Serigne Mbaye’s Senegalese tasting menu dinners, which popped up throughout the city under the name Dakar NOLA, have been some of the most exciting, noteworthy dining experiences in New Orleans over the past two years. With the opening of Dakar NOLA at 3814 Magazine Street on Wednesday, November 23, they’re set to become a permanent fixture of the city’s restaurant scene.
Mbaye, Eater New Orleans’s 2021 chef of the year and a 2022 James Beard Award finalist for emerging chef, has held Dakar NOLA dinners at Margaret Place, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFab), and Mosquito Supper Club since 2020. As a pop-up, Mbaye served riffs on traditional West African and Senegalese dishes — sometimes gluten and dairy-free versions — that blend West African and Louisiana ingredients, like habanero peppers and dehydrated seafood powder with okra and red beans. Diners were also served simultaneously, with Mbaye coming out to introduce and explain each dish and its historical significance. The restaurant, which he’s opening with co-owner Effie Richardson (who has helped produce the dinners from the beginning), will follow a similar model: one seating per evening for 30 guests, with each course served to everyone at the same time.
Mbaye is Senegalese-American, born in Harlem and raised partly in Senegal. He learned a love of cooking from his mother, who owned a Senegalese restaurant in New York. After attending high school in Senegal, he returned to the U.S. for culinary school. He cooked in kitchens including two- and three-star Michelin restaurants L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York and Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, before landing at Commander’s Palace in 2016. Of the cities Mbaye has lived in, he says, he finds New Orleans to be the American city closest to Dakar by virtue of its culture, history, and food.
Following his stint at Commander’s Palace, Mbaye set out to find his culinary voice with a return to Senegal; the experiences there helped shape his Dakar NOLA dinners. “What I saw in Dakar really inspired me to focus on the spices of my cooking,” he told Eater in 2021. “These flavors are the backbone of what makes Senegalese cuisine so great, the balance of smokiness, acidity, and tanginess.”
Each meal begins with ataya, a Senegalese tea that Mbaye says stimulates the appetite and boosts energy. Another constant is Mbaye’s version of what he says is known in Senegal as the Last Meal, which Mbaye explains as a dish featuring black-eyed peas that enslaved Africans were fed before their forced journeys across the Atlantic. Mbaye’s version includes crab meat and palm oil, a staple Senegalese ingredient. Other courses blend West African and Louisiana ingredients, like the fonio salad with West African millet, finger limes, and satsuma. All three dishes are set for Dakar NOLA’s forthcoming seven-course menu, in addition to a jollof course and yassa, a spicy Senegalese dish made with habanero peppers, onions, and chicken, fish, or lamb.
Dakar NOLA will serve dinner Wednesday through Saturday at 7 p.m. Prepaid reservations for parties of one to ten are available for $150 per person, and there’s an option to consult a sommelier onsite from neighboring wine shops Second Vine Wines and Spirit to purchase a bottle of wine (with a $15 corkage fee) until Dakar NOLA gets a liquor license.