If you've been reading this blog, you know that the most impressive meal I've had in New Orleans was when I lucked out at Acme Oyster. I found out a few months ago that the creator of that meal, Michelle Matlock, had taken an Executive Chef position at a new restaurant called Redemption (the place I reviewed in my last post). Well, life got in the way for about three months, and so by the time we made it to Redemption, she had already moved on from there. But we tracked her down again, and I gave her a call. Much to my surprise, Michelle said that cooking for our party that day at Acme Oyster inspired her to quit her managerial position there! She wanted an executive chef position, one that would allow for creative freedom that wasn't the norm at Acme.
Chef Michelle has finally found a home for her creativity at Zeke's Restaurant in Metairie. Owned by Darryl and Ellen Cortello, this local eatery has a great atmosphere, having just recently had a make-over, and being full of good vibes! Ellen greeted us warmly at the door, and Darryl came out to tell us how much fun it had been to venture into vegan cuisine for once. Our server, Candace, was delightful. And finally, Michelle came to our table to greet us and introduce us to her talented sous-chef, Ben Montgomery.
Knowing it was going to be impressive, my omnivorous parents joined us in ordering the vegan special. Sure enough, Michelle and Ben pulled out all the stops to prepare an incredible three-course meal, which I have the pleasure of detailing for you now.
First Course: Ginger Jalapeno Tofu, Blue Moon Gravy, and Coconut Beignets:
Michelle had told us that her sous-chef, Ben, was incredibly versatile; he even has tofu skills! We got to taste the truth in that, as she had him create the first course. What a decadent start to the meal! First of all, how often does a vegan get gravy at a non-vegan restaurant?! (Answer: pretty much never!) This sensual dish won us all over. In addition to a touch of ginger and jalapeno heat, sriracha sauce was drizzled on top. For someone who likes the idea of hot spice, but can't handle too much of it, I thought the balance was just right.
And those beignets! They provided a welcome crisp sweetness in the midst of the velvety gravy and savory chunks of tofu. I was very grateful to eat something that was so New Orleans-inspired!
Second Course: Charred Creole Tomato, Avocado and Black Bean Relish, Coconut Jasmine Rice, Summer Watermelon Vinaigrette:
In addition to its stunning presentation, the flavors in this dish were stunningly intense! You can imagine the ooh's and aah's, both when the plates arrived at the table, and then as we were relishing every bite. I don't know what was done to that tomato, but along with the black bean filling, it was a flavor masterpiece! My mom said the rice was the best she'd had in her life -- and she is not prone to hyperbole. The watermelon vinaigrette was complex and spectacular! I loved that sauces were such a big part of the meal; I usually have to miss out on them when I eat out.
Third Course: Coconut and Almond Milk Granita, Fresh Berries and Cherries, Pepper Jelly Topping:
The granita was sweet, light, flavorful, refreshing -- what a treat! It was great to have a fancy dessert, since, like sauces, they're usually reserved for omnivorous diners.
My dad commented afterwards that it was nice to eat such a delicious meal and then feel good when we were done -- usually after such decadence, you feel heavy and bleah! Not here.
This is the kind of meal I'm looking for, folks. Food with heart in it (not literally, silly!), prepared with consideration of all aspects of what makes for a great dining experience:
1) Quantity: Just right! We were full for several hours afterwards, but didn't feel overstuffed at any point.
2) Variety: Wow. Every food group was amply represented! As a result, it was hearty and satisfying.
3) Originality: Chock full of it, from beginning to end!
4) Equivalency: Definitely! There was no feeling deprived at this meal.
5) Culinary flair: Amazing.
6) Consistency: Well, there's no vegan meal on the menu...yet. Howsabout heading over there soon to let them know there are more vegans in town? As it is now, Chef Michelle says vegans can drop in and she will cook something up on the spot -- but of course if you can call ahead, that would be even better. Don't you look forward to the day, though, that you can walk into a place like this and order something off the menu, already having some idea of what it will be, whether or not you'll like it, and how much it will cost? I sure do.
The Cortellos are running a classy place and are happy to accommodate veganism and other dietary preferences (Chef Michelle has also accommodated gluten and onion intolerances there). So if you love delicious, NOLA food, and you're tired of "the usual," this is my #1 recommendation! Michelle Matlock works Wednesday through Saturday most weeks... Head over on one of those days for an inspirational meal. And let me know about it when you do!
Zeke's Restaurant ~ 1517 Metairie Rd. ~ Metairie, LA 70005 ~ 504.832.1133