QUICK TAKE: Red Fish Grill, New Orleans
by Andrew Chalk
Casual New Orleans Seafood is how this large, popular establishment on Bourbon Street describes itself, and whether you sit in the main room, or at the oyster bar, or one of the high tops you feel that you are part of a vibrant, teeming mass of happy diners, even early midweek, and off-season. The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group that owns Red Fish Grill brings years of experience to the business and part of that is a sense of hospitality that pervades this establishment.
It starts from the moment you enter. On finding our reservation mislaid for a media event the maitre d staff just adjusted on a dime and set about finding us a good alternative table. Servers wear name tags which helps crush the anonymity barrier right away. Jeff, our waiter, had been with Red Fish just over a year, but waited tables a lot longer. He brought a seasoned welcome and telepathic approach to service. Noticing empty drink glasses he would gently inquire whether he could serve you another.
The menu here is as solid a cajun and creole seafood experience you could offer any extra terrestrial and leave them feeling like they understood seafood in Louisiana and could now order for themselves.
There are starters like Louisiana Crab Cakes ($18), BBQ Shrimp ($19), and Alligator Boudin Balls ($10). There is also the oyster bar selection of BBQ Oysters ($19) and Gulf Oysters on the Half Shell ($12 for 6, $21 for 12). We went with a house specialty of Alligator Sausage and Seafood Gumbo ($11.50) which was prepared with a thick, dark roux that displayed real punch. We also had the Soup of the Day ($9), a crab chowder laced with bacon that may have led to the invention of the phrase ‘comfort food’.
Entrées are humorously divided into “Finfish”, “Shellfish”, and “Go Fish!”, the latter referring to non-fish proteins (specifically steak and chicken) is a play on a common figure of speech meaning, loosely, do something else. The proud signature entrée of Wood Grilled Redfish with Louisiana Blue Crab ($38), a mouthwatering fillet of fish mounted on a medley of tasso ham and roasted mushroom Pontalba potatoes. The lump crab meat was arranged on top and lemon butter sauce poured over. In the picture, note Executive Chef Chris Vazquez’s flash of rebellion, introducing garden peas into the mix. Something tells me this had tacit corporate approval as Patrick Brennan, one of the fourth generation of the founding family, was in the house as GM that night. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, so knows his stuff.
My global journey of understanding of shrimp and grits continued with Red Fish Grill’s LA Shrimp and Goat Gouda Grits ($26). Uniquely, it brought together roasted portobello mushrooms (a genius ingredient inclusion, by the way), Brussels sprouts, smoked Gouda grits, and creole meunière sauce. The sauce was key in elevating the whole. The gouda was a two-pronged contrast. Flavor was subtle, but the creamy texture was, thankfully, in your face. I am not sure if it is a New Orleans thing, but the grits were the type that are white, not the familiar yellow. Experts say this is due to the type of corn used. In this instance they were fairly coarsely ground, in a way that no Italian would confuse with polenta. Overall, one of the better examples of this iconic dish.
Dessert contains one item that rises to the occasion as a casus belli. Double Chocolate Bread Pudding ($11). We added the ice cream as well. You order at the same time as your main course, presumably to allow the kitchen time to prime the chocolate. It is a narcotic, and easily enough for two. Diners leave distraught, in a sugar-high, totally at a loss as to how they will lose the calories consumed (walk to Bywater and back?).
Beverages are reassuring. From the array of cocktails, to the short but well-chosen wine list, to the dozen or so local beers. I discovered Hopitoulas IPA and will look for it again. A New Orleans signature, The Hurricane, also kept me lubricated. Local is actually something that pervades the menu, especially the sea food, proving that commercial acceptability need not compromise authenticity.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable night at Red Fish Grill. Whatever your group, if you want a good time with a sense of place. This is the place.