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Review: SoBou 

Ian McNulty reviews the French Quarter "Creole saloon" from the Brennan family

click to enlarge SoBou's exotic small plates include a foie gras burger with a foie gras float. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

The name SoBou is a portmanteau for "south of Bourbon," and it is the latest venture from the Commander's Palace branch of the Brennan family. But while the name is novel, SoBou itself isn't blazing new ground so much as combining sev-eral dining trends in one very sleek package.

  Small plates and upscale comfort food intertwine for a menu that's usually whimsical, sometimes quizzical and never uses the word entree. Diners can fetch their own wine from self-serve dispensers and a clutch of tables are equipped with their own beer taps in the style of sports bars and man caves. Craft cocktails with specific pedigrees — and sometimes their own narratives — are a centerpiece of the concept and an essential part of any visit.

  From the start, SoBou has been pitched as a "Creole saloon" and this is useful guidance for how to approach the place. The mood is retro-modern cool, with a design that's more Vegas than Vieux Carre, the kitchen's approach is playful and it all seems more apt as a stop for snacks and drinks during a spin through the Quarter than as a straight-ahead dining destination.

  Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez has steak and redfish on the menu, but these seem like hedges for those determined to assemble a normal meal. The main attractions, beyond drinks, are dishes that weigh in like shareable appetizers and eat like cocktail party nibbles. Shrimp are stretched across skewers and stuck into a sticky, jelly-painted base of grilled pineapple. Airy cracklings come with pimento cheese dip, which also is good with the hand-cut fries. Boudin balls are straight forward and andouille and tasso meatballs are delicious but fall apart so readily they require a spoon. Then there are the "tuna cones" — waffle cone bundles of yellowfin tartare topped with micro-scoops of avocado ice cream. They're tasty, but you'll probably spend more time gawking at these two-bite wonders than eating them.

  I struggled to find the advertised duck "debris" in the plain, doughy beignets. Not so with the star ingredient of the foie gras burger, however. This is a slim, palm-sized burger topped with a jiggly egg, shards of duck bacon, a pad of seared foie gras and a whip of foie gras mayonnaise. A tiny root beer float with foie gras ice cream rides shotgun, just to make sure every conceivable bell and whistle is represented. You don't chew this burger so much as slurp at it, trying your best to keep up with its surfeit of succulence. Once you pick it up, there's no setting it down, lest the fatty construction tumble apart.

  If SoBou eschews conventional meal courses, it does make the case that dessert can be a bar snack too, which sets up SoBou as a unique after-dinner destination. The rum cake — buried under lavish layers of chocolate meringue and shaved hazelnut — is boozy enough to count as its own cocktail.

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