Designated Diner: Edith Gilbert, 7 months
Along for the ride (and to hold the spoon): Mom Kim Frusciante, who begins this week writing for NolaVie. Her Feedith NOLA column looks at the city from a new-parent perspective. Without losing the fun factor.
Day job: Nursery school while mom works as Director of the Collegiate Academies Teacher Residency Program and dad Taylor as Assistant Vice President at Chaffe and Associates financial services company.
The restaurant: Shaya, 4213 Magazine Street
Its MO: Israeli food, as only an award-winning chef (Alon Shaya) and reliance on local farm-produced foods can achieve it.
Why Edith chose it: Because you can eat hummus even when you have no teeth. And also because mom has been hankering to try it.
What Edith likes in a restaurant: It’s important to have lots to look at, especially light fixtures, which for some reason fascinate her. A lot of noise helps, too, although Edith manages inevitably to time her babbling to any lull in surrounding conversation. She dines out two to three times a week, and has done so since she was a couple of weeks old (because no one told her parents you aren’t supposed to take a newborn to the French Quarter Festival). And in New Orleans, one can build a baby schedule around meal times out. “We don’t start her nighttime process until 7:45, which means we can make a 6 p.m. dinner reservation,” explains Kim.
Go-to restaurants: Brennan’s (love that player piano) and Compere Lapin, because mom likes the food and Edith likes the contemporary styling, noise, and, at the latter, the hipster crowd. Willa Jean rates high for its egg-beater light fixtures, worth a lot of infant contemplation. Plus, “it’s like Disneyland in there,” says Kim.
Menu stand-out: Edith opts for the hummus, perhaps because it’s the only thing she’s allowed to eat here. She’s in the process of being introduced to one new food every few days ( so far avocado, carrots, pumpkin, green beans and spinach, which she only likes with curry), and this week it’s chick peas. But if you can only eat chick peas, this is the way to do so; Shaya’s authentic dishes somehow taste richer, more intense, well, just better than those paler versions. “I am so setting her up to be a hummus snob,” says Kim.
What the adults like at Shaya and Edith hopefully will get to taste someday: Among the hummus concoctions, the soft-boiled egg version, served with raw red onions, cornichons and a perfectly soft-boiled egg served over a creamy hummus laced with a piquant harissa sauce. It’s a deconstructed dish, with the sum of the whole so heavenly much more than the parts.
What else: Ikra, paddlefish caviar and shallots atop a smoked fish spread; baba ganoush, see notes on hummus above; and the wood-roasted Brussels sprouts, redolent with a smokey, charred flavor.
And: The falafel on a bed of shredded cabbage. Who said simplicity can’t be complex?
Sweet tooth: Warm Chocolate Babka tops chocolate-laced toasted bread (think cinnamon toast with chocolate instead) with poppy seeds and halva ice cream. Save room. Please.
Service notes: Edith likes waitresses who compliment babies (there were four lap diners in the restaurant this day). Check.
Bottom line: Small plates make multiple tasting experiences a culinary revelation. Middle Eastern dishes benefit not only from the freshness of the ingredients, but the perfect execution of classic fare. “It’s not that there is anything really different about this baba ganoush or hummus or pita,” says Kim. “It’s just better than anywhere else.”
Tune in to NolaVie on Thursday to read Feedith NOLA. Kim and Edith’s debut column will visit Brett Anderson’s top five New Orleans restaurants from the high-chair.