Superior Seafood. Uptown 2: Washington To Napoleon: 4338 St. Charles Ave. 504-293-3474.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
If you want to open a seafood restaurant in New Orleans, you’d better know what you’re about. A bag of tricks won’t get it. Gumbo, oysters, shrimp, and fish are the native food of this city, and it takes a lot of eating to speak the language without an accent. The kitchen at Superior–the corporate side of it, anyway–needs more training in the field if they want to cook for us.
They have a raw oyster bar? Great! But the char-grilled, Rockefeller, and Bienville versions need new names, because they taste unfamiliar. So do most of the other dishes on the menu. Farm-raised fish–some from far out of state–dominate the piscine offerings. Fine for a Mexican place, second-rate for a seafood specialist. After trying about a dozen dishes here, my wife and I both noticed a certain sweetness in sauces, ranging from the salad dressings to the fish toppings. That’s the oldest trick in the Flavor, Inc. book: add a little sugar and it tastes better to a lot of people. (Wife: “When I order a savory dish, I don’t want it to taste sweet.” Amen!) At least it all seems to be fresh.
Superior Seafood is part of a small Louisiana-based chain of restaurants–most of them Ameri-Mexican, including the thoroughly mediocre Superior Bar & Grill a few blocks down St. Charles. After performing the excellent renovation to its century-old building, Superior Seafood opened to predictably enthusiastic crowds in January 2012.
The look is that of the modern French bistro, a style also popular in the golden age of grand New Orleans restaurants in the early 1900s (i.e., Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s.) The floors are covered with handsome ceramic tiles. Even the bathrooms fixtures appear to have come from a time warp. The only lapses in taste are the kitschy neon and antique signs posted here and there. The main dining room and bar are flanked by two galleries tables whose windows lend a fine spaciousness.
»Oysters on the half shell
»Angels on horseback (fried, bacon-wrapped oysters)
Chicken and sausage gumbo
Crawfish and crab bisque
Grilled shrimp salad
Asian seared tuna
Fried green tomatoes
Spinach and artichoke dip
Crabmeat stuffed mushrooms
Marinated crab claws
Escargot de bourgogne
»Creole chips and blue cheese dip
Sensation salad (greens, tomatoes, feta cheese, olives)
Grilled salmon salad
Ahi tuna salad
Filet mignon salad
Blackened chicken salad
Shrimp poor boy
Angels on horseback poor boy (fried, bacon-wrapped oysters)
Cochon de lait poor boy
Crab cake sandwich
Blackened tuna burger
Fried soft shell crab
Blackened catfish napoleon, crawfish etouffee
»Fish Creole (really amandine)
Shrimp and grits
Shrimp Vieux Carré (smoked tomato cream sauce, pasta)
Red beans and rice, andouille
Buffalo Trace shrimp (a kebab of vegetables, shrimp, bourbon glaze)
Tchoupitoulas chicken (grilled, crawfish tasso cream sauce, smoked mozzarella)
Shrimp andouille brochettes
»Mussels and frites
Steak frites (skirt steak, hand-cut fries)
Pork chop Acadiana
Chicken and wild mushroom pasta
Pasta Selina (sauteed shrimp, roasted garlic pesto)
Fish Marigny (pan-seared, lemon caper butter, crabmeat) and
Salmon Lafitte (grilled, white wine lemon caper butter)
FOR BEST RESULTS
The food here is not bad, but don’t expect it to taste like dishes with the same names that you’ve enjoyed elsewhere. Portions are oversize. They have good raw oysters at fifty cents each from four until six-thirty every day.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The most important issue is the need to get an honest Louisiana flavor into the food. The service program needs tweaking, too. Too many attention lapses at the beginning and between courses.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +3
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Open after 10 p.m. (11 p.m. FR SA)
- Open all afternoon
- Oyster bar
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
In last week’s review, I gave you half of what strikes me as a strange dichotomy in the restaurant scene these days. The two hottest categories are locally-owned eateries with fascinating cooking but minimal environments, and chain restaurants with ordinary food but extravagantly expensive premises. Today, a look at a new place matching the latter specification.
After Copeland’s allowed its long-running restaurant on St. Charles at Napoleon to sit empty for years after Katrina, it was a great relief to see anything presentable open at that prominent location (where the Uptown parades turn onto St. Charles).
Formula-fired chains invest heavily in their new venues. They know that a cool-looking environment pulls in a lot of customers, regardless of the quality of the food. Since most of the creative, chef-owned restaurants of note have lately built physical plants in a worn, retro-funky style, a new guide to goodness has appeared: the better the new restaurant looks, the less likely the food will be great.
Superior Seafood gives us a textbook example of this. They clearly hired talented architects and designers to create a superb dining space. So why couldn’t they have brought in equally tasteful culinarians to build the menu? Instead of just following the soulless rules of the American dinnerhouse industry? They could have saved the place from being just almost good.