I’ve been recommending DTB a lot lately, especially when people ask for something different but I know they still want something Louisiana. In the same breath, I usually give a quick explanation of the name.
It stands for “down the bayou,” a phrase that’s understood in south Louisiana more as a frame of reference than a map point. When something, or someone, is from down the bayou, it means local, deeply rooted.
That’s where the cooking at this contemporary Louisiana restaurant starts too, though DTB also takes familiar flavors around the bend and back again.
What makes this route more compelling than the typical culinary mashup or reinterpretation is the way it still leaves no doubt where you are, what you’re eating or why you’re there.
You may not ever have had red snapper the way DTB prepares it these days — plated over a mix of chickpeas and shrimp sausage and topped with a sinuous thin crown of carrot ribbons. It lends a subtle Middle Eastern aspect to a dish that tastes refreshingly light. But you still know you’re eating red snapper, the pride of the Gulf. Its dense texture and gently sweet flavor shines under a crust as dark and crisp as the cap of a crème brûlée.
Here, seafood pasta is rendered as crabmeat agnolotti. They work like pot stickers packed with crab and fringed with toasty-crunchy edges. Line theses tender pasta bundles end to end and I could eat a mile of them.
This is an imaginative modern restaurant that still feels like it's more interested in serving supper than making statements.
DTB opened last spring. It was developed by chef Carl Schaubhut and Jacob Naquin (Schaubhut is also co-chef at the more casual Covington eatery Bacobar). The kitchen is led by chef de cuisine Jacob Hammel.
There’s a casual, contemporary feel to the design of DTB, and the sounds and motion of the open kitchen add to that feeling.
The manager, David Laitano, oversees a dining room that often buzzes with the energy of date-night two-tops, huddles of friends in high-back booths and diners at the bar, tucking into apps between sips of a velvety-rich brown butter Old-Fashioned or something from the all-Louisiana draft beer list.
The chefs’ menus are constantly changing, but watching the restaurant develop and take root over the past year has shown how a house style persists.
One dish that has become an unexpected standard is boudin balls. They aren’t made with boudin. In fact they’re vegetarian, though that’s not through any ethical stance. Instead, these fried bulbs of smoky mushroom, eggplant and rice stand on their own. There are other places for boudin balls in town — notably Boucherie, just a few blocks away. I appreciate how DTB’s dishes stake out their own turf.
The oyster gratin is another example. In a city filled with broiled, grilled and roasted oysters on the half shell, DTB naps smoked oysters beneath a rich béchamel and an herbaceous gremolata crust. The taste is charbroiled oysters suffused with cream.
Sausage, bitter broccoli rabe and pasta is my idea of simple, satisfying comfort food. DTB rethinks that classic combination with gnocchi. The gnocchi are made from cornmeal and ricotta, like bite-sized country dumplings, all sluiced with the brightness of citrus and the pulse of red pepper between crumbled hot sausage. It’s composed but not too conceptual.
Where the kitchen errs, it’s on the side of over exuberance. Some dishes make me wish that rather than one more ingredient or just more salt, the kitchen applied the brakes instead. That is a predictable risk to pursuing this type of cooking.
And there are dishes that probably look better in theory than in practice. So it goes with the Louisiana rice bowl. It sounds like a jambalaya-meets-Korean bibimbap idea, complete with an egg yolk to mix between the rice, the pork belly and shrimp. It ends up with a murky and muddled flavor and not nearly enough presence to stand as an entree.
The dessert list is small but has grown increasingly creative and, in turn, harder to resist. During the chaos of Carnival, the kitchen had the moxie to make a king cake soufflé, a famously temperamental dish. It paid off with a finale in tune with the festive feel around town.
More subtle (and still on the menu) is a pots de crème with a silken-smooth body and a multitextured filigree of tart green apple, lacy pecan tuile and the pop-and-crackle of fried blueberries.
DTB’s approach counts on the interplay of new energy in a traditional framework, and that may be one reason why it seems to fit so well in its neighborhood. Developed in a former Woolworths, it sits along a part of Oak Street that is probably the most classically “Main Street” stretch in New Orleans, with its close collection of storefront mom-and-pops.The modern corner grocery Simone's Market is just next door.
Look around the busy dining room and you see evidence of walking-distance locals, college kids (of the better-funded variety), and some out-of-towners willing to track away from the tourist hub downtown.
A restaurant needs to toe a line if it wants to be original but still approachable, ambitious but not pretentious. Navigating those sometimes competing goals can bring some twists and turns. To see what it takes, watch how DTB goes down the bayou.
8201 Oak St., (504) 518-6899
Dinner Monday-Saturday, from 5 p.m.; bar open from 3 p.m.
Brunch Friday-Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Sunday till 4 p.m.)
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