The first trip to New Orleans, for most people, includes double-fisting cans of Dixie Beer and Slurpee-sized hurricanes while stumbling down Bourbon Street. Hopefully, you’ve made a second trip with a few more years in the rearview mirror, staying maybe in a B&B under the oak trees in the Garden District and discovering a restaurant scene that knew long ago about the benefits of fresh, local ingredients served slowly in a meal that might, with a few rounds of cocktails, gloriously take all night.
It’s that kind of New Orleans that’s channeled by Joliet, a seafood house with a slight Cajun theme and the charm of a well-established restaurant off Magazine Street.
The restaurant group behind it, Lost Boy Co., knows how to channel nostalgia. It began with its namesake bar downtown that looks like a haberdashery and serves up some of the finest classic cocktails in town. At Fox’s Lounge, the Lost Boy folks went all-in on sentimentality, bringing back a half-century-old restaurant exactly how it had always been, right down to the french dip and martinis that come with a sidecar to refill halfway through.
With Joliet, they took a corner of a hostel-like hotel lobby next to Sunset Harbour and closed it off into a space that’s both modern and feels like a place that’s been a neighborhood staple since the Nixon administration. There are the walls of mismatched art, the Moroccan-ish tile floors, the gold trim here and there on light fixtures and the shelving back behind the big bar that splits the space in two, all of it feeling both new and well-established. It’s immediately comfortable and also somehow trendy—we’re not entirely sure how they pulled that one off.
Like any good meal in New Orleans, cocktails come first. The menu here, like at Lost Boy and Fox’s, leans heavily on the familiar: a cognac-spiked sazerac, a vesper martini made super smooth by tweaking the percentages (less booze, more Lillet) and, their most frequently liked drink, a spiced grapefruit spritz that’s a more refreshing French 75.
The menu doesn’t overdo the New Orleans theme, just an occasional gumbo and po’ boy here and there. But many of the dishes have a Cajun kick; the spicy Thousand Island underneath the crab Louie salad that comes piled high with crab meat and veggies on top of an iceberg round, looking as pretty as a Kentucky Derby hat. The baked oysters are no doubt similar to a Rockefeller you’ve had before, here with collard greens, shells arriving on crostini that soak up the outrageous richness of the butter. The red pea salad with pickled green beans also seems like something a New Orleans chef would use to start a meal, and the creamy sauce dotted with crawfish on top of the blackened red snapper stays true to that theme too.
But other dishes here take a hard left, and that’s a very good thing. The scallop crudo comes in a delicate buttermilk yuzu koshō sauce, with cucumber, dill and fennel pollen—a stunning dish that might’ve been the night’s best. Although come to think of it, perhaps it was the potatoes Joliet, brownie-shaped squares of stacked potato slices fried crisp and kept super tender inside.
A meal here, as you might have at Commander’s Palace, should end with the bread pudding: done with a good helping of chocolate chips, broiled in a soup bowl until the top gets crunchy, a scoop of ice cream getting perfectly melty right quick.
Like any good meal in New Orleans, we were two-plus hours in and wanting more. Maybe a late-night rhubarb julep or a brandy crusta? Yeah, that sounds just like how the Cajuns would do it.