Bistro Daisy opened in August, but the personalities and culinary style here should be familiar to avid local diners. Chef/owner Anton Schulte is a New Orleans-area native who got his start in the business 17 years ago at Clancy's. He and wife Diane have been working together for years, he in the kitchen, she at the front of the house. They did this act together at Peristyle for years and later moved to La Petit Grocery.
They had an ownership stake at that restaurant, but so did a lot of other people, and Anton says he and Diane wanted a place where they could direct the whole show. They left La Petit Grocery not long before their current restaurant space ended its short run as Ristorante Civello.
The bistro is named for the owners' daughter, who is also the namesake for the restaurant's Daisy salad, a composition of nicely bitter baby arugula topped with slices of fresh mozzarella radiating out from a pile of roasted yellow peppers, all representing a daisy blossom. This is a rare burst of whimsy on a menu that otherwise takes a studied, though creative, approach, usually with excellent results.
One gorgeously arranged appetizer quickly became my favorite here: two large slabs of grill-charred sweetbreads stacked with crunchy, salty planks of bacon and wafer-thin, almost translucent slices of eggplant. Ringed with a little vinaigrette, it presented a pretty picture, but one that grew more rewarding the more it was dissembled with the fork.
Bistro Daisy does the traditional bowl of mussels one better. Schulte poaches his very delicately and they are served with shells removed in a smoky tomato broth thickened and enlivened with aioli. Eating mussels from the shell is an easy chore, and one I enjoy, but this version is nonetheless a more graceful and memorable adaptation.
There is always a nightly appetizer special, and all the ones I've tried have been truly special. In particular, a recent trio of duck offered distinct portions of foie gras, seared breast meat and confit, all working together to zero-in on that rich, warm, mouth-coating appeal of duck. Another great appetizer special had four large, seared scallops, crisp on the surface, yielding within, gilded with a thin but assertive sauce.
The one dish I would avoid here is an entrée of sautéed shrimp, which starts with gorgeous shrimp but subjects them to terrible sides. The polenta was whipped into something resembling bland potatoes, while thick slices of mirliton tasted like cuts from an unripe avocado.
Schulte's entrees hew more toward meat than seafood, though there is usually a fish of the night. Both examples I tried " a speckled trout and a grouper were served as large fillets very lightly treated with a crisping sear and restrained seasoning. With unobtrusive brown butter sauces and sides of dumpling-like potato galettes, they are very good dishes but not showstoppers.
That status is reserved in my mind for the grilled duck breast. Both times I've tried it, the meat was perfectly cooked to medium as we requested, with a ruby blush at the very center of each delicate slice. A light-tasting, vegetable-studded risotto balances out the thick, garlic-flavored reduction, at least until you mix in the accompanying small curls of fried duck skin. They burst in the mouth with decadent, hot fat flavor, a true gourmet cracklin'.
Another favorite for me is the roasted chicken. I was surprised by how much I liked this dish, though perhaps I shouldn't have been. I distinctly remember eating the best roasted chicken of my life more than five years ago at Peristyle, during the time Anton worked there with chef/owner Anne Kearney Sand. Daisy Bistro's chicken is a close second. The tender meat was encased with a salty, earthy, mushroom-scented skin and paired perfectly with gnocchi, made in the size and shape of fingerling potatoes and enriched with ricotta.
Desserts tend to get playful, though the chocolate ravioli tasted too much like chocolate-colored pasta and not enough like dessert. My favorite finale was a flourless chocolate torte, dense but not fudgy, studded with hot, spicy peanuts, or the especially generous cheese plate.
The wine list is small but still manages to cover a lot of territory. Bistro Daisy even serves half bottles of its always satisfactory house wine for $12.50, which is sometimes the perfect fit for a couple or in those cases when a group's vote is split on the question of another bottle.