The name Kingfish (337 Chartres St., 504-598-5005; www.kingfishneworleans.com) leaves little doubt that the fare at this new French Quarter restaurant has a Louisiana focus, and indeed the menu is full of local seafood, andouille and cochon de lait. Yet none of the dishes are standards.
The crawfish salad is crossed with hoppin' John, barbecue shrimp is ladled over a crunchy sweet potato waffle shaped like a pirogue, and pompano is cooked and served on a solid block of Himalayan salt. Gumbo is made with smoked rabbit, French sorrel sausage and served with "dirty" basmati rice.
The approach at Kingfish is less startling when you learn that the kitchen is led by Greg Sonnier, a veteran New Orleans chef with a reputation for robust and creative reinterpretations of Louisiana flavors. An early protege of chef Paul Prudhomme, Sonnier and his wife Mary ran the Esplanade Avenue restaurant Gabrielle for 13 years before Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures.
Kingfish was opened last week by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, a company that runs a string of bars and restaurants around the French Quarter. This is easily the company's most ambitious project. The building, previously used as a pizza parlor, has been renovated, and exposed brickwork and dark colors give it a vintage look. Sonnier works from a glassed-in kitchen and the large bar is overseen by Chris McMillian, a leader in the city's classic cocktail revival. There's a piano in the bar with live music Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Kingfish marks a return of sorts for Sonnier. For the past few years, the chef has been trying to reopen Gabrielle in an Uptown neighborhood, and that effort ultimately foundered in the face of determined opposition from some neighbors and difficulties with City Hall's zoning and permitting apparatus. Sonnier says his plans for Gabrielle are off, the building he purchased for it is for sale and he's excited to get back into a restaurant kitchen full time.
Kingfish serves dinner daily and will add lunch soon. Sonnier says the restaurant also will open a take-out shop called Kingfish Counter with a separate entrance on Chartres Street to serve sandwiches, snacks and butcher shop items.