I am irresistibly drawn to menus posted on restaurant windows.
I will stop and read, even though I have no intention of every visiting that particular restaurant. Frequently, Chuck is half a block down the street before I am finished and I have to run to catch up. So, when I saw the menu for Domenica (the name means Sunday in Italian) posted on the ground floor windows of the Roosevelt Hotel, I had no choice but to stop and read.
The first thing to catch my eye was the notation www.johnbesh.com on the bottom. John Besh makes frequent appearances on The Food Network and Bravo. He was the first season runner-up on The Next Iron Chef and bested Mario Batali on Iron Chef America. Just this week, I saw him—along with Paula Deen—as a guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars.
“Before Katrina, John Besh was simply a good chef with a fancy restaurant that had a habit of making top 10 lists around the country. After Katrina, he became known as the ex-Marine who rode into the flooded city with a gun, a boat and a bag of beans and fed New Orleans until it could feed itself” (www.nytimes.com).
He was also instrumental in rebuilding other establishments such as Willie Mae’s Scotch House, one of the city’s venerated culinary landmarks in the Ninth Ward. “Besh is proud to have partnered with Baton Rouge-based emergency reconstruction specialists Arkel International, for which he creates high quality ready-to-eat meals for distribution to thousands of emergency response teams and sustained strategic operations in the U.S. and around the world....” (from the restaurant’s web site).
So, recognizing the name John Besh prompted me to pay special attention to the short but intriguing lunch menu. After my study, I turned to Chuck and announced “We will eat here.”
Soon we were entering a dining room which, while it doesn’t try to mimic the stately grandeur of the Roosevelt’s main lobby, provides an elegant, though modern, tribute to the hotel’s restoration. “New Orleans waited a long time for the historic Roosevelt hotel to reopen, but no one knew what a dining destination it would become. Although the hotel is all old-world glamour, Domenica is contemporary, sleek and minimalist” (gayot.com).
The heavy wooden tables with sleek and modern black chairs are set with cruets of olive oil and vinegar. The sturdy water glasses, we later learned, have been made from the bottom of wine bottles—a most creative form of recycling.
While the room is large, square, and high ceilinged, a sense of intimacy and separation is created by the use of curtains made from black metal mesh.
The striking art work, provided by the Arthur Roger Gallery, finds a perfect home against the black walls.
Especially intriguing was a piece by Troy Dugas that resembled a large paper doily (partially hidden by the wire mesh curtain).
Before our meal arrived, Chuck walked over to the artwork to get a closer look.
He was smiling as he returned.
Upon closer inspection, you realize that it is made from hundreds of Falstaff beer labels pasted onto a paper base—hence, its title “Falstaff.”
As you may have guessed from the name, Domenica is John Besh’s take on rustic Italian dining. The lunch menu includes two appetizers (neither of which is the salumi plate available at dinner), six salads, two pastas, six panini, thirteen pizzas, and seven desserts.
While the entire menu sounded delicious, the first choice was the proverbial “no brainer”—the prosciutto pizza with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and light tomato sauce. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the thin, but chewy, crust had a light char on the edges. The sauce was just as we like—light and tasting of fresh ripe tomatoes and applied with a gentle hand. And the creamy buffalo mozzarella with the thin and salty ham slices were balanced by the peppery and slightly bitter greens. How good was this pizza? Good enough to depose Pomo in Scottsdale from the Number Two slot on our all time favorite list. (Settebello in Salt Lake City remains in first place.)
The next choice was more difficult. Do we order a second pizza (the Margherita, perhaps) or something else? We decided on the something else and chose the porchetta panini. This was a wise choice on our part. The pressed sandwich came on a ciabatta-like roll that had been brushed with olive oil, which, when the sandwich was toasted, became crisp as though it had been fried. The roll was filled with garlicky roasted pork shoulder, aged provolone cheese, and sautéed rapini (a.k.a. broccoli rabe). This was an upscale version of my favorite Philadelphia sandwich—Tony Luke’s roast pork Italiano. The sharp cheese and bitter rapini balanced the very rich roasted pork.
With the sandwich, we had our choice of either a side salad or house made potato chips. As you can see from the photo, we chose the chips. They were warm, thin, crisp, grease-free, and dusted with grated parmesan cheese. We could have sat and eaten these, along with a glass or two of wine, all afternoon.
We finished off our meal by sharing a dish of “Gianduja Budino” or chocolate and hazelnut pudding topped with real whipped cream and candied hazelnuts. Chocolate and hazelnuts are another of those classic flavor combinations where each brings out the best of the other. This was lighter than your “pudding from a box,” but denser than a mousse. And it was rich enough that this was the perfect dessert to share.
With our dessert came a plate of two dense, chewy, and very chocolaty cookies.
Everything about this lunch was perfect—the clean modern setting in an elegant hotel, the informed and friendly service, and the marvelous food. Added together, this is a 5.0 Addie stop and has been added to our list of New Orleans “keepers.”