A Redemption Story

I was a fan of the Bistro at Maison de Ville. I first visited the restaurant when I was in law school. My father took me to the intimate restaurant while I was in town on a break. I had a great meal, and it was my first experience with the restaurant's then-maitre d' Patrick Van Hoorebeek, who has since become a friend. Over time I added the Bistro to the list of restaurants I patronized regularly, and I was extremely disappointed when I learned it would close. I had also become a fan of chef Greg Picolo, who ran the tiny kitchen at the Bistro for more than a decade.

I spoke to chef Picolo when the Bistro's fate was still up in the air, and he was unsure what he'd be doing if it closed. For several months after the fact, he was without a restaurant to call his own. Fortunately that's no longer the case; he's now in charge of Redemption, the restaurant that opened post-Katrina in the space that was formerly Christian's.

I'd been to Redemption a couple of times not long after it opened, and I'd had mixed results. Since I now live fairly close to the restaurant's Mid-City location, I was hopeful it would change for the better. When I heard chef Picolo had taken over the kitchen, I was delighted. Even so, because restaurants have been opening like mushrooms after a heavy rain these days, it took me a while to check out what Picolo's been up to at Redemption. 

Christian's was housed in a former church, and it always retained something of a reverent atmosphere. The stained-glass windows and vaulted ceiling gave the place a unique elegance. Like much of the surrounding neighborhood, Katrina did a number on Christian's. The restaurant lost some of the larger tables that anchored the center of the dining room, and the floor is clearly new, but the things which made Christian's so special are still there.

Picolo is a great fit for the space. Though the dining room seats more than three times what the Bistro sat, he's got a similarly larger kitchen. When Redemption first opened, there wasn't much of the original Christian's menu left. Picolo has brought a few things back, including his version of Christian's stuffed trout and the cold-smoked softshell crabs that were a hallmark of the restaurant's former incarnation.

At lunch Picolo is serving softshells with a meuniere sauce over mashed potatoes, garnished with asparagus and avocado. When I dined, he offered to substitute a smoked crab, and I accepted immediately. It's been so long since I tasted the Christian's version of the dish that I can't really compare them, but I can say that the smoked softshell I had at Redemption was excellent. The smoke lends a subtle flavor to the crabs, which Picolo crusts in cornmeal before they hit the fryer. His meuniere is dark and rich, a nice way to compliment the crabs. This version of the dish also comes over creamy grits in place of the mashed potatoes, which was fine with me.

I also had a chance to try two appetizers on the current menu: panéed avocado with crawfish remoulade and fried oysters with blue cheese and bacon. Both were dishes I'd order again. It's rare to see avocado in anything but its raw form, as it tends to discolor if heated. Picolo solves this problem by coating slices in cornmeal and frying them quickly. They come out hot, crispy and tender. Topped with an excellent rendition of crawfish remoulade, it's a great way to start a meal.

The flash-fried oysters were similarly delicious. I expect a fine-dining restaurant to properly fry oysters, and Redemption didn't disappoint. The crisp crust hid a barely-cooked oyster, and the blue cheese and bacon were distributed with a restrained hand. I'm in the minority, I know, but I think bacon is overused; a little goes a long way. There were plenty of crisp ribbons of bacon on the plate with my oysters, but I had no trouble regulating the amount in each bite. The same was true of the cheese, which could have overpowered the dish entirely, but didn't because it wasn't folded into a sauce that coated the oysters.

Picolo told me that his menu is still a work in progress, and there are some kinks to work out. But he's clearly invested in the place; he told me that he took the job with his heart more than his head, because he fell in love with the space and he felt a connection with Tommy and Maria Delaune, who own the restaurant. Today was, serendipitously, the anniversary of the restaurant's opening on February 1, 2011. In such a short time Redemption has already seen a great deal of change. Bringing Greg Picolo on board is something of a redemption in itself, because while the physical space reminded me of Christian's former glory, it wasn't until now that I felt the restaurant lived up to its storied location.

Redemption is located at 3835 Iberville St., and is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 to 3, for brunch on Sunday from 10 to 3, and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9. Call 309-3570 to make a reservation.

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