Most nights at Boucherie, the converted wooden house in New Orleans's Carrollton District, the dining room is packed with regulars and in-the-know foodies (on a recent visit, we sat next to a four-top of Food Network celebs). What's attracting them is chef Nathaniel Zimet's pitch perfect take on what he calls "fine dining for the people," which means turning typically low-grade fare – grits, collard greens – and transforming it into something transcendent. Take his collards, for example. Made with homemade bacon and duck stock, they take about 10 hours to cook down. Right before serving, the Le Cordon Bleu-educated Zimet mounts the collards with slabs of butter to give them an extra pop of richness. The result is, especially to lovers of Southern cuisine, tantamount to a religious experience.
Zimet treats every dish with such care. The pork cake, one of a few entrees that stays on Boucherie's menu full-time (most dishes, such as the duck and brisket, go through bi-monthly permutations), is so exquisitely crafted – topped with a three-inch pillar of citrus and cilantro red cabbage slaw – that it gives some pause before dismantling it. But everyone does. And then they start planning their next trip back so they can do it all again. [8115 Jeannette Street, 504-862-5514, boucherie-nola.com]