At Justine, Justin and Mia Devillier’s new showstopper of a French Quarter restaurant, a neon pink sign welcomes guests.
Inside, a DJ plays next to a marble- and zinc-topped bar where a statue of a woman stands over a crew of busy bar staff. Beyond them, a dining room outfitted with smoked mirrors unfolds, and a woman dressed like a burlesque dancer swans past tables, ruffling bright fuchsia ostrich feather fans at curious — and bashful — diners.
Galatoire’s this is not. And yet, it’s hard not to feel a familiar spirit of revelry, albeit a more unbuttoned one. Like other French Quarter spots of this caliber, the menu is expensive, at times prohibitively so. A towering seafood plateau is $165, and there’s a 40-ounce cote de boeuf for $135, which the menu recommends be shared by two or three diners.
The sprawling Chartres Street restaurant is the third from the husband and wife team, who also run the Magazine Street charmer La Petite Grocery and downtown’s stylish gastrotavern, Balise.
Longtime Emeril’s employee Will Avelar has left Meril (424 Girod St.), the trendy Warehouse District restaurant where he has been chef de cuis…
Pink tiles frame an open kitchen, where executive chef Daniel Causgrove oversees a cadre of cooks that turn out a menu of mostly classic French brasserie dishes. French onion soup is served with a cap of melted cheese, oysters swim in a creamy parsley-packed sauce with preserved lemon, and steak tartare — though dainty in portion — is a perfect rendition of the dish.
While there is no grand reinvention, some of the seafood starters stray from traditional Francophone fare. Lobster tartine and octopus vinaigrette fall into this category and both are excellent. Lobster meat is piled high on a crusty piece of brioche on a plate decorated with dabs of tarragon emulsion. Dollops of caviar add a salty pop that tempers anise-heavy undertones. Chilled octopus is fresh and the dish bursts with citrus. Roasted red peppers, fresh mint and dill liven up the soft, almost sweet character of the octopus.
Among the traditional French entrees is a “boeuf gras” section of the menu, including a prime rib-eye entrecote served with a dark and flavorful crust topped with herb-packed maitre d’hotel butter. The Justine burger is classic Devillier — a delicious peppercorn-crusted beef patty with sharp Emmental cheese on a buttery brioche bun served with decadent cognac cream jus, for dipping.
Gulf fish amandine is classic New Orleans, served with crisp almond slivers, a deeply bronzed brown butter sauce and snappy haricots verts.
La Petite Grocery was my introduction to New Orleans’ dining scene. I was living in New York at the time and visited New Orleans. I still remember dining on rabbit tucked under a brown butter sauce popping with capers and lemon. I fell hard for both the city and the restaurant. Overnight, the restaurant became my association with a city that not long after I was fortunate to call home.
Years later, I get a similar feeling at Justine. It’s a different restaurant, but one that feels welcoming in the way that a raucous Friday lunch can in a town with a seductive spirit of revelry. Justine is colorful, bold, lively, loud and ultimately, a lot of fun.
225 Chartres St., (504) 218-8533; www.justinenola.com
lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sat.-Sun.
lobster tartine, Justine burger
the menu gets pricey
French Quarter brasserie exudes extravagance
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