Born in Kentucky, raised in Washington D.C., and a numbers man by trade in his early career, Jeffrey White followed a winding path that eventually led him to working in the hospitality industry, where he caught the best kind of food-related bug there is: the desire to open his own restaurant.
Mr. White sits off of New York City’s Tompkins Square Park, but its trimmings make it vibe like a cozy uptown lounge.
“The goal is to transport guests to NOLA via St. Mark’s and recreate the sense of fun and mysticism one might find strolling the French Quarter,” said the eponymous White.
White marble, gold décor, and crown molding evoke the grandeur of a “down-South mansion,” but an old-school hip hop soundtrack plays keeps the vibe relaxed.
Executive chef and partner Andrew Dunleavy is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and has cooked in the kitchens of Jean-Georges, BLT Prime under chef Laurent Tourondel, and Compass under chef John Fraser. To master the house specialty chargrilled oysters — grilled in parmesan, parsley and butter served with crusty baguette and lemon — Dunleavy sampled versions from classic New Orleans destinations Acme Oyster House, Felix’s, and Drago’s before finalizing his recipe.
Other plates include pork belly with black-eyed pea hummus, collard green spring rolls with oyster mushrooms, hominy and sweet chile dipping sauce; vegan rib sandwich with barbecue sauce and pickles; smoked duckling breast and leg confit is seared and served with shaved Brussels sprouts, golden raisins, cornbread stuffing and verjus; braised pork cheek is accompanied by collard greens, whipped sweet potato, apple chutney and lardons; and shrimp and grits is upgraded with saffron, Serrano peppers and stewed tomatoes.
About those oysters, though…
Dunleavy told the Daily Meal that he and Jeff took their first trip to New Orleans five years ago. They ate at many restaurants — but kept returning to Felix in the French Quarter.
“We sat at a counter with some friends and were immediately charmed by the oyster shuckers. They told us we had to try the char-grilled variety. We ended up getting three orders before the night was over,” Mr. White's wife, Kelly, said. “They were cheesy, garlicky and piping hot off a grill. I hate going to the same restaurant twice when I'm on vacation but Jeff made me go to Felix's three times in four days.”
Back in New York, they couldn’t find anything similar to those Felix-style oysters, so they built an entire restaurant around the concept and did it themselves.
“After many research trips to New Orleans with chef Andrew Dunleavy, these times to other renowned oyster palaces such as Drago's and Acme, we felt like we had the recipe on lock. Our oysters are thick-shelled Rochambeau from Virginia,” said White.
Each oyster is shucked fresh to order, topped with a thin layer of parmesan and pecorino cheeses and doused in an herbed butter sauce. They're placed on the grill to get the char flavor and finished under a broiler for a perfect melted combination of butter and cheese.
“New Orleans has been incredibly kind to us, and we hope we can pay that forward to New York,” said Dunleavy. A city that has plenty to see and eat.