First Bite: Prix-Fixe Lunch at Durham House
When owner Raj Natarajan announced in June that Woodrows Heights was closing for renovations, it may have been the understatement of the year. Rather than reopening the Cajun spot best known for its po'boys, though, Natarajan and chef Don Schoenburg returned this fall as the Durham House.
The restaurateurs have begun anew with a blank slate of a room, done all in white. To a northerner, it feels like Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, but the bill of fare suggests a coastal realm far south of Massachusetts. Boudin and gumbo are both on the dinner menu, where dishes are in the $15 to $38 range.
But while dinner prices are on the hefty side, the lunch prix-fixe is a relative steal: For $25, diners are treated to three courses of inspired upscale Cajun fare.
I started with a frisée salad that was practically meal-sized on its own. The sweet lettuce was tumbled with sweet red and yellow cherry tomatoes and serrano ham in Texas olive oil. The centerpiece was a liberally peppered poached duck egg, which melted into a warm, sticky coating over the whole salad.
The duck tartine, which pulls double duty as an appetizer at dinner, was presented on ciabatta from Common Bond Café & Bakery. The bread toasted until it was a bit difficult to cut with any grace, but still soft enough to soak up the thick shards of duck confit dressed in a papaya-rum glaze. The sizzle of ginger-cilantro aioli squiggled on the plate lightened up the heavy duck, along with pickled cabbage and micro greens on top.
Dessert, to my surprise, was the most artful of all. Initially, I thought there had been a mix-up. The isthmus of fresh mint, glazed pineapple chunks and candied nuts over a reservoir of crème anglaise was missing the big island of bread pudding I expected. But the warm pastry was woven together with the other ingredients, allowing each bite to seamlessly combine every flavor.
Clearly, Schoenburg and his team are cooking far beyond their previous repertoire of burgers and fried food. And the lunch crowd is reaping the benefits.