During the 10 years I served as the weekly restaurant critic for Gambit newspaper, I had the pleasure of learning about all the top chefs of the greater New Orleans area and the Northshore, and their various styles of cooking.
Discovering the cuisine of talented chefs throughout Louisiana remains a passion. While some chefs aspire to the limelight and stardom at five-star establishments, others of similar capabilities are simply artists who enjoy their trade rather quietly. But you can see the sparkle in their eyes when they cook or talk about food.
As far as talent goes, Chef Scott Snodgrass is at the top of the food chain, and the food game, so to speak. He is one of those mild-mannered, quiet chefs who dazzle diners with his intriguing creations that excite the taste buds at every turn. But he does not clamor for applause. On any given night he may be preparing bay scallops with a sprig of rosemary that are accented by papaya and served atop roasted acorn squash with a honey paprika gastrique, or feather-light crab cakes appearing with a fresh basil and cabbage salad tinged with Creole mustard vinaigrette. Warm sourdough is presented upon arrival, made in-house.
The former executive chef of Clancy’s, Snodgrass has found a niche as chef and co-proprietor of One Restaurant and Lounge, which opened three years ago (just six months prior to Katrina) in the Riverbend area of New Orleans, just around the block from Camellia Grill. He opened the restaurant in February, 2005 with co-proprietor Lee McCullough, a savvy wine enthusiast. The two had previously worked together and had similar ambitions.
It is understandable that you may want to run out and try a restaurant that just opened last week or last month when visiting the Big Easy, but One Restaurant and Lounge is well worth a stop, especially if you are in town during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience and do not plan to attend the popular vintner’s dinners (which are usually sold out way in advance). This is one spot to hit. It is small and intimate, decidedly romantic, but the best aspect, in my opinion, is the food bar, where you can sit and watch Chef Snodgrass and his associate chefs whip up amazing delights. The view and aromas tantalize the senses.
It is impossible to resist, for instance, the fragrance of the char-grilled oysters flecked with Roquefort cheese and red wine vinaigrette, or the salty scent of grilled beef tenderloin with a warm beef shoulder rillete, served with a Stilton glacage, and dressed up with Dauphinoise potatoes (a sumptuous little French accent). Pan-fried trout in a lobster and parsley nage is served atop mussels and basmati rice pilaf; country ribs are enveloped with a deeply flavored red wine demi-glace and served with potato and white truffle coquettes. But of all the dishes, one of my favorites is among the simplest: tuna carpaccio with sliced avocado and citrus Ponzu sauce, with a bit of slaw in the center. It is light and refreshing and melts in the mouth.
The chef dubs his cuisine “contemporary comfort food” but I would kick that up a notch and call it “global gourmet” as he fuses a number of styles including French, Italian, Creole, Asian, and Mediterranean. “I’ve done some Greek and Italian food, I ran a sushi and noodle house for a number of years, and worked at Clancy’s, so I’ve been able to pick up on a bunch of comfort dishes,” says Chef Snodgrass.
I go to One as often as possible for the pleasure of observing Chef Snodgrass in action at what is perhaps the coolest little food bar in town. He is always putting something fresh and creative on the menu, and his presentations are works of art.
“The advantage of an open kitchen is that we see what is going on in the dining room,” Chef Snodgrass discloses. “Being in a closed kitchen was most of the tenure in my life. You’re at the mercy of the way the tickets are coming in. Whereas, with this open kitchen you can see the front door, so we can see the expectation and anticipation, which is everything in the kitchen.”
Cool jazz, ceiling fans, hardwood floors, mirrors, and a cozy little bar add to the romantic charm of the place. The chef says he will soon be bringing back his cochon du lait to the menu. “It’s a classic spring dish,” he says. “We do whole pigs; it’s supposed to be a baby suckling pig, around 20-30 pounds. We do it overnight in the convection oven,” he explains. “The main thing about this little kitchen is that you have to pay attention to detail.” Judging from the way each dish is beautifully plated at One, detail is an echo to the culinary senses.