Dante's Kitchen. It was an amuse bouche: a cube of a beet and chocolate cake, resting in a puddle of a creamy buttermilk dressing, topped with translucent cubes of an onion jam and a little sliver of chive. It seemed an unlikely, almost perverse, combination. Not that nobody has ever done a beet and chocolate cake before; but unlike many of these, which are premised on the notion of "sneaking" vegetables into other foods (as if they are so loathsome that they must be disguised), in this one both the beet and chocolate flavors were vivid and almost synergistic. This started with the roundly earthy flavor of beetroot, but with an almost fruity note to it brought out by the chocolate; the chocolately notes were also somehow made more earthy and deep from the combination. And buttermilk dressing? Onion jam? It made no sense at all, yet it worked perfectly. I loved it.
Though both of these vegetable dishes were graced with pork products (something I often do with my own vegetables), there were several others that were devoid of porcine enhancement, and the menu also features a vegetarian "daily preparation of local farm vegetables," served with a crispy caramelized onion croquette, that our server enthusiastically recommended. New Orleans does not exactly strike me as a vegetarian's paradise, but it is clear that Chef Loubier loves his vegetables.
One of the other charms of Dante's Kitchen is that it's very fairly priced, with most apps at $10 or under, small dishes creeping up to around $15, and entrees in a $20-25 range. It's a real pleasure to find ingredients of this quality and cooking at this level, at those kind of price points. The wines, too, were eminently reasonable: an Achaval Ferrer Quimera (a big, bright Malbec-based blend) for only $55 seemed almost too good to be true.
The style of the cooking at Dante's Kitchen is Creole but not overwhelmingly or stiflingly so. This is food that is about the ingredients, not about the genre. I noted in an earlier comment to a post that on this trip to New Orleans, which was our first in several years, we deliberately set out to try what's new, rather than return to the old guard places. While I love that you can have a meal at Galatoire's, or Arnaud's, or Antoine's that is not much different than what you would have had fifty years ago, and I hope by all means that you can still do so fifty years from now, we were interested this time around in seeing something different. I was excited by what I saw at Dante's Kitchen - this is food that is not stuck in any rigid culinary tradition, but clearly has a sense of place.
836 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA 70118