Square Root

SPOILER ALERT: Square Root’s entire opening menu revealed, dissected.

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Sixteen seats. Open kitchen. Square plate settings. Chef Philip Lopez and GM Maximilian Ortiz’s Square Root is a beautiful space inside what was once a bakery for the Irish and Italian catholic communities and was most recently a furniture store. Their first restaurant, “Root,” opened in 2011, and yes, sometimes the sequel is better than the original. The restaurant clearly takes its inspiration from the late El Bulli but at a mere fraction of the price.

Upstairs houses “Root Squared,” a bar that serves small plates and functions as an excellent waiting/pre-game area as well as a lounge for once you finish your dinner.

You have to give a credit card to hold your reservation, but the charge includes tax and tip. Beverage service is separate (with no gratuity included). Your beverage service is a pairing menu of wines, fine wines, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, or “mixed drinks,” which means a combo of wines and cocktails. Should you choose either wine tasting option, you end up drinking (in total) the equivalent of a bottle of wine. I settled on the mix pairing because I enjoy both wines and cocktails.

Seating is done four times a night in staggered waves. If you’re anyone but the first seating, you get to see several meals in progress. The open kitchen brings every dish to life in front of you. So you get to see a taste of things to come (the future), other diners enjoying courses you’ve already had (the past), and your own meal (the present). As an alum of an open kitchen, I am so impressed because the chef and his team are literally cooking in the middle of a circle, um, SQUARE, of diners.

I don’t usually recommend going to a restaurant the first night. Having worked service industry in several capacities, I know how many things can go wrong at the beginning. I even told a cook at one point, “I can slow down if you want to serve me and the other two [diners seated at the same time as me] all together.”

His response: “We need the practice.”

Practice makes perfect, and it’s showing this team has practiced a lot.

Guess what this is. I'll tell you later.

Guess what this is. I’ll tell you later.

The menu was ~16 courses with a variable number of pairings. (Also, all the plates and bowls are different for each course. They must have at least 50 different sets to accommodate future dishes.) Sit down and get comfortable. This recap will take a while.

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The meal starts off with an unapologetic blast of flavor.  Lobster Mousse atop a “Lobster Chicarron” (like an elevated Asian prawn cracker) topped with tarragon caviar. Way more salt and flavor than I’d expect for a first dish. Definitely not a mild amuse bouche. A surprising amount of flavors, textures, and temperatures kick in motion a meal that will continue to provide those and more surprises. Pairing: Summer Shandy.

Nduja Spread on flatbread cracker is up next. Clearly a throwback to Root’s housemade sausage program. Pumpkin seeds garnish it.

The next dish is a play on “Southern Fried Chicken,” inspired by Chef Kelly English, a southern picnic, and Tennessee? Lots of great flavor and texture but I was not impressed with the surprisingly hard cracker(?) on which everything else balanced.

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Oysters, Charred Bone Marrow Tartare, blood orange mignonette, buttermilk horseradish “ice.” Beautiful sight and blend of flavors and textures. Yes, I tasted the seaweed underneath the shell. Pairing: An exceptionally smooth Sake I can’t pronounce but that star sommelier Liz Dowty can.

Soup of Seared Potato, Potato Crisp, Truffle-Pickled Peaches, Smoked Caviar, and Vermouth Gelee in a creamy but light broth. This is also the first course to include a utensil! One note: More liquid would make it easier to spoon the solid components. Pairing: Carpano Bianco Vermouth. (The savory/sweet contrast is brilliant.)

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Petrified Leafy Greens, toasted coriander lime spuma, pea puree, compressed cucumber, pickled seeds. A vegetarian dish? Now we’re somewhere in the east. The spuma calls to mind yogurt, and the cucumber and coriander do the rest.

PAUSE: Palate Cleanser CocktailGin, hibiscus, coriander, pink peppercorn. Stop reading. Stretch. We still have a ways to go.

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Tendon Two Ways: Pickled and Chicharron. Tabouleh. Radish gelee. Calabaza squash oil. Togarashi. Showing off how a protein can be insanely different based on prep. More international flavor blending. Pairing: Greek wine that especially complimented the oil.

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“Faux Gras.” Umebashi? Strawberries made into an amazing (dipping-dots-like) dish. A thin marble rye crouton for texture. And yes, there is a bit of actual foie gras in it. Is anything more French than foie gras and cognac? Pairing: Dessert wine from the cognac region of France, with nice thornbush/almond notes. This cold dish and cold drink bring a rush of energy.

How they infuse their broth

How they infuse their mushroom stock

Duck Breast seared in black pepper and allspice. Duck Tortellini with fennel fronds in the pasta dough. Mushroom stock and dashi infused with aromatics laboratory-style. Japan! (All things I love, by the way.) A fork, knife, and spoon. Multiple utensils! Pairing: Lambrusco

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PAUSE. Intermezzo of Compressed Granny Apples and Passion Fruit Granita, microgreens, and a hint of lemon juice and zest.

Now we’re in the Mediterranean. Honey-poached Sablefish. Dates. Sunchoke. Roast chutney. More honey to finish. Pairing: Suave of Gargano-Trebbiano.

A dish inspired by Chef Lopez’s mother: Chilaquiles with sous-vide Lobster finished in butter, citrus and coriander. Lobster Mole. The meat was a tad chewy so perhaps a lean lobster, but every other component on the plate was fantastic. “When I was growing up, we couldn’t afford lobster,” he says with a smile. Pairing: Grüner Veltliner.

Roasted Pheasant Roulade, medium rare. Johnny Rock Cake. (Dehydrated) Corn Kernels? Shaved truffle. A corn velouté to finish. A bird-and-corn inspired dish. I hope next time they serve Cornish hen to complete the wordplay. Pairing: Chenin Blanc with sweet corn notes. Of course.

Wagyu Beef covered in miso and seared. Bone marrow emulsion. Iced-blanched squash. Hazelnut. Balsamic vinegar drizzle. Made for the meat lover. Served on dishes made out of burnt wood, in a Japanese method. And the wood came from Root. Back to Japan! Pairing: Green Flash West Coast IPA.

PAUSE: Now that those courses are done, the silverware is replaced with gold spoons for the desserts. Chef Lopez is a rare type who can do pastry as well.

Granny Smith Apple Sorbet. More Granny Smith apples dehydrated, powdered, and baked into meringue. On a bed of puffy grains. Tarragon. In a weird/good way, this reminded me of Apple Jacks cereal from childhood. Pairing: Basque Region Cider.

That egg picture up top? Did you guess what it was? I used to spherify ACE juice into an  “yolk,” place it in the middle of banana yogurt, sprinkle raw sugar around, brûlée the sugar, and call it a “fried egg” dessert. I thought I was clever…

Chef Lopez has upped the ante by serving an “Incredible, Edible Egg,” laid no doubt by the golden goose that gave those dessert spoons the Midas Touch. These are brought out in six-pack egg cartons. The egg is then placed atop candied almonds. Inside the egg is a cold, caramel-like toasted-egg-yolk curd. The shell is cracked in front of you, and it’s made of invert sugar (to withstand NOLA’s humidity). The “shell” is edible. The only remotely minor flaw is the one other component on top. Not sure what it was, but it was sticky and chewy and definitely not for anyone with sensitive teeth or dentures. Pairing: Valdez Amontillado Sherry.

BOOM.

BOOM.

Some people might balk at the price ($150 per person) but for 12-16 courses, that is a steal. A diner who’s never worked in a restaurant might think ingredients make a meal expensive. (For the record, the ingredients alone would be worth the price tag.) But it’s the time and effort that a kitchen puts into dishes that make them expensive. Every dish could have its ingredients chopped in half (size wise or variety wise) and still be delicious. If you have the money to spend on a long, leisurely dinner, this is a steal.

The excellent service is a bonus. The staff was running on adrenaline yet pleasant, making small talk with customers and learning their names. More importantly, should you have any dining restrictions, the staff will accommodate them.

Randomly the soundtrack is just as eclectic as the menu, and even the upstairs bathroom is engineered to impress. You literally cannot run out of toilet paper. If you go, you’ll see what I mean.

I was hesitant and skeptical. Square Root is an experience and, nitpicking aside, the most impressive opening I’ve ever seen a restaurant do. Easily one of the top five best fine dining meals I’ve had in New Orleans. Thanks for reading ‘til the end.

Square Root

1800 Magazine Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

504-309-7800

Tuesday – Saturday: 6:15pm to 8:45pm

BY RESERVATION ONLY

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Haters gon’ hate.

I wrote #whyIhateNOLA for my friends. But more people than I expected read my little April Fools’ joke. I appreciate the outpouring of support and hatred from both locals and visitors. Thank you for all the feedback. It’s been a week since publication, so I decided to round up some of the most memorable commentary made on here, Facebook, and Twitter. Enjoy.

• i liken new orleans to an old comfy couch… once you sit down, you wont wanna get up…

• wtf? fasting growing city in the nation? this man must be frequenting the all night bars and smoking good weed.

• I’d introduce you to my niece but you would probably hate her too.

• If hate could be bottled it would be bottled in NOLA!

• F*** you ya little piece of c*** licking, ass**** sucking, c** juggling down your throat p****!!

• I’m confused. But it’s clever.

• Hate your title and refuse to read

• I couldn’t read it. The headline offended me.

• You’re a Nola cutie

• Now I can understand your life there, in the sub-tropics

• do you know what it means… to hate new orleans?

• Typical NOLA masochist.

• Self-loather…

• When he dies, he will be reincarnated @ least 4 times in…

• I hate he has a Tulane degree and hate was the best pun he could come up with to be witty. I hate that this dumb ass article will be popular.

• Proud of what? What does New Orleans has that is so much better then California?

• “it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.” ― Lafcadio Hearn

• And don’t forget to read the comments left afterwards.

The author and the streetcar

Why I Hate New Orleans: a transplant essay

I hated New Orleans from the first moment I set foot in it. I hate Tulane for giving me a scholarship. I hate the Newcomb girls for being so ugly and overdressed all the time. I hate the all-night bar in the basement of the school’s university center. I hate that friends who stayed active in Greek life remained friends with ones who never joined it. I hate not attending a party school, and, more importantly, not living in a party city. I hate that my mom convinced me to visit and that my dad also fell in love with the city once he visited. I hate that my baby brother went to school next door after he visited during spring break.

I hate that I moved here over ten years ago, tried to leave, and came crawling back. I hate that it took me this long to write a “transplant” essay like the insightful ones I’ve seen in the New York Times and in Esquire Magazine.

I hate the weather (except the occasional hurricanes). I hate endless summer and tropical afternoon showers that make for good naps. I hate coming back… every, single, time after EVERY, SINGLE, STORM. I hate that Katrina didn’t Sodom & Gomorrah this place off the map. More than anything, I hate the evacuee puppy my family adopted right after the storm whom I brought back to her home when I moved back to NOLA.

I hate that this is the most well-organized city in the United States and the least well-organized city in the Caribbean. I hate that this city gave birth to jazz. I hate all the books, photos, poems, and art inspired by here. I hate that there are no shitty clubs like in Los Angeles. I hate the music scene and bars that have live bands with no cover.

I hate working in the CBD of the fastest growing city in the nation. I hate that my boss likes to go out in the French Quarter on work nights and then power through the morning afterwards. I hate my coworkers. I hate that some of my former coworkers are some of my best friends. I hate all the bars, free concerts, and restaurants walking distance from my office. I hate that every hour is happy hour.

I hate both the historical buildings and the new green housing developments. I hate the mismatched homes and their gardens, intentional or not. I hate the architecture everywhere.

I hate that all my closest friends live here, visit as often as possible, or are scheming to find ways to move back. I hate friends who work in the service industry and that all their regular customers become de facto friends. I hate that everyone is so friendly here; the residents are the worst, and even the tourists want to learn what “Where y’at?” means.

I hate “Who Dat.” I hate that I moved here ready to root for a losing team. I hate that the Saints got surprisingly good, and I hate that they restored this city’s faith after a hard time. I hate that they party with their fans and still set a good example for kids. I hate that the Saints won the Super Bowl. (I hate the iconic Beyoncé Blackout Bowl too.) I hate that there’s a WHO DAT NATION now. I hate all the players and all their charity work.

I hate “The Hollywood of the South” and the tax incentive filmmakers get here. I hate that we’re a city that location casting can’t replicate in another city. I hate that celebrities walk in and out of my life and are just regular people here. I hate that locals don’t bother them. I hate that I worked for Treme and got to meet some of the coolest cast and crew around. I hate that chefs from all over come down here for inspiration. I hate that Top Chef decided to have a season here.

I hate that bars close later than 2AM. I hate drinking on patios and balconies by candlelight. I hate the unpretentious bartenders who have worked in prominent bars elsewhere yet still sling drinks at dive bars. I hate that some bars stay open during hurricanes because everyone needs shelter from the storm.

I hate that every time you turn around there’s a holiday, a parade, a festival, or just random musicians playing in the street. I hate the St. Charles Streetcar. I hate wearing locally designed and produced t-shirts that reflect all these cultural aspects.

Mostly I hate the food. I hate how affordable fine dining is here. I hate the mom’n’pop poboy shops. I loathe Popeyes. I hate all gulf seafood. I hate that the cuisine here is the only true, regional cuisine that the USA has. I hate that “eating locally” isn’t a trend here—It’s just the way we’ve always done it. I hate that we have more signature dishes than every other American city and state. I hate that here, pop-ups and food trucks become brick-and-mortar restaurants. I hate that chefs are humble and ask “Was it good?” I hate them because they’re the ones who serve things ranging from great to near perfection. I hate the blend of Caribbean, African, Spanish, French, Creole, Cajun, and southern recipes.

I hate the way this city welcomes all immigrants. I hate the Vietnamese, Irish, Italians, and everyone else who’s brought their food here and merged it with local ingredients. I hate Catholicism, voodoo lore, and hedonism. I hate that you can move from neighborhood to neighborhood and no one judges how you look or how you dress. I hate the gays and the way they thrive here. I hate that straight people are so accepting of them here. I hate that people like to wear costumes and that – on Halloween – if you’re not in costume, you’re the “freak.”

I hate Mardi Gras. Obviously.

I hate that I will probably die here with a smile on my face.

Feel free to comment with why you hate New Orleans, or hit me up on Twitter at @ndrewmarin. #whyIhateNOLA 

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