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Review: La Fin du Monde

Ian McNulty finds brunch and craft cocktails at a Magazine Street spot



Sunday brunch is indispensible in New Orleans, but it turns out the Sunday part of the equation isn't essential. Combine a crossover menu with the attitude that a daytime drink is not just permissible but integral and you can have brunch anytime you want.

  That's how things look from the patio at La Fin du Monde, a bistro offering French, Southern and a quirky streak of Korean flavors, as well as a unique approach that fuses a brunch spot and craft cocktail bar. The restaurant serves brunch every day, and in the evenings it offers what can feel more like an extended happy hour than conventional dinner service. Bridging the two is a serious but accessible cocktail menu that represents at least half the purpose of this place.

  La Fin du Monde opened in December (the name is a reference to the Mayan calendar), taking over the address that housed Cafe Rani. As before, the focal point of the space is a large oak shading the patio, but there also is the indoor dining room, nicely revamped with subway tiles. The bar is curiously tiny for a place with a strong focus on cocktails, but the staff doesn't mind if you get a table and order drinks only.

  Chef Jonathan Lestingi previously was at Stella!, where he discovered a zeal for kimchee. He makes an array of pickled and fermented vegetables — the latest with mirliton — and though very spicy, the heat is enlivening rather than numbing. This kimchee goes into butter lettuce cups with slabs of pork belly, over toasty-flavored (loose-textured) rice grits with poached eggs and even into one of the three Bloody Mary varieties from cocktail maven Michelle McMahon.

  Luscious and well-accompanied duck pate and rillettes, challah French toast with a heady rum syrup and shrimp and grits with an especially hearty gravy (full of flavor and shrimp antennae) stand out on the brunch menu, while Bellinis and lighter-than-air Ramos gin fizzes come from the bar.

  Some brunch dishes reappear on the dinner menu, which is short and heavily weighted toward "middles" — cheese plates, charcuterie and mussels with the sour tang of fish sauce. Lestingi stretches out a bit with a handful of entrees. Portions (and prices) are modest, and even if these dishes don't scream for attention they are smartly balanced and crafted. Slices of lamb loin arrived simply presented, but sweet carrots, bitter radicchio mellowed by grill char and the earthiness of pecans and shiitakes made the dish complete.

  You could eat a three-course meal at La Fin du Monde, but the menu, cocktails and, most of all, the patio ambience all recommend it more for the anytime brunch or social evening. When Delachaise is too crowded, you're underdressed for Cure or the wait at La Crepe Nanou is too long, La Fin du Monde can punch some of the same buttons in its own way.

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