New Orleanians are usually intrigued when a longstanding establishment declares a change of ownership and a new direction. Local ears perked up when Dick & Jenny's announced that it had a couple of new owners. Many wondered if it would change, and if so, how much?
Cristiano Raffignone and Kelly Barker, Dick & Jenny's new proprietors, are no strangers to the Uptown dining scene. They already have Martinique Bistro under their umbrella as well as Cristiano Ristorante in Houma. After testing the waters with Northern Italian menu items at a Cristiano pop-up Monday nights at Martinique, Raffignone and Barker made their move at the adored Tchoupitoulas Street restaurant.
Much to the relief of Dick & Jenny's longtime patrons, its new owners decided to keep much of the restaurant intact and relatively unchanged at first, even retaining Chef Stacy Hall. The funky decor remained unaltered, right up to the hand-decorated dinner plates adorning the walls celebrating Dick & Jenny's original patrons.
Changes, however, were bound to come eventually. Cristiano Ristorante chef Lindsay Mason — now executive chef at Dick & Jenny's — worked with Hall to create a menu that pays homage to the "two boots": Louisiana and Italy, a culinary mash-up of Raffignone and Barker's success with Italian fare with the Louisiana flavors Dick & Jenny's customers have enjoyed for years.
Having not been to Dick & Jenny's since it changed hands, I was comforted to see that the decor had the same fun vibe I'd always enjoyed; however, the new owners added white tablecloths. That may seem a trifling detail, but it's indicative of the quirky duality of the restaurant. The tables are lined with white linen and the menu includes a $38 osso buco, but servers work the room in black Dick & Jenny's T-shirts and bartenders wearing plaid cowboy shirts mix craft cocktails.
A sense of duality applies to the food as well. The revamped menu isn't a culinary fusion of Louisiana and Italian cuisines as much as it is a pairing of the two. There are corn-fried oysters as well as Caprese salad. House-made pappardelle with pulled duck confit shares billing with a stuffed pork loin served with sauteed spinach and grits.
The result of the dual options was mostly enjoyable. The fried calamari, often a pedestrian appetizer, were perfectly crispy and paired with bright tomato sauce. Sauteed escargot with smoked bacon and wild mushrooms functioned appropriately as a garlic-butter delivery vehicle. And the carpaccio, shaved thin and draped delicately over a chilled hunk of marble, was nothing less than remarkable.
Thoughtful execution applied to entrees as well. A deeply flavorful, slow-braised beef short rib was fall-off-the bone tender and plated with a hearty helping of Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes, and the filet mignon came out perfectly medium rare with a salty, seared crust.
There were a few missteps. The bouillabaisse sported only two shrimp, four mussels and little of the promised squid, filled out with rice and shredded crab. Veal piccata was a nicely executed classic, but hardly seemed to justify the $30 price tag. The temperature of our respective plates varied wildly: The veal arrived at room temperature, but the bouillabaisse seemed to have been transported from the surface of the sun.
Overall, it's an enjoyable and satisfying experience, and longtime lovers of Dick & Jenny's can rest assured that the new Italian additions to the menu pair well with the Louisiana favorites.