Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Where Y’Eat: At this New Orleans restaurant, a lesson on consistency and continuity through time

Goat cheese quenelles for dessert at Lilette in New Orleans.
Ian McNulty
Goat cheese quenelles for dessert at Lilette in New Orleans.

When I’m at the Uptown bistro Lilette I always want something new from the specials board. But on my last visit I had another mission in mind. I was after a taste of the past.

I wanted the same things I’ve been eating here all along, to test a theory I have about continuity through harrowing times, and what our local restaurants give us in this regard.

Chef John Harris first opened Lilette late in 2000. The restaurant’s 20-year milestone was swept up in the not-so-celebratory flow of 2020.

But it’s still here, offering something different on each visit, but also serving dishes that remain just how I remember them from Lilette two decades ago, sitting in the same merlot-colored dining room or perched at the same nook of a bar.

So I ordered a multi-course meal steeped in memory.

First, grilled beets with goat cheese and pecans. Then hanger steak, with a true bordelaise sauce, thick as a glaze with a wine-cut beefy marrow essence, and fries that are not a side, but the second half of this dish’s heart.

And for dessert, goat cheese crème fraiche quenelles, a term I had to look up in a culinary tome the first time I saw it on the menu here so long ago, which are dumpling-like dollops of sour-sweet and vanishingly soft flavor.

This was a meal not simply to connect with old favorites, but to reconnect with that sense of consistency through continuity, and that means something more through all the turns we have experienced in this era of upheaval.

Trying to keep up with New Orleans restaurants these days has brought many exciting new additions and heartbreaking closures. That’s how things go in this business, though through the pandemic the pace and intensity of that cycle has escalated sharply.

Here was a respite, through three courses and two decades in the making. It was a reminder of what our local restaurants do for us, not just for a meal in the moment, but through time. We’re lucky to live in a city where that still matters.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.