800 Common St., (504) 571-9580 merchantneworleans.com
This stylishly modern CBD cafe has the contours of a European coffee shop, and the espresso drinks to match. It also has a short but original and interesting sandwich list that includes the simple, light and satisfying kale n’beans ($8). The beans are butter beans, whipped into hummus with a garlicky kick and the bitterness of the greens and lemon is offset by a layer of sweet peppers. It’s heated through on a length of Bellegarde Bakery baguette, which provides the foundation while also adding toasty, buttery flavors in its crumb and a gratifying crunch in its crust.
Steak and Strawberry Tartare
2600 Dauphine St., (504) 267-0640
Starting with the elemental appeal of raw beef, every little ingredient that goes into a steak tartare is bound to make an impression. So the slices of strawberry worked between the finely chopped slivers of steak for the tartare ($12) at this new Marigny hotspot seem like a radical addition. The nontraditional treatment reveals some delicious synchronicity, however, with bright acidic bursts of the fruit accentuating both the bare savor of the meat and the black pepper and the bracing balsamic laced throughout. Presented in the shape of a flower, with a quail egg yolk in the center, it’s beautiful to behold but more rewarding to jab apart and spread over crostini.
Buttermilk Fried Quail
4729 Magazine St., (504) 894-8881
This is a dish that’s a little barbecue, a little soul and built around two little birds. The quails ($28), fried in a batter that’s greaseless without being dry, are stacked in a star-shaped pattern over a heap of slaw made with the herbaceous crunch of celeriac and the tart bite of green apple. Thick cornmeal waffles riff on the classic chicken-and-waffles combination, and they’re laced with a tawny, sweet barbecue sauce. Eating it isn’t exactly graceful — you can only do so much with the fork and knife around the quails’ small frames — but no one will look twice if you use your hands.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.