Since I’ve started blogging, every weekend seems to pose a challenge when deciding where to eat. We love frequenting our neighborhood favorites (like here, here, and here), but when writing material is running thin we usually end up having to consult “the list” in order to choose a place I have yet to write about. It’s not so challenging when we’ve made legit plans to go somewhere weeks in advance, but sometimes the subject of “what’s for dinner?” comes up as an afterthought–yes, even for two foodie faces like my boyfriend and myself–and reservations aren’t always readily available. So last Saturday night when I realized around noon that our evening was lacking a dining destination, I consulted my ever growing list, immediately started doing my research, and, lucky for me, managed to land an 8:30 reservation at one of Uptown’s most popular restaurants.
La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street is a restaurant I drive by every single day and have even eaten at once before, but for some reason the boyfriend and I hadn’t been back since moving home. I remember that the first time we went, about two years ago, our bill was much more than we anticipated and the boyfriend complained that his hanger steak was “too salty” (coincidentally, the same complaint surfaced when he ordered the same thing here not too long ago). Looking back, it’s so obvious that the boyfriend ordered the wrong thing and we shouldn’t have splurged for that expensive bottle of wine. Lesson learned.
As I began reviewing the online menu, I was delightfully surprised to see that most of the entrees are in the mid-twenty range and some even dip down into the teens, making this restaurant slightly more affordable than say, Lilette, but without sacrificing the great service, atmosphere, or food. La Petite Grocery’s menu caters more towards serving dressed-up international comfort food, such as spaetzle, gnocchi, and southern classics like shrimp and grits. When we arrived I was reminded of another reason, other than the food, why people like this restaurant so much: atmosphere. Occupying a building that was formerly a g0urmet food grocery, La Petite has been transformed into a comfortable and unique dining environment. The main dining room is such a lovely, open space with elements of a quaint French bistro and fine dining charm. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy a delicious meal in a room as pretty as this?
We arrived right on time and were seated immediately (an act that’s always deserving of some praise), in the back of the restaurant. Our table was in between a few others and though we did find the restaurant to be a little loud, it was nothing compared to the horrendous noise we endured here.
Since I stalk menus, as most of my readers already know, I knew which appetizer and entree I wanted but quickly noticed that the online menu wasn’t the same as the one that I was holding in my hand. Pork Cheeks with Fried Polenta (on the online menu) is replaced by MitiCrema with Pork Cheek Ragu and Fried Sage, the Steak Tartare does a disappearing act as well as the Root Beer Braised Short Ribs, but Sweetbreads wrapped in Country Ham make a debut. Naturally, our curiosity, of course, caused the ordering of three appetizers (I promise neither of us weigh 900 lbs), our choices being the Housemade Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Piave Vecchio, Field Peas, and Edamame, the Sweetbreads with Country Ham, Green Tomato Jam, and Picked Cabbage Slaw, and last but never least, the MitiCrema with Pork Cheek Ragu and Fried Sage.
All three appetizers came out at once, which was fine with us. We took turns eating and discussing each dish. The Tagliatelle with Shrimp was my second favorite, featuring beautiful strands of al dente pasta, covered in a light buttery sauce, butterflied shrimp, and colorful peas. The Piave Vecchio cheese grated on top added that burst of rich, nutty flavor that was essential to the richness of this dish.
My boyfriend was responsible for ordering the sweetbreads, as I could have easily passed. Don’t get me wrong, I think sweetbreads are fantastic, but only when done a certain way. So far, Susan Spicer’s version is my favorite and I’m hard pressed to find anything that quite compares. La Petite’s sweetbreads were delicious, that is, when you could actually taste them. Country ham has such a pungent aroma and saltiness to it that it tends to mask the flavor of pretty much anything in which it’s wrapped/cooked. Such is the case for this appetizer. After an adventurous beginning with trying all of the elements together, we settled on enjoying each component separately. The bottom line is that we thought that the combination of the jam, ham, and slaw caused the sweetbreads to lose their place as the star in this dish.
Lastly, and most importantly, our absolute favorite appetizer of the night was the MitiCrema with Pork Cheek Ragu and Fried Sage. What a brilliantly executed dish this was. Soft balls of miticrema cheese are lightly fried and sit prettily atop an incredibly tender and rich pork cheek ragu. Once the miticrema is sliced, the interior gives way to the true consistency of the cheese, which can be best described as cream cheese-like. And it’s slightly sweet, slightly bitter, and slightly salty flavor is the perfect partner for the pork cheek. Both the cheeks and the cheese are super tender, so the consistency is all there, and the natural broth from the slow cooked cheeks saturate the cheese and, well, it’s just heavenly. The fried sage was a lovely addition as well.
For his entree, my boyfriend chose the Paneed Rabbit with Wilted Spinach, Spaetzle and Lemon Caper Brown Butter. I managed to get two bites out of him and I was pretty lucky to even get that much. The rabbit was juicy and the crunchy breading on the outside was well seasoned (something I thought lacked in this restaurant’s version of the dish). He was borderline obsessed with the spaetzle, however, which was drenched in fabulous lemon brown butter and studded with salty, vinegary capers. Wilted spinach provided a mild backdrop to all the richness and was a great vegetable combination for the chewy spaetzle.
My entree of choice was, brace yourself, chicken. Yes, I said chicken. Normally, ordering chicken is reserved for ethnic restaurants, BBQ joints, or places with really great fried varieties, but rarely will I order it at a nice restaurant like La Petite. But with a name like Natural Chicken with Sauteed Kale, Savory Bread Pudding, and Truffled Mushroom Gravy, writing this off as your run-of-the-mill chicken dish just isn’t fair. Savory bread pudding provides sweetness, sauteed kale is deliciously bitter, and the truffled mushroom gravy is a melody of rich, comforting flavors. I couldn’t finish the whole thing after the three appetizers, so I asked that it be boxed up and brought home. It was just as wonderful the next day reheated in the, brace yourself again, microwave.
Now usually dessert menus won’t tempt me unless the restaurant has something unique. You won’t win me over with things like extreme chocolate lava cake with chocolate ice cream or creme brulee, but I seem to have a very hard time turning down anything having to do with marshmallows. Blame it on my inner kid, say my taste buds are elementary, but I just freakin’ love marshmallows. No apologies. So when I saw that La Petite Grocery had a Warm S’mores Tart I was immediately on board, and thus my love affair with marshmallows continues. This deconstructed version featured a large dollop of browned house-made marshmallow on top of a thick graham cracker cookie with some chocolate ice cream and chocolate mousse served alongside. It was so good I forgot I was already full.
Dinner at La Petite Grocery was well worth the wait and something tells me we won’t wait another two years before returning. Though after the six plates we had between the two of us, something also tells me we may have to wait a few weeks before indulging in another rich meal such as this one. I have some friends who will be making their way to New Orleans during the holidays and I think La Petite Grocery would be a great place to bring them for an elegant meal in a setting that’s cozy, comfortable, and undeniably classic.