To understand the magnitude of the detailed planning that has taken place in Dauphine’s, look down the split-level bar that divides the dining area of the highly anticipated New Orleans-style restaurant, which opened in downtown DC on Friday May 7. metal well where Mid-Atlantic oysters and clams sit on ice, and peek behind the block of wood where cooks butcher whole pork sides brought from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Then take a minute to appreciate the hanging country hams, Genoa salamis, and Sazerac bresaola visible through tiny windows built into a custom meat fridge that looks more like an antique cabinet as it’s lined with dark wood panels. that match the bar upholstery and table tops placed throughout the dining room.
Long Shot Hospitality, the DC restaurant group that hit big by infusing a Chesapeake sensibility into New England seafood traditions at the Salt Line, appears to have invested an entire Louisiana buy into Midtown development. Center on 15th Street NW. This includes a mezzanine with a wrought iron railing and palm trees that can inspire patrons to toss Mardi Gras beads at diners seated below. Outside there is a fully covered bar with four vending machines for frozen drinks and a tiled fountain glued to the side.
The commitment to this tribute project goes beyond the aesthetics of Grizform Design Architects. The Dauphine website contains a reference page listing local farmers and suppliers. It also serves as an encyclopedia of New Orleans culinary history. Neal Bodenheimer – a founder of the nationally renowned bar Cure, credited with ushering in the craft cocktail trend in New Orleans – is a Dauphine’s partner who replicated a historic hurricane recipe and workshop-worked on a rickey absinthe. After initially billing Salt Line’s Kyle Bailey as the project manager, Long Shot worked with Bodenheimer’s relations to recruit Kristen Essig from New Orleans to DC.
Essig, who worked at Emeril’s and spent over 20 years studying the city’s Cajun and Creole cuisine, agreed to leave the city after breaking up with her partner at a contemporary southern restaurant Coquette. Bailey is in charge of the butcher’s menu at La Dauphine, a reference to Cajun pig harvesting traditions, and Essig oversees the rest of a menu (see full version below) that interprets Louisiana cuisine with a mix of ingredients from the South East Coast and region.
“You have to be careful not to make an Epcot version of what people think [New Orleans] is, ”Essig says.
She bring long grain rice of Prairie Ronde, Louisiana, just north of Lafayette, and showing large glass jugs full of black cane syrup in small batches of producer Charles Poirier in Youngsville, Louisiana. His friends at Leidenheimer Baking Co. (founded 1896) send frozen and pre-baked breads recognized as the ideal for po ‘boy bread. Essig uses them as the base for the Peacemaker sandwich that piles fried oysters with debris, a classic New Orleans roast beef sauce that she makes with braised cheeks. She dubbed this dish a “napkin changer,” prompting waiters to expect requests for a new napkin after it hits the table.
“Food is supposed to be messy,” Essig says. “You are supposed to be involved.
Another nod to the South is the inclusion of mirliton, or chayote, squash, which thrives in Louisiana and is often served stuffed and baked. The latest version of Essig is shaved to retain its crunch, then served with julienned apples, crispy pork ears and candied Georgia pecans.
Essig makes the first iteration of what will be a seasonal okra with all the shellfish (crab, oyster, and shrimp), marking a first for her, she says. This bowl of stew begins with a roux made from toasted flour and cooked to the color of dark chocolate. Instead of a mound of white rice in the center, there is a serving of potato salad. With the Atlantic coast in mind, she serves redfish almond, not trout, and a blackened Creole soft-shell crab where catfish or rockfish might otherwise hang out.
The chef’s desire to reduce waste and the willingness to meet challenges are manifested on a plate of grilled cabbage served in a stewed sauce. Bodenheimer insisted that no one could pull off a vegan stew, and Essig was careful not to categorize the dish that way, but she used that challenge as a starting point. The outer leaves of whole roasted cabbage heads add flavor to a vegetable broth at the base of the dairy-free sauce; the roux is oil-based, in this case. Cabbage slices are placed on top of the sauce, then topped with pickled mushrooms, herbs, and a crunchy seed and spice blend that includes coriander seeds.
The charcuterie boards (three meats for $ 18) come with a “seasonal” mustard, which Essig says is another way to use leftover ingredients like a strawberry bush from the sea bass. Bailey, who says he’s “wise in the sausage years,” developed a marinated hot link recipe to extend the shelf life of a product that young cooks are often enthusiastic about making but can’t sell fast enough. An all-pork grind is poached in pork fat and preserved in a malt vinegar solution, then sliced to serve with dishes like a homemade pork head terrine. There’s also a banh mi Essig chicken liver mousse dressed with jalapeno, pickled carrots, and daikon, and a dash of ground citrus from whole and dried black satsumas stored in jars around the restaurant.
“I have a lot of powders and potions,” Essig said with a smile.