Open in the Faubourg Marigny just a year ago, Belle Forche Criolle Restaurant & Bar (1407 Decatur St., 940-0722) is quickly winning converts to its respectful fusion of classic Creole, traditional European and innovative regional cooking styles.
"Buckshot" duckling with wild mushrooms, country bacon and pomegranate is a favorite of the staff as well as cane syrup quail with pumpkin puree, braised cabbage and ancho chile almond coulis. The menu's not all about wild things, however. There's also shrimp etouffee and shrimp Creole, veal scaloppine with green garlic bacalao and chanterelle mushroom sauce and rigatoni with artichoke, eggplant, peppers and goat cheese. Part of the fascination of the menu is the combinations of ingredients melded together in one dish.
"I am regionally trained, and a classically trained French chef, and I consider this to be my region -- New Orleans, Florida, Texas, maybe the islands," says Executive Chef Matthew Yohalem, who runs the kitchen with Chef Tim Butterly. "I incorporate all this into my dishes, so it's Creole and a little more." Menu items change as new produce and seafood come into season and depending on what looks good at the market. "Whatever's in season, whatever's in locally (will show up on the menu), with homage paid to the traditional classic dish -- and a little touch of my own."
The menu is overhauled at least three times a year, says General Manager Ted Howard, and is tweaked as customers respond to menu items or the chefs come up with new ideas as we enter favored seasons for crab, shrimp or root vegetables.
"We rotate our menu," Howard says. "It's evolving as the chefs find and develop new items." The same goes with the wine list as Chef Yohalem updates it often to offer customers vintages they may not have encountered before or those that are particularly suitable to the restaurant's dishes.
"He finds wines that are good, go with this food and stimulate people, something they haven't tried before," Howard says. "He's into what complements the food and what's new."
Although outfitted with white table cloths and a clean and contemporary environment, Belle Forche characterizes itself as a casual and comfortable place where diners can feel equally comfortable whether dressed in a tuxedo after an outing at the nearby Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center or wearing jeans after listening to a set of music at Cafe Brasil. The restaurant has a main, more formal dining room as well as a cozy cafe and is open for lunch as well as dining in the wee hours. During most hours, customers can choose from the main or cafe menus, with café cuisine taking hold after 10:30 p.m.
That menu offers less expensive but no less interesting dining options, such as twice-jerked flash-fried catfish with pineapple almond relish, linguine with chorizo, clams, peas and tomatoes and sticky chicken with sweet potato club fries. Belle Forche also offers housemade ice cream by the pint and quart.
Howard says the restaurant already has established a cadre of regular diners and is bustling during the evening, sometimes having to gently persuade customers to leave at 3 a.m. The staff attributes some of the restaurant's success to its prime location in the heart of the burgeoning Marigny, right at the corner of Decatur and Frenchmen streets.
"There's a huge surge of late-night activity," especially after events at the Saenger, Mahalia Jackson or music clubs in the area, Howard says. "There's so much music around and so much foot traffic here. On a Saturday night at three in the morning, the street is full. It's a great neighborhood. Frenchmen Street is still young; there's still a lot of room for growth."
Yohalem says he foresees Belle Forche as part
of that growth. "I see it getting bigger and bigger," he says. "We're the cornerstone
in the gateway between the Marigny and the French Quarter. We put out the best
food that we can, and we try to keep it regional and get the freshest ingredients.
We give it our all."
Earthsavers Relaxation Spa and Store (434 Chartres St., 581-4999) is offering one-hour private appointments and semi-private and group sessions with energy worker Leo Jamison deMontegut through Nov. 10. DeMontegut originally was scheduled to offer the sessions at the Chartres Street store -- one of six Earthsavers locations -- from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, but his special appearance was extended due to demand from customers. The art of energetic healing which deMontegut practices employs messages from the spirit side to help stimulate natural healing. During sessions, he channels spirits that will affect changes in a person's energies and thus allow them to heal on all levels -- mind, body and spirit.
- General Manager Ted Howard (left) and Chef Tim Butterly raise a toast to the success of Belle Forche's Creole-inspired regional cuisine.