Allegro Restaurant Review (New Orleans)

I have such a weakness for the style of the 1930s that any institution bearing it catches my attention. But I think most people would find Allegro Bistro arresting. The dining room is so expansive and unusual that it seems out of place in an office building–even one as high-rent as the Energy Center.

The place was originally constructed with an Art Deco theme, with big-band music and iconography from that era. But the restaurant that did all that was too ambitious for the circumstances, and even though the food was great, the place went bust. Allegro took over not long after, originally as a partnership involving Valentino Rovere–the owner of La Riviera. That didn’t fly either, and soon afterwards a new program was assembled under the same name. The chef, an alumnus of Christian’s and a few other restaurants of note, took over the management of the place with his wife.

Ron Wilemon is a skillful chef–too much so for the kind of restaurant we expect to find in office buildings. But he’s smart enough to know that he must serve salads and sandwiches and inexpensive daily specials if he’s going to survive. But he’s also ambitious enough not to stop just there.

For awhile, he expressed himself with dinner a few nights a week. Unfortunately, he learned what many before him have: serving dinner in the CBD is a very iffy proposition. Dinner never did get off the ground. But he did find that enough people in the Energy Center and the many other large buildings nearby liked to eat as adventuresomely as he liked to cook, and the lunch menu grew to be as interesting as anything else you’ll find around town.

We are, alas, getting to the end of one of the best seasons for crabmeat I ever remember. But there’s still time to get the best appetizer here: eggplant St. Charles. It’s a pair of panneed eggplant rounds made into a sort of sandwich, with crabmeat in the center. The $6 price tag pretty much precludes using jumbo lump meat in there–at least in any quantity. No matter. The thing is set atop a light tomato sauce and then draped with hollandaise, and there’s no way such a thing prepared well could be less than wonderful.

They also do a great shrimp remoulade as a starter at Allegro. The style reminds me of the one at Christian’s, and therefore Galatoire’s: very zingy, with nice big shrimp.

Soups are uniformly terrific. The house specialty is a roasted garlic soup, slightly creamy, made with the nutty, sweet isotope of garlic, and not so aggressive that you’ll make heads turn when you head back to the office.

An office building is full of young women, and that means salads are de rigueur. There are plenty of them here, all made better than they need to be. The standard side salad is first-class, assembled from a spring mix and slathered with homemade dressings. The best of the salad entrees is topped with fresh tuna, grilled with an Asian-style glaze to a tender rare state, slathered with a take on the kind of peanut sauce you find in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.