With a walk-in filled to the teeth with Mangalitsa, the much prized Hungarian wooly pig, Chef Alon Shaya sets about his day. There’s a top flight brigade to run, cooking to do, cured meats to inspect and a million other tasks to attend to in what is among the finest kitchens in New Orleans.
In a heightened state after my first meal at Domenica a few months ago I stroll into a freezing northern breeze with my mind awhirl. I’ve eaten my way across New Orleans since I was a child but I’m having a hard time recollecting a restaurant where I’ve had a first meal as good as this one.
I sift through the usual suspects: Herbsaint, Commanders, Mila, Cochon, Isabelle’s, Chez Helene-with no luck.
Domenica is now the king.
Taking inspiration from the Deep South where Fried Chicken Livers and Oxtail are served up daily at gas stations and meat and 3’s, the good chef puts a spin on the classic by serving them with stracci, a brilliant green pasta of torn sheets infused with pureed herbs then tossed with lemon zest.
It’s insanely delicious.
A trio of meatballs doused in the best red gravy I’ve ever eaten are taken further into the stratosphere by nestling them onto a bed of polenta which is as the chef says “…just another word for grits.” Freshly shaved Parmiggiano from Italy puts an exclamation point on the dish as if there needed to be one.
The linguini allo scoglio serves to remind one of New Orleans proximity to the Gulf of Mexico with a tangle of shrimp,crab,mussels and clams ladled onto a bed of homemade linguini. No frills here. Just achingly fresh seafood tossed with homemade pasta. Plain and delicious.
With all the good eating going on in New Orleans on a daily basis you have to take special consideration when you’re down to your last meal in the city before returning home. It takes me a good 10-15 seconds of deliberation before I arrive at a decision.
As fate would have it I arrive after 3pm when they’re running their pizza pies at half off.
With a long journey to Austin in front of me I order two: A wild mushroom with house bacon, fontina and yard egg and the Cotechino with pork sausage, scallion and heirloom tomato
Every so often you have a meal that recalibrates your take on a food.
Domenica does that both with ease and frightening regularity.
I’ve eaten good pie on two continents but I’ve never had pizza like this.
The crust is charred and bubbly, the sauce of the sort that you wonder how good it would be taken as a breakfast pint, the toppings seem like they were foraged from a nearby farm moments before being assembled onto the pie.
Special note must be made of the bacon. A house cured statement of deliciousness that serves notice to joints like Cochon and Feast.
Yeah, y’all love your pork and that’s good. But this is THE pork house in town.
I could spend a week in New Orleans eating each meal at Domenica and learn something about food every time.
Since I normally dine solo, I’ve taken all my meals at the bar at Domenica where I’ve had good service from a variety of bartenders. As is typical you tend to receive better service from a barkeep than a waiter. They’ve been in the industry longer, they’re not as harried and the really good ones have the esp that is crucial to making good money in this line of work.
The service is amiable and professional. No small feat in 2010.
The setting of the restaurant is all early 20th century glamour with a near 200 million dollar renovation of the Roosevelt Hotel wherein Domenica resides. Opulence competes with grandeur whilst foppish dandies move along the corridors.
I half expect to see the men wearing raccoon coats and hurrying their way into curbside Packards and Duesenbergs with women who look like Lillian Gish or Louise Brooks.
It’s over the top grandeur provides the perfect tableau for food that is simultaneously rustic yet technical. Chef Alon Shaya and his team are working on a higher plane than is typical among even the most skilled of New Orleans kitchens.
Domenica makes me long to become a New Orleanian.
123 Baronne St
About the Stars:
4 **** Extraordinary, life changing
3 *** Excellent
2 * Very good
1 * Good
0 * Mediocre to Acceptable
Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating