One of my research adventures took place at Cafe Minh. It is located in what used to be Michael’s Mid-City Grill before the storm. When the latter restaurant did not re-open Post-Katrina, Chef Minh Bui decided that it would be a fitting abode for his Cafe Minh.
With his roots in Vietnam, Chef Minh got his New Orleans start cooking at places such as Emeril’s and Commander’s Palace. After mastering his skills, he developed a Vietnamese-French fusion cuisine that contains hints of local Creole cooking. His first restaurant Lemongrass was opened next to Angelo Brocato’s on Carrollton Avenue. A second location of Lemongrass located in the International House hotel was opened, and a third restaurant called 56 Degrees was also opened in the Whitney Hotel. Before Katrina, both the Carrollton location and 56 Degrees closed. After the storm, Chef Minh decided he wanted to return to Mid-City and opened Cafe Minh at its current location.
Cafe Minh fits perfectly in the Restaurant Row even though it is not physically in line with the others. About a block into Canal Street, it is still in close walking distance of the area, however. One thing we can recognize about the Restaurant Row is that even though there may be similar types of food (for instance, Wit’s Inn, Venezia, Theo’s, Papa John’s and Domino’s all have pizza), there is still enough variety throughout the restaurants that they are all able to survive. Among the Asian restaurants, you may find that Little Tokyo, Doson’s Noodle House, Yummy Yummy, and even Cafe Minh have similar items on the menu. Yet because of the creativity of the chefs, the different environments of the restaurants themselves, and the specific cravings of those searching out food, co-existing is not a problem for these places.
Another similarity I have noticed between the Asian restaurants is that the owners or head chefs all learned to cook in their birth countries. This seems to come full circle as they originally learn to cook in the authentic way of their birthplace, then they end up drifting into another type of cuisine (whether it be another Asian cuisine or something completely different), and in the end, they come back to their original style of cooking, adding a bit of their own flair. That little bit of flair and originality is what sets each of these restaurants apart from the other.
During my visit, I discovered that the food at Cafe Minh is excellent, however, when one typically thinks of the item he or she is ordering, one might not get exactly what they are expecting. For instance, when I ordered the fried eggplant, I did not expect it to be topped with mozzarella, on top of tomatoes, on top of a bed of lettuce, on top of toast. It was amazing nonetheless. This is an example of Chef Minh’s genius at work.
For dessert I had the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, and it was divine. Colorful and divine.
Also, while visiting Cafe Minh, I immediately noticed all of the artwork on the walls. With the high ceilings and ambient lighting, I almost felt that I was in an art gallery for a moment. The bartender even told me that the artwork is rotated by several local artists throughout the year.
When wandering Mid-City and you find yourself wanting something different than the norm, try stopping by Cafe Minh. If anything, the experience is one you’re unlikely to find anywhere else on Restaurant Row.