Adventurous visitors to New Orleans expect to find haute cuisine in a former drugstore or small grocery store converted into a swanky restaurant in a charming neighborhood like the French Quarter, the Garden District or the Bywater. Don’t be deterred by the corner strip mall near City Park where MOPHO shares a parking lot with a Subway and Burger King. Intrepid diners, look beyond the vast parking lot from the street to find the diamond in the ruff that is MOPHO. The James Beard Foundation counts MOPHO Executive Chef and Partner Michael Gulotta among its 2016 finalists for Best Chef: South. And Food & Wine Magazine named Gulotta among the Best New Chefs this year.
Our hostess warmly greeted our group of four when we arrived a few minutes early for our 8 PM reservation on Saturday, June 4. She invited us to enjoy a drink at the bar. The big television screens of the L-shaped dining room feature campy Kung Fu movies with terrific overacting. No subtitles needed. Dialogue is unimportant. Facial expressions convey all that you need to know. If Kung Fu movies aren’t your thing, the fusion of Vietnamese and Creole food at MOPHO will make you smile.
We received a table inside and beside a view of a patio lit with strings of low-watt bulbs and shaded by sheets of fabric radiating from a center pole over stained wood picnic tables — a great place to dine had rain and warm temperatures not been in the forecast. Our server provided a main menu along with cocktail, specials and Boba Tea menus. Cocktails and teas contain the spices and flavors of southeast Asia with clever names like “Violette Femme,” “My Tie” and “Assaulted Caramel.” We could tell from the variety of dishes that we’d need some help making decisions. Our server obliged with detailed answers to questions along with advice on personal and off-menu favorites.
We ordered three starters for the four of us to share: Wok Fried Crab Ramen (⭐️⭐️⭐️), Crispy Chicken Wings (⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2) and a Chilled Peach Soup. Of these three, the fresh flavors of the peach soup on the specials menu really caught my attention. Chef Gulotta puréed fire-roasted peaches with yellow curry and dressed the chilled soup with pickled cucumber, marinated eggplant, and a crispy shrimp sesame cracker (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️).
After the first round, most of us turned to lighter fare with pho. Rebecca ordered the Veggie: an umami-infused vegetable broth with roasted tofu, mushrooms, grilled greens, and roasted eggplant (⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2). Paul and I split the Refresher: a fowl broth with grilled and sliced chicken thigh, crispy shallot, grilled greens, and slow poached egg (⭐️⭐️⭐️). We added fresh basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and jalapeño pepper slices to the soup from baskets brought to the table. Our server persuaded Eric to choose a cochon special not listed on any menu for the night: slow-smoked pork, roasted spring zucchini, yellow squash and carrots, and a warm flatbread all garnished with fresh mint and cilantro and small cup of fish sauce (⭐️⭐️⭐️)
For dessert, we shared the Ginger and Lemongrass Ice Cream Sandwich with lemon balm and citrus salad and a glass of the Assaulted Caramel Boba Tea. The ice cream (⭐️⭐️⭐️) was tasty but I favored the Boba Tea with condensed milk, caramel, sea salt, and cathead pecan vodka served with a fat straw so that you could draw up the green pea-sized tapioca to your mouth (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️).
As we finished out meal, a torrential thunderstorm hit the entire city. We summoned an Uber to fetch us from the restaurant, but later learned the driver could not make it to us through flooded streets. MOPHO’s staff came to our rescue by calling us a regular taxi cab to take us back to the hotel.
Many thanks to our friends Eric and Rebecca for joining us on this adventure. I look forward to many great meals at MOPHO during future visits to New Orleans.
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