On a visit last month to New Orleans’ Root restaurant, I discovered a garden-fresh oasis of seasonal, chef-crafted fare in a sea of Cajun and Creole excess (not that we dislike those excesses). Executive chef Phillip L. Lopez’s creations fondly reminded me of the earthy uniqueness that comes out of Chef Matt McCallister’s kitchen at FT33: inspired, crafty, playful fare that uses the best of local purveyors and what’s in season … and is plated fancifully.
Inside the Warehouse District eatery, I was delighted by the open airiness and bright green touches in the décor – definitely reminded me of a garden!
As did the amuse bouche sent out by the kitchen – get a load of the ingredient count here: carrot coriander linguini with beans and heirloom carrots, ginger-rye crumbs and fig-sorghum puree. If one dish captured the Southern-garden styling’s of Root, this did. The pasta was light on the tongue and given a sunny disposition thanks to the fresh carrots. Nice start.
I can’t forget the flavorful cocktails at Root — brilliant combinations of unexpected flavors made our mouths rejoice, especially the Moscow Mule-esque St. Peter’s Burro and the strong-but-sweet Zombie Apocalypse
My party of three opened our ordering with a decadent pickled shrimp and shrimp-stuffed deviled egg combo that blew our minds. These eggs were simply some of the best I’ve ever sampled, and we longed for more.
Meanwhile, my friends egged (ha) on this lifelong raw-tomato hater to taste the fragrant heirloom tomato salad before us. They were right in doing so — these beauties that come fresh from the garden had nothing on mealy, sad grocery-store varieties. And they played well with the compressed watermelons and cuts of fish that were smoked then shaved to evoke the flavor and texture of country ham — how cool is that?
The other star of the appetizer show was the platter of sweet-tea-brined fried chicken wings … I wanted a basket of these babies to myself. I think we all did. The tea provided a wonderful underlying sweetness to the crisp, salt-flecked wings. Miso butterscotch biscuits and sweet potato sorghum butter sent us swooning. For moderate appetites, I’d even suggest this as a main dish.
As for the big plates, my table decided the highlights were a sinfully delectable scallops dish smoked with Cohiba cigar air and presented in a cigar box – talk about a conversation-starting presentation! As the smoke wafted away, we dug into quiveringly tender shellfish surrounded by caramelized cauliflower, chorizo dust and patatas bravas. Simply sumptuous and so nicely balanced between salty and sweet – nice symphony of textures, too.
While my friends gushed over a glazed pork belly with roasted squash, lobster and a hominy mash, I preferred the black lacquered duck presented over mushrooms and root vegetables, but then again, I’m a sucker for duck.
Desserts were refreshingly light, and while one friend went gaga over his Indian falooda – fruit, lemon-thyme sorbet and flowers swimming in geranium milk – the deconstructed peach crumble I shared with our other foodie friend didn’t quite send me swooning, though the plating was gorgeous. A minor gripe, as I definitely envision a future visit to Root next time I hit the Crescent City.