The Magic of Mesón 923: Hip new restaurant trumps other culinary stars in the neighborhood

As our desserts were being served at Mesón 923 in the Warehouse District, located on the corner of South Peters and South Diamond Streets, we were already planning our next visit to enjoy Chef Baruch Rabasa’s amazing cross-cultural cuisine.

Upon arrival, the valets immediately took our cars and we strolled past the chic bar, taking the elevator up to our table on the second floor. Presiding over his kitchen like an artist creating a masterpiece, Chef Rabasa delights in dazzling diners with one stroke of genius after another. Still a bit under the radar since opening in April 2010, Mesón 923 has the promise of being ranked as one of the top restaurants serving international fare in the city of New Orleans.

We received a tip about this hip new restaurant from a friend from New Orleans who now lives near our nation’s capital. She is highly attuned to the star-chef circuit (her husband is an acclaimed chef and she knows the Big Easy’s top chefs on a first-name basis). Her advice never proves wrong. Mesón 923 has become my favorite place in the Warehouse District for a culinary tour around the world. With Emeril’s, Tommy’s Cuisine, and Cochon nearby, the competition is stiff for new chefs in the neighborhood.

The vibe is great. There are large picture windows where you can overlook all the activity on South Peters, which has many night spots nearby. Upstairs, the décor is sleek and contemporary, yet it has sort of an Old World feel due to the exposed brick, simple bistro chairs, and high banquettes. There are no tablecloths on the dark wooden tables, and the plain white dishware is fundamental with the purpose of showing off each of the chef’s artfully presented dishes. The building dates from the 1840s and was the longtime site of the Diamond Street Market, which for over 80 years was the center of activity in the area.

The international menu is due to Chef Rabasa’s heritage and widespread culinary posts. Between his mother from the Bay Area and his father from Mexico, Rabasa’s homes have included Cuernavaca, Mexico; San Francisco; New Orleans; Austin; Woodstock, New York; Bethesda; and Ann Arbor. His paternal grandparents fled Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War; his stepmother is from Aix-en-Provence, and his stepfather is from southwestern Louisiana. His best friends in high school were from Jamaica, Haiti, and the British Virgin Islands. He has cooked in the finest kitchens of France, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and worked at some of the great French restaurants in New York. In New Orleans, he worked at Restaurant August under John Besh and Emeril’s before settling in for a five-year stint at Gautreau’s. He also worked as a private chef to a rancher in South Dakota, and his employer took him on culinary tours from Amsterdam to Argentina.

Chef Rabasa surprised us on our first dining experience with a delicate amuse bouche of tuna tartare, which was followed by an array of appetizers that included luscious scallops, grilled quail “Jamaican style” with papaya chow-chow, duck confit with a port-braised demiglace and gorgonzola ravioli and dandelion greens, truffle-glazed sweetbreads with brioche-wrapped asparagus, and a fried (panko-encrusted) goat cheese salad with Asian pears, which is something I hadn’t enjoyed since studying the culinary arts in Paris.

Although every entrée was masterful, my order of filet of beef “en sous vide” with a Parmesan-potato mousse, asparagus, and Perigord sauce was the most outstanding of the lot. My next highest votes went to the slow-roasted duck breast with Satsuma sage jus, the sautéed triggerfish with quinoa and jumbo lump crabmeat with sweet potatoes, and the grilled yellowfin tuna with crisp veal sweetbreads and an eggplant confit that was finished with a caramelized Vidalia onion and tomato reduction.

Desserts appeared as an array of homespun delights but with elegant, clever presentations, particularly the churros with hot (Godiva) chocolate and the homemade cookies with chocolate milk; garnishes are always artful. The assortment of homemade sorbets was simply over the top. A plate of artisan cheeses, which I try whenever available for dessert, was followed by frothy cappuccino that sent me home in a cloud of bliss. The valet parking was complimentary.

There is generally a no-reservations policy at Mesón 923, but that can often be worked around, and the wait is minimal due to the fabulous attention of the staff. Although we first tried the restaurant for a special occasion, subsequent visits needed no excuse at all.


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