At Justine, which opens on January 25 in New Orleans, the James Beard Award-winning chef channels the romance of Paris.
James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Devillier doesn’t mind when someone calls him “Justine.” It only happens when he’s traveling around France, anyway, and that is how his name is pronounced in French.
“It happened so often that it just became a joke,” he says. “But it also became something that I’d always associate with my travels in France. It grew on me.”
When the New Orleans chef, best known for his breakout restaurants La Petite Grocery and Balise, committed to opening the French brasserie he had dreamed about for years, he knew exactly what to call it: Justine.
“There is so much French influence here, and obviously many older restaurants which lean toward French technique,” Devillier says. “But I’ve felt a void for a long time in the French Quarter for something as traditional as Justine.”
Together with his wife and business partner Mia Freiberger-Devillier, Justine will open its doors January 25 inside the historic May & Ellis building in the French Quarter, blurring the line between classic Parisian bistro and lively New Orleans locale.
“I really enjoy the theatrics of this style of food,” he says. “Think about gooey raclette or a bubbling French onion soup. The idea is to bridge the rituals of French dining with the atmosphere of the French Quarter.”
There are many themed rooms inside the massive, 200-seat grand hall-style restaurant, giving customers a slightly different Parisian-inspired experience in each one. The light and bright Café Room, where you might casually sip a coffee, opens to the sidewalk; while the Bar Room is low-lit with antique brass drink rails, smoked glass mirrors, and cozy banquettes, making it the perfect spot for a cognac cocktail or a glass of champagne. The Kitchen Room includes large communal tables, a few private round booths, and a glimpse inside the actual kitchen with chefs shuffling back and forth. There’s also an adjacent more intimate dining room with smaller, single-party tables, as well as an outdoor patio marked with a neon cabaret sign.
During recent travels to France, Devillier and his wife collected antique pieces to incorporate into the space, which was designed by Farouki Farouki, a New Orleans-based firm. Devillier’s favorite is a hand-painted, pressed tin marquee, which once hung above a meat counter inside a Parisian butcher shop and now hangs above his open kitchen.
“It’s over 100 years old,” he says. “The Kitchen Room has this underlying butcher shop feel to it, so it works perfectly. It’s also reflected on the menu, which is pretty beef heavy.”
While Devillier remains tight-lipped on what exactly will be on Justine’s menu, he did say many of the classics will make an appearance. Think steak frites, French onion soup, escargots, croque monsieur, moules, and raw bar towers.
“Our French onion soup is probably one of my favorite dishes of all time,” he says. “The recipe is wild, but the end result is exactly what you’d want. We make it with a very subtle broth, which uses roasted chicken bones, and we let the richness of the caramelized onions flavor the soup. What we realized in research and development is if the stock is too rich, the onions become almost too much. With a light stock, we let the onions add the richness. But that’s all I’ll say for now. I’m not ready to give the exact recipe out. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”
Devillier also teamed up with longtime friend Richard Sutton of New Orleans’ St. James Cheese Company to serve raclette.
“I’ve been buying cheese from him for more than 10 years,” he says. “We wanted to offer raclette in classic form, so we asked Richard to guide us through it. Customers can definitely expect us to be scraping off big and melty pieces of cheese onto plates of Parisian ham, fingerling potatoes, and other dishes of that sort.”
Among the desserts, Devillier speaks passionately about his pavlova with coconut sorbet and passionfruit pastry cream and French meringue. Otherwise, the cocktail list will offer a large selection of cognac, wines, champagne, and French aperitifs.
“When we we’re imagining Justine, we wanted customers to feel the inspiration of Paris, but also have no doubt that they’re still in the French Quarter,” he says. “I think we achieved that.”
Justine. 225 Chartres St., New Orleans.