New Orleans, Louisiana – Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant

Restaurant: Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant
Cuisine: American/French/Italian/Southern
Last visited: May 22, 2012
Location: New Orleans, LA (Warehouse District)
Address: 701 Saint Charles Ave
Transit: St Charles at St Joseph
Where I stayed: Le Richelieu Hotel (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $30-50+ ($25-35 mains)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.5-5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Chef Donald Link
  • 2012 Outstanding Chef Nominee (James Beard Award)
  • “Top 10 Best”/award winning restaurant
  • Southern/Cajun French bistro
  • Casual fine dining
  • Neighbourhood restaurant
  • Sophisticated/elegant
  • Small plates/mains
  • Local ingredients
  • Local favourite/Very busy
  • Patio seating
  • Sister to Cochon
  • Sister to Cochon Butchery
  • Extensive wine list
  • Wine/cocktails/beer/flights
  • Reservations recommended
  • Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
    Bistro: Mon-Fri 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm
    Dinner: Mon-Sat 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Closed Sunday

**Recommendations: Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg, Muscovy Duck Leg Confit, Banana Brown Butter Tart, and Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake.  Cocktails: Haitian Daiquiri, Louisiana Salty Dog, Sazerac.

Really?! Duck and lamb are considered “exotic” in Louisiana?! *Gasp*. I couldn’t believe it. On the West Coast (along with other regions) and especially my home town (Vancouver, BC), duck and lamb show up on menus like chicken and beef, so you can sense my surprise when I was told they were rare meats offered in Louisiana. I mean don’t they have a Greek community? Lamb is a staple! However they didn’t blink an eye at the mention of turtle or alligator, which would be considered more “exotic” for places outside of New Orleans. That’s regional ingredients for you though.

Most of the menu at Herbsaint is locally sourced from Louisiana farms including the duck and lamb, but those ingredients still rarely show up on menus outside of casual fine dining and fine dining in NOLA.

I feel that it’s necessary to give context and perspective before I start this post or it might seem like I didn’t enjoy the food, which isn’t the case at all. I just found the food familiar to things I’ve tried before, so it left me with more to compare to. Herbsaint did have New Orleans charm and Cajun flare, but the concept, feel and food just felt like something I could experience at home or in other food sophisticated cities.

On that note, I do feel incredibly spoiled by Vancouver’s food scene, and if Canada was included in the James Beard Foundation Awards, I am confident we would have some good representation.

It was another beloved Chef Donald Link restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was recently nominated as “Outstanding Chef of the Year” in the US at the James Beard Awards and I was determined to try his restaurants in Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans. I had started my trip with a visit to Cochon and was also invited to try Herbsaint.

Cochon is his more casual restaurant featuring Cajun cuisine and sophisticated comfort food, and Herbsaint is his modern French inspired Southern bistro. Cochon is also picnic table style dining and Herbsaint is white tablecloth style and service.

Cochon and Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant are not comparable, but when it comes down to what I enjoyed more, I did enjoy Cochon more. That may surprise some people because Herbsaint is the flagship and generally the more critically acclaimed and famed, but I really loved Cochon even though Herbsaint is more my style.

The presentation was a bit more refined here compared to Cochon, but it also wasn’t as detail oriented as La Petite Grocery, which is where I had lunch earlier. Cochon was very representable of Cajun City and the uniqueness of New Orleans cuisine, so as a tourist that was the food that held my interest. It was relatively new and authentic to a New Orleans experience. I really felt Chef Link’s personality come out in the food there too.

There is no doubt Chef Link and his team are incredibly talented and it’s likely you would never go wrong at either, but Herbsaint just felt familiar and reminiscent of home in terms of its focus on locally sourced ingredients, farm to table philosophy, and French bistro influence.

On the table:

**Haitian Daiquiri - 5/6 (Excellent)

  • $8
  • It was a real daiquiri and not one of those brightly coloured frozen slushies. Those have their place, but not in this restaurant.
  • It was a simple daiquiri recipe with rum, lime and a sweetener, but the ratio was well balanced and not too tart or sweet.
  • I think it was all in the rum. They used Barbancourt rum which is a dark rum and it made the drink a bit sweeter, but it also wasn’t dessert like.
  • On the scale of cocktails it was on the sweeter side, but there was good acidity from the lime and a splash of soda for some carbonation.

**Louisiana Salty Dog5/6 (Excellent)

  • $9
  • I liked this cocktail just as much, but on another level. This was more tart, citrus and fruit forward than sweet.
  • Traditionally a Salty Dog is made with vodka and grapefruit juice and served in a glass with a salted rim, but this was made with gin instead.
  • I always prefer gin to vodka cocktails so I liked this much better, however it was made with Citadelle gin and I’ve never had that before.
  • I couldn’t really taste the flavour profile of the Citadelle gin, so I’m still not sure what it tastes like.
  • Instead it was very grapefruit forward and the salty rim really brought out that grapefruit flavour and almost made it sweeter.
  • The drink itself was not that sweet and it was made with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters and a splash of soda water for a little carbonation.

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • It was good quality bread and butter and I think it speaks for a restaurant.
  • The bread was fresh, warm, chewy and crusty, but not tough.
  • The centre was fluffy, moist and soft with nice holes and it was a bit reminiscent of a sourdough meets a baguette.
Amuse Bouche
  • Pork belly, cucumber, chili and mint
  • The pork belly was really tender and flavourful. Chef is notorious for doing pork well.
  • The bite was fresh with the mint and cucumber and it had some heat from the chipotle like aioli to follow.
  • I kept wondering what they used the strands of cucumber skins for because the cucumber slice had cut outs around the edge.

Gumbo of the Day - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Andouille sausage, shrimp and blue crab $7
  • It’s a classic Southern Louisiana soup or stew and it’s almost on every single menu featuring Louisiana cuisine.
  • There was no oil slick floating on the top and they cleaned it up nicely.
  • There was a sprinkle of green onions and a little bit of white rice on top which is typical.
  • It’s a roux based soup made with usually butter and flour, but this seemed less buttery and more oily, but it wasn’t an oily or greasy soup.
  • This was an intense dark roux which is a Cajun style roux as opposed to a blond roux which is more Creole.
  • It wasn’t thick and gluey, but for a gumbo it was on the thicker side.
  • It’s likely due to the fat and flour cooking for longer until it turns a dark, caramelized and nutty brown.
  • The texture is almost of kidney bean juice and the soup also had a seafood stock with perhaps a bit of tomato paste for tang.
  • It was made with onions, celery, and green peppers (typical ingredients used in Cajun cooking) and it was smoky and well developed.
  • I could taste quite a bit of bay leaf, but I did want much more seafood because there wasn’t much crab or shrimp.
  • The shrimp was baby shrimp which is typical to use in gumbo and they were likely put in last minute so they weren’t overcooked and tough.
  • There were a few tiny pieces of tender and smoky Andouille sausage which was great, but I would have loved bigger chunks of it.
  • There was a bit of cayenne and paprika heat and spice to it, but it wasn’t spicy and I wouldn’t mind a bit spicier.
  • I considered the spice level on the mild side, but it was still there.
  • It was a well made gumbo with no short cuts, but I just wanted more shrimp, sausage and crab.
Louisiana Jumbo Lump Crab3/6 (Good)
  • With English Peas and Green Garlic Aioli $14
  • This was good, but not as special or memorable for me because I felt like it was something I could find easily on the West Coast.
  • It was almost a de-constructed crab salad with all the ingredients separate, but it was on the mild side and I could have used more flavour.
  • It was fresh ingredients and the concept was simple as were the flavours, but I think I was expecting actual lumps of crab like the ones they served on my Eggs Nouvelle Orléans at Brennan’s.
  • The crab was shredded, but not finely shredded which I like, and it was moist, sweet and delicate.
  • There was a touch of aioli on top which was better than having it mixed into the crab.
  • It was topped with a lightly salted radish salad and some micro herbs, but it didn’t really go beyond that.
  • The peas were fresh and also raw so they weren’t that sweet and starchy in texture.
  • There was a light drizzle of parsley mint oil which goes so well with peas, but the dish was a bit basic for me and the flavours slightly flat.
  • Personally I would have loved the peas cooked for sweetness and maybe some preserved lemon or some more acidity and a touch more salt.

**Seared Louisiana Shrimp4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • With Summer Squash and Chili Oil $11
  • Seared or barbequed shrimp are really typical dishes in Louisiana and I saw them on many menus serving Southern Louisiana cuisine.
  • This dish didn’t seem like a big deal, but for me it was because I can’t find this style of shrimp easily outside of NOLA.
  • It was pretty much Cajun style shrimp scampi with a lot of seasoning and spices infused right into the butter and oil.
  • The dish was more rustic and homestyle in presentation than I anticipated, but the flavour was nothing but quality.
  • The spices in this were really fresh and the flavours were bursting left, right and centre, but there wasn’t too much going on either.
  • It was very Cajun in style and the dish was rich with a garlic olive oil, brown butter tomato (?) and chili oil sauce.
  • The sauce was garlicky, spicy and smoky with a bit of red pepper chili flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and likely paprika and cayenne too.
  • The spices and chilies tasted like they were freshly roasted though. It wasn’t burn your tongue spicy, but just aromatic and flavourful spicy.
  • The chili oil just topped it off and the heat catches up, and it was a medium spicy which never burned.
  • There were about 6 medium sized shrimps that were well cleaned and seasoned with a nice crunch and firmness like lobster tails.
  • The flavour of the shells seemed to be used to make the sauce too and personally I would have loved the heads deep fried and served on the side… or even just on top.
  • The squash were nicely charred and there was also a few thin slices of crunchy toasted crostini underneath.
  • The sauce was perfect dipping sauce. I gladly used my complimentary bread to wipe down the rest of the plate with.

**Housemade Spaghetti - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • With Guanciale and fried-poached farm egg $12
  • The various staff kept recommending the spaghetti and that almost had no appeal to me. It sounded good, but it also sounded like something I could find at home. I ended up caving and I’m glad I did!
  • This is one of the house favourites and signature dishes. I also saw one on the dinner menu at La Petite Grocery and I’m not sure who inspired who.
  • It was a de-constructed Pasta Carbonara and each component was executed very well and could stand on its own. Therefore together it was pretty perfect for what it was.
  • I could still easily imagine seeing this on a menu in other food advanced cities, but I also haven’t seen it being done yet, so I really give credit for the concept.

Perfect photo for my Egg Yolk Series

  • A restaurant at this level on the West Coast would likely sous vide the egg instead of deep frying it, but the deep frying worked amazingly well and it added texture as well as Southern style.
  • The buttery noodles, creamy sauce, crunchy exterior contrasting a silky poached egg were already enough to make me want to cry with joy.
  • The rich egg yolk was a natural sauce and the crispy, salty, and fatty guanciale literally and figuratively topped things off.
  • I have no idea how they did the deep fried egg. I’ve had it once on a Southern inspired Eggs Benedict at The Refinery in Vancouver, BC and I was just as impressed.
  • The poached egg is lightly battered and fried golden brown in Panko crumbs and it had a crispy crust while keeping a runny egg yolk. The batter was well seasoned with salt too.
  • The golden flow of egg yolk mixed into the creamy sauce like a traditional Pasta Carbonara. It was incredibly rich and delicious.
  • The cream sauce had some good lemon juice or sour cream in it because the acidity was holding up to the richness.
  • It wasn’t as cheesy with Parmigiano-Reggiano, but there was still some cheesiness to the sauce.
  • It was a buttery thick and rich sauce, but it was fantastic and it just coated my mouth with flavour.
  • The home made speghetti noodles were also firm and al dente and I think they might have been previously dried for that bite which is what I would prefer.
  • The guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon made from pig cheek) was perfectly crisp and salty and I just crumbled that all over like sprinkles on a cupcake… except I’m not keen on sprinkles.
  • I think the noodles really made this dish fantastic too and anything with a runny egg yolk is a bonus in my books.

**Muscovy Duck Leg Confit5/6 (Excellent)

  • With dirty rice and citrus gastrique $27
  • This was recommended by almost all the staff.
  • I love duck confit and almost always order it if it’s on the menu, but it seemed like something I could get at home so I originally looked passed it. I caved again.
  • The duck was not too salty or cured and it was melting off the bone as it should be.
  • It was moist and juicy and had good flavour and I didn’t even touch my knife.
  • The fat wasn’t too thick and well rendered and the fat it had was melt in my mouth creamy.
  • The best part was that the skin was crispy and well seasoned.
  • The citrus gastrique was an orange forward sauce and duck and orange are a classic combination so there was no surprise there.
  • The syrupy sauce was well reduced with added sugar and maybe some added vinegar and lemons so there was a nice sweet and tangy contrast.
  • The side of green beans were overcooked, but I’m not sure if that’s just how they are in the South because it wasn’t the first place that I had them like that.
  • The dirty rice was fantastic and made with ground pork, chives, bay leaf and sweet onions.
  • It was aromatic with some cloves (?) and the rice was all toasted and nutty from being stuck to the pan and all the ingredients had that skillet flavour and aroma.
  • It wasn’t spicy, dry or wet dirty rice and it packed in a lot of flavours.
  • I would have loved to see a pan seared foie gras on top of that rice (I would pay extra) or some chicken livers chopped into the rice, but nonetheless I still loved it.

Slow Cooked Lamb Neck - 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • With Saffron fideo and tomato confit $27
  • This was highly recommended and raved about by the staff.
  • I really had little interest in ordering this because again, I can get this stuff at home, but then rarely do people ever use lamb neck, so I caved for the third time.
  • I found the execution a bit rustic for the style of the restaurant and it wasn’t my favourite way to execute lamb neck, but it was still good for what it was.
  • I think I was imagining something more refined with the lamb neck removed from the bone, but instead it was the full lamb neck which is a massive chunk of meat.
  • I love meat on the bone, but I thought the meat would be shredded and then made into a terrine – similar to the lamb neck I experienced in the Lamb Duo at The Apron.
  • This almost reminded me of osso bucco, but instead of veal shank it was lamb neck.
  • It was a pretty gamey dish with strong flavours and the execution of the lamb neck was very Southern and American with the whole deep frying thing to finish it off.

  • Lamb neck is a cheap cut of meat and it’s naturally very fatty and hard to tenderize, but this was done extremely well and the fat wasn’t chewy.
  • The lamb neck was likely brined overnight, slow braised for hours and then deep fried before serving so it had a nice and crispy crust.
  • There was no doubt the lamb was falling off the bone and I was just shredding away at it with my fork.
  • It was juicy, succulent and tender, but so rich and fatty that it was a lot to finish.
  • The flavour of the meat was just gamey and not necessarily seasoned though.
  • Most of the flavour was in the spicy and pickled mustard seed relish with confit green onions, tomatoes and roasted red peppers.
  • The pickled vegetables were still buttery from being sauteed in duck fat, but they were intended to contrast the richness and fattiness of the lamb neck.
  • The salsa was basically a Giardiniera (American-Italian relish) which works really well with meats, so I could see the idea, but I just wasn’t loving it although it was good.
  • The side was Saffron fideo.
  • Fideo is the Spanish word for noodle and this one was like an Asian vermicelli noodle that is often used in soups.
  • The noodles were unexpected as a side and I think I was just hoping for something a bit more refined.
  • The noodles were stir fried in a creamy saffron tomato like sauce and I could taste the saffron, but it was reminiscent of Asian noodle dishes.
  • There was a bit of chili flakes in the noodles and I think the sauce was also made from the lamb neck juices and it was savoury, spicy and very saucy.
  • I think I was hoping for either braised lentils or braised kale or something along those lines instead of the noodles. It might be a bit “been there done that”, but it works.
  • The lamb neck was executed really well for how it was served, but I just wasn’t as keen on the dish overall.

Desserts – By Pastry Chef Rhonda Ruckman

**Banana Brown Butter Tart - 5/6 (Excellent)

  • With fleur de sel caramel $8
  • Butter tarts are just butter tarts, but this one was nicely reinvented and had components to make it stand out.
  • It tasted like the love child of a salty and buttery Werther’s Original candy (made into a tart) and a Bananas Foster tart.
  • The tart shell was quite hard, thick, and crunchy, but it was even. I just wouldn’t mind a bit thinner and crisp instead of crunchy.
  • The crust was sugary, nutty and perhaps made from ground almonds and it was cookie like and good on its own.
  • The butter tart filling was creamy and rich and not too sweet or syrupy and the butter was good butter.
  • The filling had a creamy layer of roughly mashed bananas for texture which is what I always wanted in a butter tart, so this was even better for me.
  • There was some sour cream or crème fraîche on top to contrast the sweetness and give it tang which I really appreciated.
  • The brûléed bananas were a nice garnish too and I almost wanted them to be sliced thin and layered evenly on top of the whole tart so that every bite would have some crispy brûlée topping.
  • I also tried the original Bananas Foster at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and it just made me think how good this would be if this tart was served warm with a scoop of banana ice cream or pecan ice cream on the side as well.

**Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • With salted caramel, cashew ice cream and cocoa nib caramel corn $10
  • The salted caramel thing can get a bit played out, but it still tastes good and it was used effectively in both cases.
  • I love hot and cold desserts and anything with ice cream, so I’m biased, but this was actually made exceptionally well.
  • This was a very rich and sweet dessert, but the ice cream made it not as sweet and there were so many components that I was never bored.

  • The chocolate pudding cake was similar to a chocolate lava cake in concept, but the inside was filled with a salted caramel sauce instead.
  • It was a creamy, rich, fudgy and moist cake and it was almost half baked and it just oozed a buttery salted caramel sauce.
  • The caramel was not sticky or hurt your teeth sweet and it was as dominant in the dessert as the pudding cake.
  • There was a little sponginess in the cake and it was soft and the cashew ice cream melted right into it.
  • The ice cream was creamy and good quality with ground cashew nuts mixed into it, but it was served a bit too melted and it was a bit foamy for some reason.
  • It was a nice and buttery and custard based ice cream though and I could have eaten bowls of just that.
  • The cashew ice cream was so much more interesting than a standard vanilla bean, and I wouldn’t even mind more cashew nuts in it and not just ground cashews.
  • The cocoa nib caramel corn was probably one of my favourite parts of the whole desert and it reminded me of Cashew Poppycock Gourmet Popcorn.
  • It was a bit salted and it gave the dish crunch and texture.
  • Personally I love popcorn in desserts and sundaes, so everything about this dessert was working in my favour.
  • It is no surprise that it was a house favourite and I would definitely order it again.

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