When Milkfish debuted, it brought New Orleans its first steady supply of Filipino cuisine. Now, the Mid-City restaurant is turning over its lunch service to an eatery serving a different set of flavors: Burmese cuisine.
Beginning Jan. 4, the Burmese pop-up Lahpet will take over weekday lunch service at Milkfish, serving its menu of Southeast Asian salads, curries, samosas and other traditional dishes Monday through Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Milkfish will continue its Filipino dinner schedule, Thursday through Tuesday.
It’s another step for a pop-up with aspirations for a permanent home, and one which has a unique tie back to the source material of its Burmese flavors. A portion of proceeds from Lahpet helps fund a nonprofit called One World Family, which supports Burmese children living in refugee village in Thailand.
“Our hope is that this becomes more permanent. We want to see if it’s good for us, good for Milkfish and good for the nonprofit,” said Mark LaMaire, who runs Lahpet with co-chef Blake Smithson.“Lunch is familiar territory for us, and we hope we can build here.”
While sharing a restaurant sounds unconventional, the new format actually fits a pattern for Milkfish. The Filipino restaurant got its start as a pop-up, and since opening at her own address chef Cristina Quackenbush has regularly made the space available to other new pop-ups. Lahpet was one of them.
LaMaire, a musician and host on radio station WWOZ, started One World Family after traveling in northern Thailand, where refugee villages have cropped up after years of strife and civil war in neighboring Myanmar (the current name of Burma). His nonprofit raises money to help shuttle children from these remote refugee villages to schools and to provide uniforms, school supplies and similar assistance.
LaMaire learned to love traditional Burmese cooking during his visits to the region, and he formed Lahpet as a way to share it with others back in New Orleans while raising money for One World Family programs. Though he had little restaurant experience, he soon recruited Smithson, a fellow musician and a catering chef. Together, they’ve been applying recipes LaMaire learned directly from Burmese people he met overseas and through ongoing tutorials with Burmese immigrants back in the U.S.
“It takes discipline, practice and good teachers,” LaMaire said of learning this cuisine. “But it’s been a real pleasure to see people respond to it the way they have.”
Burmese cooking reflects some influences of other regional cuisines – especially Thai, Chinese and Indian -- but has its own distinctive niche, marked by an abundant use of nuts, fish sauces, fresh herbs and rice noodles. The marquee dish is Laphet’s namesake, a fermented tea leaf salad with a deep complexity of flavors.
Laphet will serve a small menu, which will change weekly to rotate through the dishes that have proven popular. The menu is inexpensive (most dishes are under $10), and there’s also a list of Southeast Asian drinks, like a ginger iced coffee, Burmese milk tea (with condensed milk) and cranberry and pomegranate spritzer.
Milkfish and Lahpet
125 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-267-4199
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.