When I reviewed Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave., 524-4114) last May, four months after it opened, two meals and one snack had culminated in a general feeling that, while it dropped a few balls, Chef Donald Link's kitchen was really trying. Susan Spicer's culinary sensibility showed up often enough to keep me happy, and the place was abuzz with a friendly energy that made it easy to pass an hour at the bar with an order of fries and a wine flight. When I returned last week, however, an appetizer bowl of superbly fried frogs' legs bursting with tiny tastes of fines herbs launched what amounted to a nearly flawless, four-course meal. The highlights included a rabbit fricassee special (despite its floury-tasting pasta), putrid and delicious Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese, creamy coconut pie and a Verdicchio from General Manager Ken Jackson's uber-stylish wine list. Service was utterly pleasant, and the meal was testament to what can transpire in a restaurant after a year of nosing the grindstone.
Similarly, a lunch at Cuvee (322 Magazine St., 587-9001) revealed that Chef Bingo Starr is keeping on his toes. Half the staff seemed to congregate in the bar for wine and chat late in the afternoon, creating a casual and festive mood. Meanwhile, the kitchen put out a Napoleon-style appetizer that debunked my theory that I would faint from boredom if ever faced with another Napoleon-style appetizer. This one stacked thin, deep-fried rounds of mirliton that somehow proved that mirliton has flavor; naked pieces of boiled shrimp, exploiting the shrimps' own fatty sweetness; and smears of a simple remoulade. One swipe of the citrusy cayenne butter pooled underneath helped paste all the elements together, sort of like marshmallows in a s'more. There were also matchbook-size oysters in a dark, barbecue butter, and sweet chevre stuffed inside a dessert crepe with fig compote. Some of the wine prices were outrageous, but overall the lunch gave me a hankering to return soon for dinner.
The hours of operation at Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar (1418 Magazine St., 524-3828) changed significantly between my meals there and the review that followed (Jan. 8). You can now get both breakfast and lunch, including organic coffee and fresh-pressed juices, Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Catch the Crescent City Farmers Market's mayoral and Super Bowl crawfish races Saturday, Feb. 2, the day of the primary. Slow Food's Poppy Tooker will prepare crawfish bisque for the crowds. The Saturday market is at 700 Magazine St. and runs from 8 a.m. to noon. Call 861-5898 or visit www.loyola.edu/ccfm. -- Roahen