The best meal we had during our January trip to New Orleans was John Besh’s fish and seafood restaurant, Borgne. As we planned our trip, our first visit since Hurricane Katrina, I had my heart set on trying at least one of John Besh’s restaurants. My wife and I looked at his different menus and finally decided on Borgne.
The restaurant is located in the Central Business District (CBD in NOLA parlance), in the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the Superdome. It was an easy five-block walk from our hotel in the French Quarter (also a Hyatt). On the way over, we managed to make a stop for cocktails at the Fountain Lounge in the Roosevelt Hotel where we listened to a duo performing jazz standards.
When we arrived at Borgne, we experienced our only disappointment about the restaurant. We felt the cafeteria-style ambiance did not set a mood conducive to the delicious food that we experienced. I mean, take a look at the video screens above the bar. Doesn’t it almost look like a bowling alley? And really? Molded plastic chairs?
Well, I don’t want to belabor the point, because the rest of the experience as great. We started by splitting an order of grilled octopus. It was difficult deciding which starter to pick. Several sounded good, including duck poppers or ceviche. I don’t even know if octopus is a local, Gulf catch. But we love it, and the appetizer we split was wonderful. It was gently grilled so that it was still tender, and it was served on a bed of hummus with a garlic and caper confit.
Both of our entrées were local fish. My wife’s dish was called ‘Gulf Fish Pan Rallado.’ I thought ‘rallado’ was the kind of fish. But our server explained that it was the style of preparing the fish, and that the fish was a local one called sheepshead. It was served with braised sunchokes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower with a Creole mustard sauce. Excellent!
I ordered ‘fish in a bag’ and it reminded me how good (and easy) it is to prepare fish ‘en papillote.’ I’ve made it a few times, but not nearly often enough. At Borgne, the server brought my meal still sealed in the brown ‘lunch bag’ that it was cooked in; he then snipped open the bag. A cloud of aromatic steam swirled up, revealing the contents of the bag. The fish was covered and surrounded by spinach, fennel, tomatoes, and caramelized onions. I enjoyed every bite, and I have resolved to cook fish in a bag at home … soon.
Like I said at the beginning, this was the best food we had during our whole 5-day stay. My only hesitation is the ambiance. Honestly, if you’re looking for great local fish and seafood, Borgne has it. But if it’s a special occasion, the casual décor may not suit the mood of the occasion, and if that’s the case, maybe one of Besh’s other restaurants would be better.
Here is a photo of the octopus appetizer we ordered. =>
After dinner, we wandered back to Bourbon Street and ended up at a dive bar where we had a beer and listened to some of the best blues music we’ve ever enjoyed.
Yeah New Orleans!