307 Exchange Place, 301-3347; www.greengoddessnola.com
Lunch daily, dinner Thu.-Sun.
Creative cuisine with many vegetarian options
The space is charming but challenging; some busy dishes have more talking points than savor
An adventurous romp that requires some cooperation from diners
If the devil is in the details, then chefs/co-owners Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues are affecting some kind of exorcism at the Green Goddess.
This is a wickedly creative restaurant, a trove of interesting eats packed into a beguilingly small space. More often than not, they master the bedeviling details of the complex culinary concept they have undertaken. But even when things aren't quite under control, they still create something unique for New Orleans.
The cooking style of Green Goddess defies classification. DeBarr, a child of the 1960s, calls it "psychedelic." To me, it seems based on a food geek's bedside dream notes, as if some well-traveled eccentric spun a list of favorite flavors into dishes. You can order "ravioli," made not with pasta but with ultra-thin slices of golden beets bursting with chevre and drizzled with flavored oils and saba, a honey-like grape syrup. Or you could get a big knob of foie gras, glistening on the sides, its surface seared to a crisp with a Japanese spice blend, mounted over a sticky, sweet and spicy pile of black rice. An Indian-style lentil pancake with fried chickpeas is a vegetarian anchor at one end of the dinner menu, while dark, peppery links of duck sausage and citrus-streaked sweet potatoes — more akin to hunting camp comfort food — holds down the other end.
DeBarr created most of this, and it reflects the passions, if not compulsions, he accrued during 25 years working in restaurants. His career included a formative tenure at Commander's Palace under the late Jamie Shannon, but he gained notice as chef at the Delachaise. His chestnut flour tagliatelle and Irish cheddar grilled cheese are among the Delachaise-era dishes that followed him to the Green Goddess, which he opened with Artigues in May.
Artigues, previously chef at Surrey's Cafe, is in charge at lunchtime. Many of DeBarr's dinner items repeat here, though Artigues' dishes tend to be more straightforward. Smoky pulled pork goes over corn and jalapeno pancakes, for instance, and it can also thicken the busy, somewhat slimy but undeniably hearty Mexican chilaquiles. Artigues also handles dessert, and his sweet potato biscuit with hazelnut chocolate should not be missed.
In theory, the Green Goddess menu includes something for everyone, though this restaurant certainly isn't for everybody. Many dishes require some explanation, so while local seafood plays across the menu, nothing seems to rest in its expected context. Crabmeat is sweetened with mango and stuffed into tiny Thai eggplant. Barbecued shrimp are wrapped in shredded phyllo, an old favorite from the Delachaise days.
Few dishes are of significant size, so while many appear inexpensive they do add up. Tack on some $10 cocktails and you'll spend as much here for a full meal as you would at a more conventional upscale restaurant with greater creature comforts. The Green Goddess has just four tables inside, plus a few seats at a cluttered bar. An outdoor option in picturesque Exchange Place doubles the seating, but only in nice weather. The restaurant can fill instantly, and reservations aren't accepted.
It is an eager restaurant with something to tell patrons, and its chefs aren't shy about shouting it — even in a crowded room.