Saturday, May 12, 2012 review (Four Stars)

And even happier to learn that Mary Ann was agreeable to having dinner with me. I've postponed dining at Tomas Bistro until she could join me. (I show that restraint for every restaurant she really likes--Commander's Palace, for example. Or Ruth's Chris Steak House. Or the Company Burger.) I liked what owner Tommy Andrade (he of Tommy's across the street) and chef Guy Sockrider were doing at Tomas Bistro when we first went there. But I had one misgiving: the place was mostly unpopulated. Not tonight--or any night lately, they say. In fact, we were asked whether we had a reservation. We almost needed one to get in. We started with vichyssoise and barbecue oysters. Through most of our history, guessing who got what would have been a no-brainer. But Mary Ann has developed a new taste for oysters, and she beat me to ordering the barbecue bivalves here. They were big (as they have been lately), fried, and set in a sauce that was a greatly-altered version of barbecue shrimp sauce, neither as peppery nor as buttery, but with enough other flavors going on to make an exceedingly good ensemble. MA was wild about the dish. I think the dish needs a different name, but I liked it too. The vichyssoise was too thick and rich by a factor of two. It did not need my favorite touch: a little crumbled blue cheese on top. (Got the idea from food writer friend Kit Wohl.) I'm always happy to run into the soup, but about a half-cup of vegetable stock would have made it better. After two well-made salads came a pair of crawfish beignets with fried parsley. That was an appetizer serving as an entree for MA. She holds to a certain ideal for crawfish beignets, one realized only in a couple of places. The rest of them inspire her hope on ordering but disappoint on arrival. These were made in the classic French style ("beignet" in France means almost any fried lump of batter with almost anything in its center), but they didn't hit the ideal for her. I thought they were pretty good, myself, with the lumpy aioli (almost a tartar sauce) that came with it. My entree was all of $17. Tomas Bistro is as good a bargain as Tommy's. Here was an airline chicken breast--with the first, meatiest section of the wing still attached. That's usually fried or broiled. Here it was grilled. Haven't encountered that before. The sauce was a green peppercorn cream, and all that was atop a drift of vegetable risotto. The rice was a shade undercooked for me, but a lot of people would say it was perfect. The presentation wasn't especially brilliant, but the dish lacked nothing in flavor. Pears poached in wine is a classic French dessert, but not one that often grabs me. The one they served here tonight may have been the best ever. The pear was sweet and elemental, cooked to just the right smooth firmness, with a very thick chantilly cream running around the small stack. Best dessert I've had in awhile, in fact. Sometime between the salad and entree Tommy Andrade discovered our presence, and came over for a glass of wine. He said that Tomas Bistro has been so busy that he has had to act as maitre d' some nights. That would place Tomas Bistro in the Number One position on the list of best front-door personnel in New Orleans. Those who were around then remember well Tommy's years as front man at the old Sazerac, dressed to the nines (to the ninth power), with consummate dining room skills. That style of service is gone forever, but the man still has the magic touch. Tommy has a few other pursuits besides his two restaurants, his large, elegant bar, and his catering facility (right behind Tomas). He has taken up flying airplanes and working out. He says he needs these hobbies to pull him away from his default activity: investigating fine wines. He lives in the immediate neighborhood, and has been doing so since before Emeril arrived. He and his lady are familiar figures on the sidewalks with their four dogs. I wish I still lived around here. What a great part of town Tommyville is! Tomas Bistro. Warehouse District: 755 Tchoupitoulas. 504-527-0942. (See full review below.)

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