First-time visitors to Saint-Germain might wonder if they’ve got the right place. The sign in front of the worn former double shotgun home is a holdover from the previous tenant, the Sugar Park pizzeria. Any uncertainty vanishes once inside, where the food transports diners to France, Japan or wherever the chefs fancy that night — yet it all feels right at home on St. Claude Avenue.
This Bywater wine bar and restaurant is the brainchild of a pedigreed trio: Drew DeLaughter and chefs Blake Aguillard and Trey Smith, who honed their craft in places including Europe, San Francisco (at Michelin three-star restaurant Saison) and New Orleans (at Bayona, Restaurant August, Mopho and Maypop). With Saint-Germain, they offer modern, globally influenced French cuisine in a casual setting.
The hardest part is nabbing a reservation. Dinner is served Thursday through Sunday to 16 diners a night. Those diners choose either a four- or five-course tasting menu, which run $75 and $85 per person respectively, and optional wine pairings add $37 or $45. During the third weekend of every month, the menu is fully vegetarian, with vegan options.
Thalia, the second restaurant from chefs Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig of Coquette, opens at 5 p.m. today in the Lower Garden District.
The wine bar is open six nights a week, requires no reservations and offers a small menu of bar food that showcases the kitchen’s talents at a fraction of the price. Plates range from $8 for hand-cut fries with green peppercorn aioli to $12 for chicken liver pate served with country bread. The beverage list includes predominantly natural wines as well as beer and cocktails and there are drink specials on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The cozy dining room, with its striped linen napkins, vintage glassware and handcrafted ceramic bowls, feels like eating at a friend’s home. Service is enthusiastic, and our server described the Japanese shaved ice machine used to make our dessert like a child celebrating a new toy. That enthusiasm gets easier to share with every bite.
The menu changes completely every few weeks, and the chefs aim to highlight a range of techniques and components made from scratch, such as cream cultured in house to make butter, which is then aged for 120 days. On a recent visit, that butter — and a sprinkling of salt infused with tarragon from the restaurant’s garden — accompanied savory griddled cakes of Gascon-style cornbread.
"Being vegan is a big reason for doing Midnight Noodle. I had to adjust the alchemy of some dishes, but if you focus on flavor, then nothing else matters."
One meal began with a Campari-based “aperitif shooter” and an amuse bouche of roasted baby Japanese eggplant, the smoky richness cut with leaves of shiso and sorrel and a hint of chili heat. Next came scallop sashimi bathed in a delicate grape juice (our server pointed to the wooden grape press nearby) and sprinkled with grapes, peas, bits of their crisped skins and a scoop of pea granita.
Omelettes are a Saint-Germain menu staple, and the corn butter and Osetra caviar version we received was a marvel. That was followed by hearty morel mushrooms stuffed with boudin noir and green apple broth. Then one of the chefs emerged bearing a casserole of “Poussin in the Hay” — breast meat and legs cooked separately for a mix of grassy and smoky flavors.
The finale was a root beer float of kakigori-style shaved ice (from the aforementioned machine) with a root beer syrup and fresh cherries over house-made vanilla ice cream. The familiar flavors brought a far-reaching meal squarely back home.
The price is on the high end for New Orleans, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a meal executed with greater precision and creativity anywhere in town.
3054 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-8729; www.saintgermainnola.com
tasting menu: dinner Thursday-Sunday
wine bar: dinner Thursday-Tuesday
struggling air conditioner; snagging reservations
A comfortable Bywater bar with an ambitious tasting menu
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