For those eager to stay on the leading edge of the New Orleans dining scene, it can feel like an endless stream of soft openings, themed cocktail hours and waiting for a coveted table alongside dozens of diners who want to eat at a restaurant the week it opens. If you're looking for a break from the gauntlet of searching out the city's next dining hot spot, there's Bistro Daisy.
It's easy to drive past the diminutive, lemon-colored building with dripping, twinkling lights that looks like it plopped down on Magazine Street out of a fairy tale. Once you notice it, though, the charm is magnetizing. Opened in 2007, Bistro Daisy found its stride as the neighborhood's best kept secret — families and restaurant staff chat and swap stories with great familiarity. It's the kind of restaurant ideal for celebrating various milestones — births, graduations, engagements — with a pitch-perfect level of intimacy.
Bistro Daisy's interior is as enticing as its whimsical street presence, with finely tuned, old-school bistro elegance in a space comfortable enough to be the home of a dear friend (who happens to be a talented chef). The res- taurant makes the most of the small space and adds a number of personal touches, with bouquets of blossoming peonies and daisies arranged in milk jars and oversized vases dotting mantles, bars and tables. Refined dark-wood finishes, white tablecloths and robin's egg blue, baroque-style crown molding make Bistro Daisy feel timeless without being stuffy.
Bistro Daisy does not have a dedicated cocktail menu, and it seems refreshing simply to ask for a Manhattan. The wine list is formidable but the demi-pitcher of house wine ($12.50) is a good deal on a menu that tips into pricey territory.
The menu is anchored by solid American bistro-style dishes that are reliably flavorful and hearty across the board. Chilled lump crab salad arrives atop a jewel-toned spread of beets, which marries well with complementary sweetness and is offset by smoldering heat from the horseradish aioli. Poached oysters are a decadent opening to a meal, bathed in a pool of anise-heavy Herbsaint cream which, along with the licorice bite of fennel, revives a classic, rustic French-inspired flavor profile for the oysters.
The Daisy salad is an unfortunate stumble, with an overpowering balsamic vinaigrette and ho-hum pairing of sliced mozzarella and gluey roasted peppers on a bed of arugula.
Braised leg of lamb is pink and succulent, with traditional sidekicks — mint and rosemary — put to use in full, aromatic glory. Served on a bed of couscous, it's not a dish attempting to reinvent the wheel, but it shows how well-executed classic dishes and preparations don't need much tinkering.
Tender and well-balanced, crab and goat cheese ravioli are large, fluffy pillows delivering a tangy zip of goat cheese and buttery hunks of crab in smoky, rich tomato cream sauce. A melange of assorted, unremarkable vegetables doesn't do much to elevate the pan-roasted chicken breast, but the chicken's perfectly seared, porcini-dusted skin allows the dish to straddle the line between homey and highbrow.
The after-dinner drink menu is thoughtful and large, with limoncello, port and sherry ready to accompany house-made sorbets (the mint sorbet with a strawberry ribbon is refreshing) or an old-school, Creamsicle-style baked Alaska with a perfectly torched, fluffy meringue exterior and an icy, berry sorbet-meets-vanilla-ice-cream interior. The twists on classics make the fine dining at Bistro Daisy a welcome reprieve from chasing the latest dining trends.