Diners in New Orleans were already well-acquainted with the name and talents of chef Justin Devillier well before he opened the elegant Balise. Devillier was known for Balise’s sister restaurant, La Petite Grocery, for which he won the 2016 James Beard award for best chef in the South. This goes some way to explaining why Balise was one of the most hotly-anticipated restaurant openings in New Orleans in 2016, and it hasn’t disappointed. It’s all exposed brick and polished wood, with vintage artwork and contemporary light fixtures.
Named for the first French fort and settlement near the mouth of the Mississippi River, La Balise, the restaurant is grounded in the rich, storied past of Louisiana. Diners at Balise are treated to refined Southern cuisine, from Cornmeal Fried Gulf Fish (served with pickled peppers, grilled cabbage and celery root remoulade) to Fried Smoked Oysters, which come with frisée salad, hard boiled egg, pickled shallots, lashings of fresh herbs, and ghost pepper caviar and dill buttermilk.
In fact, the food here manages to dance along the line between down-at-home, approachable fare and stylish cuisine to delicious effect. Pickled quail eggs with creamy yolks come with hot sauce (a staple at Southern tables), and pan-roasted Gulf shrimp is served with leeks, mustard greens, garlic puree and lemon-caper brown butter. Even the cheeseburger is a hit; it’s a classic done right, with cheddar, sticky caramelised onions and B&B pickles on brioche.
The cocktails, meanwhile, are sensational. You can try their Mint Juleps and Boilermakers (made with Miller High Life and Old Grandad) during their Bar Room Happy Hour alongside an order of hand-cut fries or chicken liver mousse and biscuits, Monday to Friday. But to really see what the bartenders can do, order a Gantt Old Fashioned (a concoction of Neisson Rhum Eleve Sous Bois, Hamilton 151, Diplomatico Rum, Letherbee Absinthe, with Velvet Falernum and pineapple) alongside your meal. Or opt for a cheeky Brown Bag Daiquiri (made with El Silencio Mezcal, Blanc Vermouth, lemon, lime and malted honey syrup).