New Orleans is not necessarily known for its maximalist restaurants — humble fried seafood joints, yes; or fine-dining icons in historic mansions. But Pigeon and Whale, which opened on Freret Street at the beginning of July, is different.
The restaurant does not limit itself to the traditional bounties of the Gulf but rather incorporates seafood from other waters. There’s lobster from Maine on a warm, tarragon-laced lobster roll; chargrilled mussels from Prince Edward Island; steamed Atlantic clams in a curry broth; and raw oysters from three coasts — most from the East and West coasts, with only one or two varieties from the Gulf. A plump, substantial octopus tentacle is grilled to tenderness, and jumbo scallops from the North Atlantic are seared in crab fat. The creamy squid ink pasta with shrimp, peas, and pancetta rivals some of the best versions in town, namely the squid ink shrimp pasta dishes found at Paladar 511 and Sneaky Pickle/Bar Brine.
The atmosphere is equally transportive. A narrow space resembles the interior of a ship that anchors in Cape Cod, with deep navy walls adorned with wooden ship’s wheels and rows of gold-framed mirrors designed to look like portholes. The windows are completely covered, adding to the feeling that you’re below deck and not in a shopping center-like strip of Freret Street. There are sea creature touches throughout, from the substantial metal mermaid door handle to an octopus paperweight that holds down your check. Caviar service is delivered in a large metallic clamshell filled with crushed ice and is accompanied by a collection of gold spoons dangling from a decorative, carousel-like holder. Chocolate mousse is served in a pink bathtub with a whale tale cookie and yellow, duck-shaped candy, and lemon cheesecake is formed like actual lemons, that classic ’90s technique.
“We think it’s important to incorporate a little bit of whimsy in everything we do,” says owner John Michael Rowland.
Rowland was the longtime general manager of St. Charles Avenue’s Superior Seafood, a classic, family-friendly restaurant on the other end of the spectrum of seafood destinations. He’s a new partner in Bucktown seafood spot Station 6, and opened Pigeon and Whale alongside his pastry chef wife Winnie Rubin. Jeremy Latimer, the chef at Station 6, is also the chef at Pigeon and Whale.
Pigeon and Whale (4525 Freret Street, Suite 107) is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.