In Friday's paper, Times-Picayune food critic and Lagniappe saving-grace Brett Anderson made no bones about it: Scott Boswells Stella! is the best restaurant in New Orleans. Today Anderson penned a follow-up blog elaborating on some of the articles myriad comments, which, he writes, ranged from enthusiasm to disdain. (Pity the poor scribes who must answer to disdainful Nola.com responders.) His effusive position is one I shared for a while, both before and after Hurricane Katrina, but the rare five-bean review felt to me like a latecomer not as accurate as it would have been had it appeared in, say, August 2007. (In Andersons defense, T-P only resumed counting beans last summer.) Stella! may still serve the most exquisite food in New Orleans, but the citys clear-cut top restaurant its not. Heres why.
Just about everything Anderson writes about the cuisine at Stella! is true. Boswell is a magician of the menu, he employs kitchen technicians of the highest order, and his obsession with exotic, premium, globetrotting ingredients is the primary reason or perhaps the best rationale for paying the exorbitant, Manhattanesque prices he charges for his meals (appetizers, $12 to $49; entrees, $32 to $49). The problem is that most of the dishes Anderson genuflected for made their debuts years ago: five-way duck, composition of heirloom tomatoes, miso-sake sea bass, Saint-André and ganache on brioche, butter-poached lobster. Regardless of the quality of some of those (and the lobster, as Anderson notes, is particularly exceptional), this is too stagnant a roster for someone with Boswells creative gifts. Put another way: How many times is the average diner even the average fine-dining diner expected to fork over an aggregate $70 for the same amuse-bouche-sized lobster, egg and truffle starter ($21, served in an eggshell) and tail/claw main course ($49)? This may be of no concern to a company-financed food critic, but Stella! is pricing itself out of the New Orleans market with plates older than its youngest patrons. A dish similar to the truffled Parmesan gnocchi appetizer Anderson loved (blanketed with black truffle shavings) carried a fair-enough tag ($14) the night I ordered it, in early 2007. That option of shaved truffles, however, set you back an additional $25.