I was very pleasantly surprised upon entering the new Pellicano Ristorante in Kenner on a recent Saturday evening. The ambience was quite elegant and we encountered a fine dining experience on par with some of the best restaurants in New Orleans and on the Northshore. I felt as though I had stumbled upon a diamond in the rough, with a rising star chef awaiting discovery in Louisiana. He was the real deal.
Chef Christopher Cody had made his way to Kenner via the Virgin Islands after a national search by Pellicano’s owner, Jeff Domangue. He had studied under such powerhouse chefs as Andre Ronsin of France, and Ted Robinson of Napa Valley, had just finished a stint at Charley’s Guest Ranch deep in the Chicotin of British Columbia, Canada, and had been the former executive chef of Cloe and Bernard’s, a gourmet haven in the four-diamond rated Westin of St. John.
“New Orleans is better than the Virgin Islands,” Chef Cody explains. “The seafood is so fresh. When I was in St. John’s, we used to get our oysters from Louisiana.” His only regret: not being able to go swimming at the white sand beaches before heading in to work.
Cody’s passion for his art is evident in each dish. His style is contemporary American with French, Asian, and Caribbean influences. The subtle combinations of flavors and textures are enhanced by presentations that are pretty enough to appear in the pages of Gourmet.
On the evening we dined at Pellicano, we were seated in the handsome bar to await our table. Votive candles flickered on copper-top bar tables in the softly lit lounge area adorned with burgundy walls and oil paintings. Classical music and lively chatter echoed from the handsome dining room, as the wait staff scurried about, placing dishes on tables in synchronized unison. The owner was right there with them, overseeing each dish and visiting momentarily with regulars enjoying dinner.
“I wanted to give people a fine dining experience in this area of Kenner,” said owner Jeff Domangue, who opened Pellicano with his wife Cecilia in February. “I met the chef on the internet after a national search. I flew him down, we did tastings, and I saw he is level headed, even tempered, and is not a pot thrower. We went well together. He is also very passionate about food.”
The pink, columned building that houses the restaurant, located at 4224 Williams Boulevard (504-467-2930), was formerly a church. “We gutted it from the floor to the ceiling, we put in solid mahogany doors and custom built the maple cabinetry in the dining room, and added columns and arches to the middle of the room to make it more intimate,” Domangue explains.
Although the ambience is elegant and inviting, the food is the star of the show. After being served an amuse bouche of a tiny mushroom risotto cake topped with braised duck, we began our appetizer selection with delicate puffs of fried oysters as soft as pillows that had been dredged in cornmeal and buttermilk, fried and glossed in a saffron aioli and accented with a salad made with cucumber sticks and applewood smoked bacon. “We smoke our own bacon,” Chef Cody says.
The crab cake listed on the menu turned out to be lump crabmeat in a crispy filo beggar’s purse tied with a green onion, very lightly accented with Meyer’s lemon zest and grilled red onion-champagne-avocado vinaigrette. The melt-in-the-mouth baked brie was wrapped in puff pastry and adorned with a patterned blueberry sauce, each tip ending with a fresh, ripe blueberry.
We debated over the entrées and settled on Caribbean lobster as one of the choices, since the chef had worked in the Virgin Islands. The delicious spiny lobster was poached in butter until tender, and was served with a lemongrass-asparagus-crab succotash, lemon verbena-roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted fennel vinaigrette that was both tangy and sweet.
The yellowfin tuna proved to be an excellent choice. A generous portion of sesame-coated fish was seared and served with a crispy potato cake and several large, ginger tempura battered green beans and a wasabi remoulade “to give it more of an Asian flavor, and a little spice; it’s clean and nice,” explains Chef Cody. The remoulade was more akin to the French version rather than the Creole style, designed with chopped cornichons (tiny French pickles), roasted garlic, shallots and chervil, and a mayonnaise made with Dijon mustard and white wine. “I use a lot of Dijon in my cooking,” Chef Cody comments. Each of the entrée courses, including the Muscovy duck breast, Gulf snapper, filet mignon, and pork tenderloin, had a suggested wine pairing.
There is a separate dessert menu and I highly recommend the flourless chocolate cake, which is topped with fresh whipped cream with a hint of vanilla. “We make our own vanilla extract with real vanilla bean pods,” says Chef Cody, who is planning to change Pellicano’s menu seasonally, although I pleaded with him to keep the baked brie. This is one restaurant, although not exactly in our backyard, that is well worth driving to. And it is one we plan to visit again and again, just to see what that passionate chef is up to.