Mediterranean Flavors at Rockrose
It’s not often that a new Greek restaurant opens in New Orleans, let alone one that elevates this cuisine to the level of fine dining. Rockrose, which opened last fall, steps gracefully into this niche. Here at the International House Hotel in the CBD guests will find a thoughtfully built-out space featuring red brick peeking through plaster walls, white marble tabletops and a contemporary vibe softened with parquet floors and elegant carpets which sets the stage for contemporary Mediterranean fare.
Owner Nick Asprodites and Executive Chef Brian Doyle are partners in this venture. Friends since childhood, the pair grew up together with Doyle gaining an early appreciation for Greek cuisine through his friend’s family. Doyle took a circuitous professional route to this style of cooking, having first worked at Le Foret and Rue 127 before heading to San Francisco to work in a series of Michelin-starred restaurants. But it was time spent in small kitchens in Greece that gave him the clarity of vison he leans on for Rockrose.
“The focus here is on ingredients and simplicity,” Doyle said. “The simple flavors and ingredients are more the star than fancy techniques or knife-cuts.” The whole fish is a dish that encapsulates this approach. On a last visit it was speckled trout, butterflied down the middle with the head left on. This is a market-driven dish, so going into spring expect to see a variety of snapper rotate through. Seasoning is simple – salty bursts of capers and aromatic shallot and garlic with lots of fresh herbs and bright lemon notes. It is sharable as well. “For me, this dish is our concept on a plate,” Doyle said.
Start with an assortment of spreads – the roasted red pepper and dill has an especially concentrated flavor that pairs well with the creamy feta. Roasted eggplant is softened with honey and mint. All come with house-made pita, made with Bellegarde flour. Move on to the grilled octopus, especially tender and prepared simply with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and black garlic.
Diners here will notice an emphasis on herbs, in particular fennel and anise. Their “Oysters Asprodites” is a take on Rockefeller with Ouzo, fennel and celery. Parsley and dill are prominent, as is dried Greek oregano, an herb which holds particular appeal with Doyle. “It is subtle but brings really great flavor,” Doyle said. “I like it more than the fresh.”
Seafood and vegetarian choices abound, but diners seeking meat traditionally associated with Greek food should try the braised lamb. This features a deeper flavor profile, with spices more common to northern Greece like anise, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and fenugreek. Braised and served with ricotta gnocchi and kale, it is akin to a mild curry.
The bar program is overseen by Jen Hussey. Recommended cocktails include the “Greek Me Up,” with Chartreuse, mastiha, lime and watermelon. “It has a bit of a southern twist with the pickled watermelon rind – Greek meets the South,” Doyle said. Greek wines are featured but not exclusively so – options from all over appear to compliment what is essentially a broader, more Mediterranean menu than one which is exclusively Greek.
Rockrose is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Happy Hour menu features a sampling of their sharable spreads and bar-friendly choices like chickpea fries and lemon potatoes.
MEET THE CHEF
Brian Doyle graduated from culinary school after earning a degree from UNO. Right away he had the good fortune to work under Chef Jimmy Corwell at Le Foret, as well as Rue 127. He then spent time in a number of kitchens in San Francisco before rounding out his experience with travels abroad, especially around the Mediterranean. At Rockrose, he reunites with a childhood friend to bring his vision of Greek cuisine to New Orleans.
Rockrose, 217 Camp St., CBD; 369-3070; Rockrosenola.com. B Daily, L Mon-Fri, D Tues-Sat (Happy Hour on Mon.)
Mezze and more
It’s not Greek, but 1000 Figs just off Esplanade Avenue hits many similar Mediterranean notes with lots of crossover dishes. Their falafel is arguably the best in the city and the “Mezze Feast” features a kaleidoscope array of vegetarian fare that would sway even the most devoted of carnivores.