Designated Diner: Coastal cuisine amid faded glory
Designated Diner: Eli Silverman
Day job: Founder and owner of Caliper, a web development company devoted to helping businesses establish strong brands and fluid workflow.
Also: Designer of the NolaVie web site and architect of its tribute page to late co-founder Sharon Litwin, who was a friend.
Full disclosure: When Eli first landed in New Orleans, armed with an art degree and a knowledge of computer science, he wound up cooking under chef Nathaniel Zimet at Boucherie. So yes, he’s a foodie.
The restaurant: Cavan, 3607 Magazine Street
Why he chose it: He was intrigued by its cuisine – Coastal America with an infusion of whimsy – and setting, a sort of shabby chic mansion.
What he looks for in a restaurant: Comfort, consistency, playfulness, and attention to ingredients. “I like a sense of familiarity as well as something new – there are so many kinds of dining experiences.” His go-to place for special occasions is definitely Boucherie. Runners-up Compere Lapin and 511. His most recent birthday outing took him to Josephine Estelle in the Ace Hotel, “awesome for its food, service, and ambiance.”
What he likes on a menu: Comfort food. I live in Pizza Delicious. Choosing toppings is something of a Sophie’s choice: Margherita or meatballs?
The MO at Cavan: Cuisine from East, West and Gulf coasts done with intriguing culinary touches. Seafood stars.
Starters and sides: Diners get a plate of crunchy seasoned oyster crackers instead of bread. Hush puppies are sublime, with an infusion of spiced honey and whipped lardo. Don’t miss them. Fried Oyster Toast - one in a lineup of bread-and-topping-offerings - scores with a spicy kimchee and ginger remoulade. The Fried Oyster Caesar salad is topped with oyster crackers instead of croutons.
Entrée standout: Shrimp and grits hit a high mark as upgraded comfort food. Shell-on, butter-baked shrimp sit atop jalapeno, green onion and cheese-laced creamy grits, the latter holding a hint of tartness. Eli likes what he calls interactive food – dishes you get your hands into, like this one. “Eating with your fingers brings the food down from any pretentiousness.”
Thirst quenchers: Cocktails get full gastronomic attention here. A nice opener is the Michelada, a Mexican lager laced with lime, tomato and Old Bay.
Sweets: A daily popsicle fills that comfort-food itch, while a slice of the day’s layer cake was chocolatey, gooey and filled with fat bits of raspberry. But the winner during this visit was the decadently rich yet homey Maple Banana Mason Jar Pudding.
The mood: The restaurant’s owners describe their redo of this 1881 mansion as an homage to its “beautiful deterioration.” It is, and it works, with hints of genteel decay. Oversized black and white and sepia photographs hang on old plaster walls under twinkling chandeliers and above red velvet chairs and banquettes. “It’s like someone you know bought an old and awesome house and invited you to dinner,” says Eli.
The bottom line: Fine dining, with innovative cuisine that is also accessible. There’s a playfulness in the menu with underpinnings firmly planted in home cuisine. “There’s a psychology to food,” says Eli. “The slight imperfections – thick, hand-layered icing on the cake, or pudding in a mason jar – makes it feel homemade.”
Lagniappe: Halloween may be recently past, but spooky vibes linger at Cavan. Motion sensors go off at night, doors lock from the inside and cell phones ring without connections at the other end. So how to appease a ghost? With gin, of course.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.