In the heart of Old Metairie, you could easily miss Cafe B (2700 Metairie Road, Metairie, 504-934-4700; www.cafeb.com), one of Ralph Brennan's newest ventures. Only the valet parking stand might tip you off to this storefront bistro, where executive chef and general manager Chris Montero brings a city sensibility to a rarified neighborhood.
"We're so used to [artisan restaurants] in New Orleans; if you roll down Magazine Street, all of my buddies have restaurants that, in many ways, do what we do. But not so much in Metairie," Montero says. "That's our scope, that's our hope, to bring [in] a little bit more of a broader audience."
Since the restaurant's soft opening in May 2011, Montero and his team have worked to elevate the casual dining experience. They pair premium ingredients and house-made condiments with a moderate price point and low-key atmosphere, where waiters swap neckties for open-collared shirts and jeans. The dining room, a tablecloth-free teal and wood space that frames a shimmering bar, has a playful air.
This relaxed atmosphere allows Montero to get creative with his menu, changing it seasonally while acknowledging local tastes. From his training in classical French cooking to his tenure as executive chef at the now-closed Italian restaurant Bacco, he looks for commonalities across cuisines that inspire new dishes.
"I'm a local, born and raised on pan-sauteed speckled trout with jumbo lump crabmeat on it," Montero says. "When we started here, I was going for a much more contemporary American bistro, kind of gastropub kind of thing ... [but our customers] kept asking for more and more fish and more and more seafood, so hopefully we can continue to do that in unique ways."
Montero describes the menu as "innovative twists on classic Creole cuisine," with a heavy emphasis on seasonal seafood. For spring, the restaurant features the "crawfish fete," where 10 different dishes that include crawfish appear on the menu. In the summer, they'll move on to "crab fete," a celebration of the much-beloved local crustacean.
For the seafood-averse, Cafe B offers other options, including the de rigueur filet and a revolving list of premium cocktails by bar manager Caleb Chafin. Choices like the Ponchatoula strawberry mojito or the blood orange margarita are mixed with premium ingredients and house-made syrups and infusions.
Other specialties include the daily "spa plate," a joint project between Ralph Brennan and Touro Infirmary which adheres to strict nutritional requirements. Montero says the biggest challenge for these entrees is sodium content, but he takes pride in making the spa plate something both delicious and familiar to New Orleanians, like a fat-free shrimp Creole over quinoa or a "skinny" Caesar salad with grilled shrimp.
As the restaurant evolves, Montero hopes he can keep satisfying its multigenerational audience.
"The biggest thing is trying to find a barometer in a suburban restaurant, rather than a downtown entity," Montero says. "We're learning all the time."