafood and the (excellent) gumbo, dial in Latin flavors or get better acquainted with whole fish from the Gulf. The casual atmosphere and prime location make a great place to keep in mind for easy but interesting meals out

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