Where Y'Eat: Borgne on the Bayou
A new restaurant explores the impact of Spain’s Canary Islands on Louisiana, while keeping things unmistakably local.
In the way that manifestly Spanish names like Romero and Rodrique are considered Cajun around here in Louisiana, you can munch your way through empanadas, griddled goat cheese and fish prepared “a la plancha” at the new downtown restaurant Borgne without ever questioning its claim to being all about Louisiana seafood.
There is a Spanish theme at Borgne, the latest from chef John Besh’s ever-growing restaurant group. But it is so deliciously caught up with local tradition that eating here feels much closer to Bucktown than Barcelona. It’s also full of creative reinterpretation of those traditions, a refreshing reminder that Creole cuisine has room for many influences. So shrimp fritters get a spicy, garlicky Asian sambal sauce and a bronzed slab of tuna is sliced over pickled artichoke salad that wouldn’t be out of place on a muffuletta.
Anchored by local seafood, robustly sauced and working in global flavors, this is a fun menu to sample across. And crafting it was probably fun too for its chef, Brian Landry, who was previously at Galatoire’s, overseeing a famously unchanging menu. Landry joined Besh as a partner in Borgne, which they opened in January inside the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Like that hotel, this restaurant is huge and has a decidedly modern look. It’s not cheap, but it is quite casual. In fact, if you order one of the many canned microbrews on the menu, it arrives in its own Borgne-branded koozie, that Louisiana essential of all tailgates and fishing trips.
In preparing for Borgne, Landry spent a month in the Canary Islands, the Spanish holding that gave Louisiana its Isleño population during colonial days. Historically, these islands served as the last call for sailing ships bound for the New World, or the first stop for homeward bound vessels. Not surprisingly, Canary Island kitchens became melting pots of Spanish, Latin and African influences, and this, combined with the islands’ rocky terrain and subtropical climate, guided the traditional cuisine.
That explains an appetizer at Borgne of warm goat cheese topped with hazelnuts and a pesto-like mojo verde, each part of which is a Canary Islands specialty. Borgne also brings in the islands’ own regional spin on Spanish-style fish a la plancha, which is griddled and finished with olive oil, garlic and parsley.
Still, despite these exotic notes, Borgne feels very much the Louisiana restaurant. That’s because much more of the menu draws on updated traditions of both the Creole kitchen and the rural fishing camp. For instance, the dish indelicately described here as “fish in a bag” is Landry’s take on the classic en papillote preparation, a standard of Galatoire’s and the ilk. For this version though, sheepshead is flavored with the caramelized onion and fennel and crab butter is napped along with it inside the parchment bag. Meanwhile crabmeat stuffing and lemon butter erupts from the whole, head-on flounder. When you’re about halfway done, flip it over and the bottom tastes even better after absorbing all that action upstairs.
Borgne doesn’t seem like the place to stray from seafood, but you could plan a lunch visit around Wednesday’s special of rabbit sausage pasta. Rabbit is another specialty of the Canary Islands, but a dish this good can make a home for itself anywhere.
601 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, 504-613-3860