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Review: Rue 127 

Ian McNulty finds big flavors in a tiny cottage that's both the perfect neighborhoodrestaurant and a destination worthy of a drive

click to enlarge Pastry chef Joanna Palmer creates desserts like the Creole cream cheese Napoleon at Rue 127. - PHOTO BY IAN MCNULTY
  • Photo by Ian McNulty
  • Pastry chef Joanna Palmer creates desserts like the Creole cream cheese Napoleon at Rue 127.

There's no guilt about eavesdropping at Rue 127. Tables placed close together in a tiny dining room make at least some conversation crossover inevitable, and it also gives a pretty good gauge on this upscale neighborhood bistro.

  I lost track of how often diners informed their servers, or adjacent tables, that they strolled over from their homes "just around the corner." For a restaurant open for just four months, Rue 127 has earned itself quite a local following. Another bit of commonly overheard commentary explains why. That would be the typical round of enthused praise as dishes arrive.

  Rue 127's menu reads straightforwardly, yet the results on the plate can set a table abuzz. Scallops are seared with an edge so rigid they nearly stand on end over a meltingly soft foundation of wild mushrooms and ambrosial saffron sauce. The humble-sounding pork chop proved a smoky, char-marked antidote to a recent freezing night, and the veritable salad of micro greens and fried shallots heaped over it added another dimension. At Sunday brunch, a so-called hash materialized as sculpted stacks of fried tomato, chicken and sweet potato topped with poached eggs and finished with chili-tinged hollandaise. There's plenty to talk about with food so creatively wrought, visually appealing and skillfully executed.

  It's the work of chef/owner Ray Gruezke, a New Orleans native who was sous chef at Le Foret before opening his own place. The building he chose is a narrow cottage painstakingly renovated as the restaurant Arabesque. The glassed-in kitchen lends a touch of modern style, though with its familiar shotgun house dimensions, this restaurant feels more cottage-cozy than cutting-edge. A downside is that one person's coziness may trigger another's claustrophobia, and it doesn't take many people to crowd the place. A few outdoor tables make good alternatives in suitable weather.

  Service involves a mix of polished professionals and the chef's family members, who give Rue 127 an endearing intimacy. When the gentleman behind the bar recommends the salmon, the filial pride is unmistakable.

  I also recommend that salmon, which has a panko-crusted crunch over a caramelized surface and a supple, buttery interior. But I'd skip the poached bass, which tasted washed out, and the roasted chicken, which lacked crackle on top and juiciness within. I was much happier with the steamed mussels, an appetizer generous enough to serve as a small entree, especially with its complementing cone of thick, Parmesan-sprinkled fries. Mushroom risotto is balanced, smooth and smoky — basically perfect.

  It's rare for such a small restaurant to have a dedicated pastry chef. But Joanna Palmer shows the benefit. Her roster of desserts includes such delicate extravagances as a Creole cream cheese Napoleon layered with lacy hazelnut tuile and a bar of cheesecake with salted caramel and almond brittle. Though I initially pegged her fried cupcakes as a novelty item, the burst of warm frosting beneath each cake's pliant shell sold me on the concept.

  It's easy to see why the neighborhood has embraced Rue 127, but cooking of this caliber, and a setting this inviting, are worth crossing town to experience.

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