I have eaten at many prestigious American restaurants. Being from Chicago, there was quite a few in my back yard (Trotters, Alinea). I would spent months saving money to eat at them, thousands of dollars spent on 6-8 courses of Americas best dishes. It was a driving force in my youth about how quickly I could make money, so I can spend it on restaurants. Which in hindsight may have attributed to an un healthy obsession with food.
It wasn't till much later, in-fact after opening Republica, I took a long weekend with my wife to New Orleans. It was a couple days eating our way through the city, which is amazing and if you haven't you must, my opinion one of the greatest food cities in world, if not the greatest. we decided to go to what was a very new place set out in, from what we could gather looking at google maps, was middle of a residential area. Even our Uber driver, asked if we were sure there was a restaurant here.
Navigating the twists and back alleys of suburban New Orleans, we came upon a wooden fence with facing a narrow alleyway. The wood was ruff un-sanded, fresh from store and recently installed. The black metal handle felt wet in the moisture filled Louisiana air and spray painted on it was the name "N7"
My wife and I chuckled as I opened the door and there you could see a rock and rope system, similar to something out of a cartoon, propped up on the hinge to close the door after entrance.
Looking in to the restaurants grounds we realize, this was a house. Converted over to what felt like was a small French café. The car port outside was used as a patio seating, the back of the house was opened, a collection of framed art and pictures glazed the walls surrounding a small bar.
There was a woman holding a baby next to it, and in this rhythmic bouncing of the child she exclaimed to us, "please sit anywhere."
This was not an uncommon site for my wife and I, as on more then one occasion I would hold our first born, while my wife took an order at Republica, when we first started, then when ticket came back I would pass the baby to her and cook for the table. "This is what you do if you have a family and a Restaurant, everyone does their part and there is no crying in baseball."
As we sat, to frame the event, I had talked my wife into going to N7 for cocktails and a bite before our reservation at Paul Perdone's, later that evening. We were dressed for a night on town, I myself in a white linen suit, my wife in a blue and white full length dress, very southern formal. Here we are sitting in a carport, in a neighborhood not much different then you would find on Detroit's east side. There was a level of "did we make the decision tonight".
Menu was single page, small 10 items at most, and there was additional slip of paper, with bar selections. This was a representation of French cuisine with influences of Spain and Japan as far a I can understand, but then the moment my eyes moved along the page to a heading that both triggered a childhood memory and affirmed the direction of Brujo.
*****Can to Table*****
My childhood is filled with memories of my mother eating canned food. At first thought it would be very common for poor people to eat more canned food then others. This was perceived value system in America. Fresh prepared meals are a premium commodity and canned food is for poorer folk who cant afford prepared foods. Think nothing to common consumption of canned goods outside of America. Eating canned fish and vegetables, even meat is a daily practice in Europe which led to my mothers habits.
Squid, lima beans, octopus, herring, oysters, a literal mosaic of canned substances painted our pantry in my youth.
So here I was in New Orleans, about to order canned Sardines and a Sake cured salmon Tartine, in a white linen suit, sitting in someone's front lawn.
My wife wasn't 100% on board with the order, but she's a "When in Rome" chick, and as we wait for food I turn to her and say, this is a thing.
She exclaimed " what's a thing?"
I said canned sea food is a thing, and I like this thing.
You see I know what I'm about to eat. I already have a taste memory of sardines canned in olive oil .
This is not an unknown, its comfortable, and its not presenting to be something its not. Its honest, and more importantly makes me honest for ordering it.
The Tartine was light, sake was present but not over bearing. It was accompanied by cilantro and goat cheese which allowed the salmon the play the drummer in this ensemble of musicians on my plate. Clearly goat cheese, the leader singer on my tongue, made sure to allow the back up band to play on.
The Sardines, were an afternoon with my mom.
Food Is pretty personal, so I don't expect dishes to have same emotional triggers for every one. My mother passed away in 2008. So the fact that this simple can of sardines, with lid rolled back let me spend just a moment with her at the kitchen table playing cards, was beyond words. It where I wanted to be, when I needed to be there.
On the way out that evening, I went to our server, who was one of the owners as well, and told her that I was in the business in Detroit, and how much I appreciated this place. I told her that your going to do amazing things. She thanked me whole heartily, and as we walked out I told my wife, this is one of best places in America. She looked at me with disbelief, scanning the back ally as we waited for our Uber.
A year later I'm on a plane, and I crack open a fresh bon appetite magazine, the top 10 new restaurants in 2016, and there it was #10 "N7"