It's been a while since I visited the Hotel Monteleone for anything other than a ride around the Carousel Bar, but recently the hotel debuted a new restaurant – Criollo – as part of a more general renovation. The chef is Joseph Maynard, who is a native of Miami but spent some time in the kitchens of the Windsor Court's Grill Room prior to Katrina.
It's a beautiful restaurant, with windows that look out onto Exchange Place. In that block it's not such a picturesque view, but the restaurant is essentially on the second floor of the building, so the windows serve more to allow light to filter into the room than to offer a vista. There's an open kitchen on one side of the room, and a few areas that can be divided by sliding panels for private parties. The feel of the place is comfortable; it's hard to tell that the paint was still drying only a month or so ago.
The advance press for the restaurant highlighted the “Louisiana fusion” implied by the restaurant's name; Criollo is Spanish for Creole, and word was that French, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean and African flavors would be featured. As it turns out, there are as many Asian elements to the current menu as any other cuisine.
At a recent lunch I started with grilled shrimp served over polenta cakes with charred papaya and serrano salsa, avocados and a yellow tomato romesco sauce. The two shrimp were cooked properly, which is to say they weren't overcooked, and the corn cake added a bit of substance to the dish. All of the sauces played well together; the papaya was a little sweet and not too spicy from the chiles; the avocado was as rich as you'd expect, and the romesco lent a little acid to the proceedings. All in all a very nice dish. The friend with whom I dined had a tomato galette, which was a sort of miniature flatbread-pizza topped with shaved Parmesan and accompanied by a small arugula salad.
For an entrée I had the grilled grouper. The fish was overcooked, but the shrimp spring roll that came with it was nicely done, as were both the apricot “Ai Yu” sauce for dipping and the herbed ginger emulsion that was paired with the fish. My friend went with the pancetta-wrapped meatloaf, which he said he enjoyed. It was served with garlic mashed potatoes, smothered onions and chanterelle mushrooms, all of which looked considerably heartier than my choice. There are a few soups and entrée salads on the lunch menu, as well as the obligatory burger and chicken selection. There's also a vegetarian option: a roasted vegetable and mozzarella sandwich served on a baguette. You can check out the menu at the restaurant's website.
Wines are not my forté, but it looked like a decent list. There were multiple selections available by the glass, most of which ran around $10. With the Carousel Bar only a few steps away, I'd imagine that the cocktails available at Criollo will be top notch. That's something I've yet to confirm, unfortunately.
Service was very good, particularly for a joint that's only been open a short time. I keep running into this phenomenon; I don't know whether my standards have loosened after Katrina, or whether restaurateurs have tightened up their training. Maybe it's both.
Criollo is off to a promising start, and it's definitely a place to add to your list of dining options in the Quarter. You can make a reservation by calling (504) 681-4444. The restaurant is located at 214 Royal St. and its hours are still in flux as I write, so do call to find out when you can dine.