David Rouse took over as Herbsaint’s chef de cuisine earlier this year. It’s a noteworthy changing of the guard. Every chef who ran the kitchen before him has ultimately won a prestigious James Beard Award, dating to Herbsaint’s 2001 opening, when chef-owner Donald Link was at the stove. (Link was followed by Stephen Stryjewski, Ryan Prewitt and Rebecca Wilcomb.) One sign that Rouse is off to a good start is that the transition occasioned no detectable disruptions. The chicken-andouille gumbo and duck confit with dirty rice, the Gulf seafood ceviche, the crispy goat, the fried hand pie melting a scoop of housemade ice cream – staples from Herbsaint’s many successful chef regimes are still here. So is, predictably, something new that will hopefully stay in the repertoire: a peanut stew holding plump local shrimp, each sheathed in a translucent rice flour crust. Herbsaint wouldn’t be Herbsaint if all of this weren’t the case. American bistros were in dialogue with the world before Herbsaint came along, but no other has been so specifically fluent in the cooking of southeast Louisiana and Western Europe. Rouse inherited a chef’s dream: a well-oiled machine in the shape of a sophisticated, window-lined neighborhood restaurant that rarely hosts anything less than a packed house. The quality of Herbsaint’s food and service hasn’t waned in 17 years. Rouse’s most daunting challenge is to keep that tradition alive. So far, so good.
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