Tom Azar, former chef de cuisine of Emeril's in New Orleans (as well as Orlando and Miami Beach), is fixin' to unmask his debut eatery, Ahnvee, in South Beach either later this month or early in April. The Cajun Creole N'awlins-inspired spot will include an upscale restaurant and an accompanying lounge that'll have live jazz and serve cocktails (hopefully mint juleps and Hurricanes) until 5 a.m. Yet, before Azar officially floods Washington Avenue -- 623, to be exact -- with a bayou of scents a la bisque and grits, he decided to hit up the Biltmore's Alhambra Ballroom last Saturday afternoon to give us in the Magic City a Big Easy sampling.
On the menu, during this interactive cooking lunch (in which one volunteer from a table of eight follows Azar's cooking demonstration using a hot plate), was an appetizer of black & blue beef fillet and crawfish étouffée over white rice. Due to some heavy-duty Hialeah traffic, I unfortunately missed the bloody teaser (and I mean "bloody" in the most affectionate of ways -- I love my beef rare) and walked in halfway through the preparation of crawfish étouffée, which was good but needed a dash of heat. A few drops of Tabasco and a sprinkle of salt later, my palate was satisfied. But, if Azar plans on pricing this dish for more than $20, which he may with its abundance of crawfish, I'm not sure if my wallet will be as content.
In all fairness, I came late. I didn't taste everything and the portion of the meal that I did try was not prepared by Azar himself but by a fellow luncher who was sipping on a bottomless glass of champagne (as was everyone else). But with the state of the economy and New Orleans since Katrina, wouldn't it be more authentic to lower the prices and serve up some well-made po-boys and jambalaya instead? Especially if the late-night lounge wants to compete on Washington Avenue, where the bar-hopping crowd craves pizza at 4 a.m. rather than dishes that most won't even know how to pronounce.
But then again, if I were a former chef at Emeril's and was busting loose on my own for the first time, I'd want to serve up creme de la crème of my personal cuisine. And although I know someone like myself couldn't afford this brand of gourmet soul food, others in SoBe can.
I mean, how else can you explain the opening of Gotham Steak and Meat Market?