Domenica (New Orleans)

If you have not yet noticed on the Caramelized critiques tab under "New Orleans," I'm a John Besh fan. His Southern roots and charismatic approach to cooking express an unusual variety in both his cookbooks and restaurants. Domenica in the historical Roosevelt Hotel proves Besh's authenticity and ability to go beyond the New Orleans norm.

When you think of New Orleans, you're quick to assume that creole is the only way to go. And sure, our first night at Mr. B's Bistro was nothing short of memorable and classic; Brenna and I were wearing bibs as we peeled the famous barbecue shrimp with Ashley's help, and the girls sipped dirty martinis while Alex and Spencer washed down their gumbos with whiskey on the rocks. Yet John Besh takes you out of the box, introducing modern Italian dishes that stray from typical New Orleans fare and simultaneously impress your taste buds.

Our New Years Eve dinner at Domenica was magical from start to finish. After photos in the gorgeous Christmas-lit lobby, we toasted to 2014 and ordered a wild mushroom pizza to start with tomato, bacon, sweet onions, and yard egg. The restaurant is known for its wood-fired pizzas, and I now see why. The thin crust saved us room for entrées, thankfully.
The highlight of our meal was a visit from Executive Chef Alon Shaya, who introduced himself and kindly made the connection with my and Brenna's visit to Austin's Luke pop-up last Spring on the roof of Whole Foods. He was a great, great guy; I always appreciate the gesture from a clearly busy staff, especially on New Years Eve!

All four of us were pleased with the main course. I tried a bite of everyone's: Alex's classic rigatoni, Spencer's garganelli with pork ragu, and Brenna's wood fired eggplant antipasti with tahini (presented beautifully). I appreciated Domenica's option to order either a full or half order of pastas, a rare but brilliant concept for eaters like me who want to try more than one dish. My squid ink tagliolini half order, pictured above, was fabulous. Blue crab and a light herb butter sauce melted in my mouth. I could've had the second half, but my sequin New Years skirt was glad I did time!

I wasn't crazy about the Affogato dessert of vanilla gelato, sugared doughnuts, and an espresso shot poured tableside. I think it was missing a taste of chocolate or caramel, but the presentation was delightful. 
Thank you, Domenica, for a wonderful final meal of 2013; what a fantastic icing to the cake. I look forward to trying more of Besh's work in 2014.