I previewed Restaurant R’evolution (777 Bienville St., 553-2277, RevolutionNola.com) in the May edition of this column, before the partnership between chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto opened in June. Now that I’ve had a chance to check the place out, I thought I’d revisit it briefly. There isn’t enough space here to give you the full rundown, but suffice to say that R’evolution is the most ambitious restaurant to open in New Orleans in decades.
I have to admit that before it opened I thought the pairing of Folse’s rustic Louisiana cuisine with Tramonto’s innovative, urban approach to fine dining was an odd marriage. When I first saw the size and scope of the menu, I was impressed but still a bit apprehensive. I was concerned that a menu with so many options would lack focus. I have had only one meal at R’evolution as I write this, but that meal was almost as remarkable as the physical space housing the restaurant. (I will write in more detail about the food at R’evolution in my online column, “Haute Plates.”)
The renovation of the former Begue’s is rumored to have cost upward of $5 million – and that’s reflected by everything from the Limoges china and the Riedel stemware to a diverse wine list presented on iPads. The kitchens feature a wood-burning oven, rotisserie grills and something like 17 separate cook stations. There is a central dining room with murals depicting the “seven nations” from which Louisiana’s culinary history is derived. Individual, hand-blown glass sculptures of fruit and vegetables adorn each table. It is almost too much, but understated, competent service helps to ground things.
One complaint I’ve heard from folks who’ve dined at R’evolution is that it’s expensive. It is one of the more costly restaurants in town, but no more so than the other high-flying places to which you might compare it. You won’t dine there on a weekly basis, but I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. It is a special occasion place, and while it’s a bit early to anoint R’evolution, it’s on pace to compete with the best restaurants in town.
On the other end of Bienville Street, in Mid-City, there’s a restaurant of an entirely different character. From the name, you might assume that Norma’s Sweets Bakery (2925 Bienville St., 309-5401) is just a place to buy desserts. The pastries, cakes and other baked goods are certainly a selling point at Norma’s, but there’s a lot more on offer. In addition to a market specializing in products imported from Latin America and the Caribbean, Norma’s is a great place to pick up a hot breakfast, lunch or dinner. The Bienville Street location is the second for Norma’s, whose original bakery and restaurant is located at 3221 Georgia Ave. in Kenner.
In addition to pastries, such as flaky turnovers stuffed with guava and cheese and bear claws filled with a custard that rivals the best French crème patisserie you’ll find in New Orleans, Norma’s produces several different breads, including a small loaf that’s reminiscent of the stuff turned out by Vietnamese bakeries. It is used most notably for one of the best Cuban sandwiches in town, as well as breakfast sandwiches filled with things such as eggs scrambled with chorizo, refried beans, cheese and crema. The breakfast sandwiches are, like the Cubano, also pressed like panini and they’re almost as addictive as the churros.
Norma’s also serves a menu of hot plates. The menu varies daily, but there are always some form of beans, plantains, tortillas and rice available as sides. Several different kinds of tacos and tamales are also standard, and if you visit on a Friday or Saturday you’ll have a chance to taste an excellent seafood stew full of fish, crab, shrimp and yucca.
There is no shortage of restaurants that feature a farm-to-table ethic these days. Not that many, however, serve produce from farms they actually own and operate. City Greens (909 Poydras St. 524-2822, EatCityGreens.com), which opened recently does, and it’s an interesting addition to the CBD dining scene. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch during the week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the menus change seasonally, as you’d expect. The main focus is on salads, some of which are more or less standards that can be customized with the addition of chicken, shrimp, tuna or lobster. There is also the option to build your own salad from a long list of greens, vegetables, meats, cheeses and dressings. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s definitely worth a visit.