When I lived in New Orleans, I was a member of a “boy’s lunch club,” where some of the guys and I went out and explored new places, or ordered food shipped in from somewhere in the country. It wasn’t meant to be a critical experience by any means, just guy bonding and good grub. With the exception of me, it was a fairly illustrious group, which included Lolis Elie, writer for the TV series Treme and author of several food books, David Waggoner, internationally acclaimed architect, and Randy Fertel, philanthropist, creator of the Ron Ridenhour prize for journalists, entrepreneur, former professor, and author of several books. Randy is known by many as the son of Ruth Fertel, the late founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the history of which is detailed in his book, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak.
No matter what label anybody else puts on these guys, to me they are just my pals, and I was delighted to hook up with Randy on a recent visit to New Orleans and, following his suggestion, we headed out to MoPho, a spot that has combined Louisiana and Vietnamese cuisine in some very interesting preparations.
After a brief discussion, neither of us could figure out when and where “fusion” started, but agreed it must have been SoCal.
Wherever it started, Chef/owner Michael Gulotta, formerly of the restaurant “August,” has succeeded in creating something wonderful amidst stiff competition in both genres: New Orleans is chock a block full of great Vietnamese places (hidden from the tourists, for sure) as well as eateries featuring local favorites.
Gulotta has combined the two cuisines and come up with absolutely amazing dishes.
We started with the restaurant’s popular lemongrass / ginger chicken wings – I’m not a wing guy, at all, but these were great, and they weren’t those pitfiul little winglets, these were full wings, and obviously not purchased from anywhere Al Copeland, late purveyor of tiny chicken pieces, shopped. Massive, flavorful, crispy skin.
We mowed thru an outstanding cabbage salad, and diminutive crispy fried spring rolls. Randy went with one of the bowls, all the while raving about how outstanding the eatery’s rice is.
Gulotta has created an homage to the Bahn Mi, given it the local moniker of po boy, and come up with a solid home run. I went with the fried shrimp version that he has added local Chisesi ham to, and which comes dressed with MOPHO mayo, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, jalapenos and chicken liver pâté. The sandwich bread is equal to any of the French loaves I’ve found on the street in Vietnam. I don’t know where Chef gets his cilantro, but it had the brightest, freshest taste, taking my taste buds back to street foods in Singapore or Bangkok.
The restaurant has special chef tasting menus on occasion with wine pairings, and every Saturday the restaurant roasts a whole hog over pecan on the outdoor pit…..they start serving pig meat at 11 AM.