New Orleans Best of Dining 2012

Top Places, People and Discoveries

(page 2 of 9)




Restaurant of the Year | Restaurant R’evolution
A new order in dining

When Alfred Groos returned to New Orleans in April 2006 to take the position of general manager at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, he brought a vision for the property. Groos had been the director of food and beverage at the hotel before pursuing other opportunities, and he had a sense that the hotel could be more than it was. He wanted to make every aspect of the hotel match the building’s beautiful architectural elements, so that guests would have a truly authentic New Orleans experience.

His first step was to open Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, making the hotel a destination for New Orleans’ indigenous music. He then opened a PJ’s Coffee Café in the hotel’s lobby; another hometown staple. His most significant contribution, however, was to dramatically change the hotel’s dining scene. In 2010, chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto first announced their partnership and their plans to open Restaurant R’evolution in the Royal Sonesta. It seemed an odd pairing at the time, but R’evolution, which debuted in June of this year, is the most important restaurant to open in New Orleans in the last decade, if not longer.

Chef John Folse is a native of Louisiana. He was born in St. James Parish in 1946, and his flagship restaurant, Lafitte’s Landing, made him a name both locally and nationwide. Folse is an evangelist for Louisiana cuisine and has taken rustic cooking to new levels of sophistication.

Chef Rick Tramonto was born in New York, and began his career in the restaurant industry out of necessity. He left high school in 1977 to work at a Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburger chain, but thereafter his resumé includes stints at some of the best restaurants in the country, including Tavern on the Green; Gotham Bar & Grill; Aurora; Trio; and ultimately the restaurant for which he is best known, Tru. These two chefs don’t obviously go together, but then again they almost certainly called the person who came up with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich insane, so there you go. In retrospect, it’s a brilliant pairing for a restaurant that aims to both pay homage to and reinvent classic Creole and Cajun cooking.

That homage starts in the restaurant’s décor. Wood in the bar is stained with indigo, and an entire glass-encased wall displays some of chef Folse’s culinary antiques. There is an etched glass panel between the bar and a dining room with a mural depicting the seven nations that have influenced Louisiana cooking provides a classic recipe for Creole turtle soup. Pocket doors slide out to divide the various dining spaces, and the service is as attentive as at any of the city’s finest establishments. The attention to detail doesn’t stop there. The china is Limoges, the stemware is by Riedel and hand-blown glass ornaments grace every table. The restaurant was designed by the Johnson Studio, with whom chef Tramonto had worked in the past, and from the beginning there was a focus on New Orleans. Chef Folse took the architects around New Orleans and the surrounding region, pointing out elements he felt were important. Many, like the pocket doors, ended up in the restaurant’s final build-out.

But while the restaurant’s physical space, décor and service are noteworthy, it’s the food that prompted us to name Restaurant R’evolution the Restaurant of the Year for 2012. R’evolution has one of the larger and more diverse menus in the city. It is an amalgam of the food that chefs Folse and Tramonto are famous for cooking and, at its best, it achieves a harmony that surpasses their individual output.

Creole snapping turtle soup is served with deviled quail eggs and garnished with madeira. Corn and crab soup is transformed into a cappuccino flavored with black truffle, and frog legs stuffed with crabmeat are flavored with fennel and saffron. The restaurant has a serious charcuterie service as well, and the curing meats and sausages can be seen in the Market Room, where diners can sit at a table made from cypress pulled from a local swamp and eat while watching cooks man the grills and wood-burning oven that comprise only a small part of the massive kitchens.

Chef Tramonto’s influence is perhaps most noticeable in the caviar selections, which include whitefish and salmon roes, wasabi tobiko, traditional garnishes and a choice of black caviars from the United States, Germany and Israel, with a combination of them all topping out at $200. Did I mention that this is the kind of restaurant where the wine list is presented to diners on iPads?

Pastas are another area where chef Tramonto’s hand is most evident. Linguine with Manilla clams, garlic, thyme and chile oil; rigatoni with Roman-style ragu, tomatoes, olives and ricotta; and bucatini with shrimp fra diavolo with fennel, Calabrian chiles and fried mint are some of the options.

Chef Folse’s cooking is more evident in dishes such as the crawfish-stuffed flounder Napoleon served with an artichoke and oyster stew and fried crawfish boulettes, and the tryptich of quail, which features the game bird fried, boudin-stuffed and glazed with absinthe.

There is far too much to the menu for this piece to be comprehensive. Suffice to say that there’s a great deal of variety, and there’s likely something to meet just about anyone’s taste. What is amazing is that the restaurant seems able, at least at this junction, to pull off this varied menu.

There is a sense when you enter R’evolution that you’re in a serious restaurant, albeit one with the relaxed atmosphere you’d expect in New Orleans. The amount of money spent on this restaurant is, if not immediately evident when you walk in the door, obvious by the time you walk out. It wasn’t money spent frivolously; everything in this place is clearly there by design. It is because of that attention to detail that we’re proud to name Restaurant R’evolution our Restaurant of the Year for 2012.

– ROBERT PEYTON

Restaurant R’evolution, Royal Sonesta Hotel, 777 Bienville St., 553-2277, RevolutionNola.com

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