There are easily hundreds, probably thousands, of ways for chefs to make their mark on dishes diners have eaten hundreds, maybe thousands of times before. An echelon of chefs have made it their practice to seize on countless numbers of these twists and turns to create a single, disorienting dish. Jason Goodenough, the chef-owner of Carrollton Market, the new restaurant in New Orleans’ Riverbend, isn’t one of them.

Goodenough experiments with his food, but he bundles the marks of his creativity in manageable groups. I counted two curveballs in his pan-roasted snapper, for instance: the golden, Thai curry broth that half submerges the fish and the fried rice with local shrimp that firms up the dish’s graceful connection between Asia and the Gulf of Mexico. “Chicken n’ dumplins” employs markedly different textures and flavors to convey an equally broad scope. Those “dumplins” are pillowy gnocchi, the chicken long, juicy strands thinly coated in crème fraiche and threaded with tarragon.

The chef’s idea to make chocolate peanut butter pie nearly as light as whipped cream is a good one, yet he takes it over the top with something else, a spill of crushed, chocolate covered peanuts and buttery graham cracker – debris that looks like an archaeologist’s dig and tastes like a committed sin.

Goodenough’s thoughtful, subtle innovations reveal a young chef who can prove himself without preening; who possesses a casual fluency of high-and-low and cross-cultural styles; and who seems destined for greater things while appearing secure and happy where he is. These are valuable assets, and they are on display in a compact, attractive dining room that fits a slim category crucial to the health of any restaurant ecosystem: the tiny but serious neighborhood place that shines, but without the glare of national acclaim.

Carrollton Market, named for a defunct hub of neighborhood commerce, opened last spring in the former space of One. Like its predecessor, C.M. is an approachable bistro pitched to advance class diners. The small menu is truly seasonal, changing as spring gives way to summer, but grounded by crowd-pleasing standards, such as steak frites (perfectly cooked meat but with badly over-salted fries) and seafood risotto (a home run of sweetly fresh shellfish).
Goodenough and his partners transformed the property by burnishing the wood floors and fixing the horizontal surfaces with marble. It’s the kind of appealing design that will shine like new even as it ages. It’s broadly appealing right now. On any given night, you’ll find blazer-clad empty-nesters filing in for special occasions as well as bachelors, perched on stools at the open-front kitchen, looking for a solitary fix of andouille-stuffed chicken.

But Carrollton Market’s space is defined, for good and ill, by its limited square footage. Intimacy is a given, but so is conversation-snuffing volume, triggered by crowds of less than half capacity, and the kitchen’s vents aren’t powerful enough to keep all of the smoke it generates from stinging your eyes. Compact quarters mean a compact staff – at the stove, behind the bar and on the dining room floor – is charged with achieving big things. Which means you may feel your neck tense at how long it takes that Cognac-mezcal cocktail or hoisin-glazed pork belly to hit the table.

Here’s the thing: It’s worth it. Carrollton Market’s blemishes do not leave a lasting stain on what it consistently achieves. The service is fluid and attentive, even when the pace slows. That cocktail, called Eau Rouge, goes down like a cold-smoked Sazerac, and the succulent pork belly, nestled between a rice noodle salad and daikon-carrot slaw, is just as capably engineered.

Goodenough does not, as chefs launching first restaurants often do, saddle his staff with a menu that stretches beyond its reach. Its best efforts are simple studies in foundational technique and considered pairings, like the silky tête de cochon with juicy pickled peaches and the fantastic – and fantastically rich – fried oysters served on upturned halfshells with creamed leeks, Benton’s bacon and a fine-tuned béarnaise.

Every one of Goodenough’s plates is visually arresting in its way. Crabmeat takes the form of a perfect square (albeit with hardened bits of fried shallot) across a long plate from a jumble of halved tomatoes, their red hue all the brighter for the encircling swirl of oil tinted green by wasabi. Grilled octopus is splayed over an arugula salad pocked with potato croutons, a smear of crushed tomato jam spread artfully but thickly (which facilitates dipping) away from it. Even the pork tail tator tots appear to have benefited from an art director’s consultation: delicious discs of crisped, fat-enriched spuds plated like fallen dominos under threads of pickled peppers.

Beyond that peanut butter pie, Carrollton Market’s desserts continue the pattern of enhancing familiar dishes with minimal intervention and polished skill. The pot de crème is an act of milk chocolate intensity tempered with Chantilly cream. A spoonful of crème fraiche melts over the crust of a fragrant peach cobbler. These sweets occupy a middle ground between food that tastes like home and food that causes you to marvel at its erudition. This restaurant makes the case that there is often no better place to be.

Brett Anderson gave three beans to Carrollton Market. The rating is based on the following:

Food: Very good to excellent. Chef-owner Jason Goodenough’s thoughtful Southern cooking draws inspiration from France and Asia. He’s a young chef capable of proving himself without preening.

Ambiance: Very good. Goodenough and his partners transformed the property by burnishing the wood floors and fixing the horizontal surfaces with exposed marble. It’s a classy, broadly appealing space that it ultimately defined, for good and ill, by its limited square footage.

Service: Very good. The service is fluid and attentive, even when the pace slows.

Best bets: Pork tail tots ($12); oysters Goodenough ($12); seared baby octopus ($13); crisped pork belly ($23); pan-roasted red snapper ($30); Louisiana shellfish risotto ($26); chocolate peanut butter pie ($8).


by Brett Anderson

The Times Picayune -