Sometimes it's what's on top of your pizza that matters the most. Such is the case at the new restaurant Paladar 511, where a team of chefs hailing from California has been showing off its affinity for fresh, seasonal ingredients — on the pie and off.
The restaurant, from owners Jack Murphy and siblings Susan and Ed Dunn, opened in March inside a space in the Marigny that formerly held the ARK, a community arts warehouse that housed the Plan B Community Bike Project and Iron Rail Book Collective. Murphy and Susan Dunn opened the popular San Francisco eatery Pizzetta 211 before relocating to New Orleans to start their new concept with Dunn's brother, a local chef.
Pizzas feature prominently on the menu but it's the rotating cast of ingredients that blanket the pies — and a creative selection of small and shared plates — that exemplify the kitchen's Californian influence.
Yellowfin tuna conserva, poached in olive oil until medium rare, is seasoned with lemon rind and capers. The fish is tossed with crunchy green beans, heirloom tomatoes and potatoes. Nestled atop basil aioli and topped with sprigs of watercress, the dish is like a beautifully deconstructed nicoise, where the simplicity and quality of the ingredients are given full reign to shine.
Glistening slices of red snapper crudo are paired with julienned cucumber spears and served in a dark ponzu vinaigrette. The quality and limited ingredients help ensure that every element of the dish stands out: the fish is tender and rich, while the depth of the ponzu is countered by the freshness of the cucumbers. Thin shavings of Fresno chilies bring heat and peanuts add crunch and texture.
Crostini topped with creamy burrata is served with eggplant caponata. The eggplant's silky texture is akin to ratatouille and practically melts in your mouth.
If there's one dish in particular that speaks to the owners' West Coast roots it's cioppino, the classic fisherman's stew that hails from the docks of San Francisco. Clams, mussels and plump Gulf shrimp are submerged in a spicy tomato broth; the slow warmth of the spice helps balance the salinity. Thick pieces of grilled bread are perfect for dunking.
Thin-crust pizzas are fired in a brick oven. While the crusts are soft, chewy and even pliable, they lack the structure and smokiness of their wood-oven counterparts.
A pizza topped with thin slices of zucchini, yellow squash and roasted cherry tomatoes tastes like summer: The pie is dressed with Kasseri, a Greek sheep's milk cheese, and a toasted almond picada. The tomatoes burst with acidity and brightness while the picada adds earthiness and crunch. A braised pork belly and farm egg pizza, one of the restaurant's heavier offerings, is overwhelmingly decadent and best shared with a group. The pie is topped with collard greens, garlic confit and melted Gruyere and could use either some spice or acid to balance out its rich flavors.
A small selection of entrees round out Paladar's menu, including a generous double-cut pork chop which is brined with fennel and chili flakes, grilled and served with fresh grilled peaches and a roasted corn salad.
The menu's small, rotating selection of excellent cocktails is proof that the restaurant's commitment to fresh ingredients extends beyond the dinner menu. A watermelon spritzer made with St. George gin, Aperol and watermelon is refreshing and tart, like a Jolly Rancher without the overwhelming sweetness. A cocktail made with muddled blueberries, basil, honey, gin and lambrusco similarly manages to balance the fine line between sweet and sour, and the result is a drink of a deep purple hue that tastes of effervescent fresh fruit.
Visually, Paladar 511 is stunning. Painted brick walls give way to high ceilings and a long wooden bar wraps around the open kitchen. Tall windows flood the dining room with an abundance of natural light — all the more reason to pay the restaurant a visit as long summer days stretch into evenings.