When you hear about destination restaurants, most are headed by men. Bayona, opened by Susan Spicer with business partner Regina Keever more than 25 years ago, is a refreshing exception in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Chef Spicer’s classic New Orleans creations at Bayona and other ventures led to multiple appearances on local and national media and to recognition and awards from the James Beard Foundation, the Nations Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame, and the Culinary Hall of Fame. Spicer is also a partner at Herbsaint, a casual bistro in the Central Business District.
Paul introduced me to Bayona many years ago. We brought friends Eric and Rebecca with us this time. Ordering and sharing dinner with good friends at a great restaurant allows you to sample a lot of great food. See menu here and here.
We began by sharing small bites from the starter menu. The savory Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream delivered an earthy richness (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️). The remarkably delicious Seafood Mezze of Smoked Snapper Dip, Salmon Pastrami (simply divine) and Seared Scallop left me wanting more (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2).
Soups and Salads
Paul and I revisited the Cream of Garlic Soup, a savory standard on the Bayona menu, topped with crispy roasted garlic. Be sure to ask for fresh bread from Chef Spicer’s Wild Flour Bread bakery to sop up every last drop (⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2). Eric ordered the Red and Gold Beet Salad with a sherry vinaigrette and crumbled goat cheese. The delicately poached sweet beets and tangy goat cheese combined beautifully (⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2). Rebecca’s Bayona Salad Balsamic Vinaigrette, Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese with Great Hill Blue looked tasty, but I was too consumed by the soup to try it.
Paul requested to speak with Bayona’s sommelier to ask for advice on available wines to pair with our entrées, but their Somme was not present that night. An experienced waiter suggested a bottle of Famille Perrin Coudoulet de Beaucaster Cotes-du-Rhone. We choose the Veal Shortbreads with Lemon-Caper sauce (Eric), the Chorizo-stuffed Rabbit Roulade with Fried Leg, Red Bean Pupusa, Grilled Squash , Salsa Verde (me), Peppered Lamb with Herbed Goat Cheese and Zinfandel Sauce (Paul), and Sautéed Red Grouper, Sweet Corn Risotto, and Tomato Basil Salad (Rebecca). The wait for the main course dragged through two apologies from different waiters. We paced ourselves on our bottle of wine to ensure we’d have some left to drink when our dinner finally arrived.
The rabbit entrée felt like two entrées in one with the distinctly different preparations of sausage-stuffed roulade and fried leg. The red bean pupusa reminded me of tamales just a few hundred miles upstream in the Mississippi delta. The tangy green salsa complemented and complimented the tender fried rabbit leg (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)
Rebecca reported the red grouper was “fresh and perfectly prepared, seared crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.” The sweet corn gave a tasty Southern twist to the risotto. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Eric tried the veal sweetbreads for the first time at Bayona. The tender sweetbreads were fried in a light batter and delicious with the lemon butter caper sauce. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The peppered lamb, prepared medium rare, felt uninspired compared to the other entrées, but might impress at an average bistro. The Cotes-du-Rhone paired best with this dish. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
We skipped dessert a little tired after sitting for so long – plenty of time to feel full. Our dinner party enjoyed the food, charming atmosphere of the dining room, and the friendly, knowledgeable and attentive staff. The extended wait for the kitchen to prepare our entrées after our soup and salad surprised us for a restaurant held in such high esteem. We might have made it to dessert if the kitchen had sustained its earlier momentum.
Come to Bayona if you’re looking for distinctive New Orleans’ standards influenced by European, Middle Eastern and Latin American culinary traditions. If you’re interested in creative rabbit dishes, Bayona will meet your expectations. I’ve enjoyed several rabbit preparations from Chef Spicer’s kitchen over the years.