It Ain’t a Speakeasy, It’s a Hideaway
Pinot Noir in New Orleans
There is a New Orleans restaurant that quietly opened last winter that is, for lack of a better term, (and for lack of my imagination), so hipster that in describing it, one must evoke the spirit of Bill Hader’s beloved SNL character, Stefon. Deep breath, hands to face, back down into a clench, exhale, and: If you’re looking for the Big Easy’s hottest new restaurant then you want N7, a French place with no phone, no website, no celebrity chefs, no Snapchats, an address that doesn’t show up on Google Maps, your Uber driver won’t find it, the main delicacy is salty fished served out of a tin can outside like at a Great Depression hobo camp, and the waitstaff only communicates with guests through trombones.
Alright, the last one isn’t true—although that would be amazing—but everything else is more or less on the money. N7 is tucked back in a Ninth Ward alley, just off St. Claude Ave. Even in this smartphone age, it isn’t easy to find, as its nestled behind a tall wooden fence, its only signifier a small, spray-painted, red N7 stencil. It’s a French bistro, named for the old “Route des Vacances” that took Parisians from Notre Dame to the Cote d’Azur to summer away on the French Riviera. Housed in a former tire shop, N7 has a friendly backyard with Christmas lights, wooden tables, a large patio, and a Citroen car to hammer home the living-is-easy vibe.
No matter how romantic N7 was in early May under the first sunlight following a 72-hour thunderstorm deluge, after I was told by our companions—who had been multiple times and swore by it—that the menu was “can to table,” my stomach turned. And not because of the metal packaging, I’ve been eating StarKist since the early 1970s. It sounded like the most twee corduroy-suit-Wes Anderson-with-a-Snidely-Whiplash-mustache restaurant concept I’d ever heard of. Canned beer, sure. A speakeasy that serves sardines? I’m going to go find a Lucky Dog.
However, the goddess Fortuna, along with my friends who were making their third trip, spun me in the right direction. They were absolutely right. Can-to-table may sound silly, but I haven’t had a meal like that … well, ever. Who knew tinned food could be so damn delicious? (I mean aside from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and people with much more sophisticated tastes than myself, apparently.) The people behind N7 trust you’ll dig the canned goods. And they’re right. The offerings were so tasty, getting us to order another go-round was like shooting fish in a very tiny barrel. We polished off a number of tins, including a spicy calamari, squid in ink, a lobster rillete with bread, and, my favorite, the tingling habanero smoked oysters. Add in a some olives, cheese, and a plate of yellowtail carpaccio and us too-old-to-be-cool-folk had ourselves a feast. Some of the cans are true delicacies, shipped directly to N7, and near impossible to find in the States. Others, like the Ekone Smoked Oyster selection, can be sent to your house, but it won’t be the same. You’ll miss out on the whole French On va prendre la bouteille and the Crescent City evening tranquility.
Befitting it’s French countryside ethos, N7 is a wine spot, primarily European, universally natural. There’s around twenty choices, including wines from some less-guzzled—at least to my limited oneophilic experience—regions like Germany’s Pflaz and Chile’s del Bio-Bio. We kept it homegrown and went with an Oregon pinot noir. Kicking back and soaking it all in, it becomes clear what N7 isn’t. There are no bartenders in suspenders checking their pocket-watches, no blocks of ice to be chiseled with a 19th-century tool, no sixteen-ingredient gin drinks, no egg whites, no passwords, no hidden doors. It’s not a faux anything. N7 is low-key and a bit hard to find because it wants to be unobtrusive, relaxing, an oasis. It ain’t a speakeasy, it’s a hideaway.
N7 has all the trappings of the worst of foodie culture, but it isn’t affectation. It isn’t ironic or self-aggrandizing. Whomever runs N7 isn’t after anything more than love of place, product, and people. The owners aren’t trying to disrupt, revolutionize, or upend the hot dog cart. Gimmicky? Perhaps. Although, every now and again, the hippest restaurant in town is actually the place to be. Now, about those trombones…