Josephine Estelle (New Orleans)

A girls' weekend to New Orleans this past weekend was met with an unexpected, unnoticed coincidence--my hometown heroes (in the culinary category, to say the least) Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman were opening their newest establishment at the new Ace Hotel New Orleans that very weekend. Thus, I ensured our dinner at Peche was pushed late enough to allow for a cocktail, appetizer and appreciation for the New Orleans stunner, Josephine Estelle.

I'm accustomed to the small-space designs in the exisitng Andy Ticer & Michael Hudman portfolio, including Porcellino's one-room, one-stop shop and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen's renovated home buildout.

Down in the Big Easy, however, the space grew bigger. At Josephine Estelle, the striking design boasts high ceilings, waves of green velvet banquettes, and 1920s art deco finishes. Ornate brass bulbs, which line the grand wraparound bar and surrounding tables, are reminiscent of a grand Southern train station.

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The bustling kitchen, clearly visible along the back wall of the perimeter, performs like a symphony--the right side preps, and the left side assembles and plates. The process is aesthetically eye-catching and functionally impressive. I was grateful enough to be led through the kitchen by Andy and Michael's Memphis team, and I was lucky to meet Josephine Estelle's executive chef Phillip Mariano while in the back. The camaraderie truly radiated between chefs, spotted culinary celebrity guests and regular 'ole diners like myself.

I'm especially fond of the restaurant's name, reflecting Andy and Michael's family-first intentions upon expanding their restaurateur careers. Named after their daughters, Josephine Estelle opens only months before their Downtown Memphis concept Catherine & Mary's, named for the two women (their grandmothers) who taught them how to prepare pastas and Italian staples. It all comes full-circle, especially in the kitchen. Andy and Michael practice a fine and grounded mentality.

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The cocktail and hors d'oeuvre were delightful. The menu makes it tough to choose just one, especially with a lengthy list of innovative small plates and Southern-infused pasta options. We went with the absolutely stunning asparagus presentation, nested around a fried egg, pimento, trout roe and country ham. Salty yet light, we could have ordered another.

To drink, I found myself infatuated with the "Lemons Never Forget" cocktail. Citrusy and spicy blends of honey, calvados and apertif wine were wholesome and sinful. I will never forget.

Though we Memphians might be tempted to stick with creole itineraries while in New Orleans, make the Ace stop for a drink and dish.