For chef Eric LaBouchere at Martinique Bistro (5908 Magazine St., 891-8495; www.martiniquebistro.com), every plate is personal.
"We're a 100-seat restaurant — on a good day," he says, referring to courtyard seating that is available when the weather is nice. "On a regular day, (capacity is) only 46, so it's small enough — intimate enough — that I can really be hands-on with the food. There are only so many people out there, so we really pay attention to each plate. There are no heat lamps back here. It's all done a la minute."
When owner Cristiano Raffignone purchased Martinique Bistro from Hubert Sandot in 2003, the menu reflected Sandot's Franco-Caribbean heritage. Focusing on local ingredients allows LaBouchere and Raffignone to maintain the original tropical feel while making the restaurant's aesthetic more distinctly French.
Patrons enter Martinique through a high-walled courtyard, which gives the restaurant a cozy, secluded vibe. Inside, warm lighting from sconces and dark wood accents give the room an intimate, hushed feel. Pale yellow walls display images by local photographer Frank Relle.
"We're this hidden gem, and the food mimics the atmosphere," LaBouchere says.
Martinique serves traditional bistro fare like bouillabaisse and salads along with more sophisticated entrees, including duck breast cured with Steen's Cane Syrup and pan sauteed drum in a Champagne vinaigrette.
LaBouchere gets most of his seafood from Gulf fishermen, and the produce at Martinique comes from New Orleans. One of his suppliers is Our School at Blair Grocery, which offers afterschool programs for kids in the Lower 9th Ward.
To keep his things fresh in every sense of the word, LaBouchere changes his menu seasonally and welcomes outside influences. Next to dishes showcasing Gulf shrimp and redfish, he includes Prince Edward Island mussels and sushi-grade fish from Hawaii. The bistro has also hosted chefs including Aaron Burgau of Patois and Daniel Slater of Emeril's, friends of LaBouchere's who come in to hang out and cook on their days off.
"That's the great thing about being chef at Martinique, that I really get to have a relationship with my clientele where I'm doing food I really enjoy, for people I really want to do it for," LaBouchere says. "We've got this big bay window, so I always tell people just knock on the window and come through the back. If you like it, just come on in."