Dining options in the Warehouse District expanded recently with two new places, Annunciation and Rene Bistrot. Together they stake out new fine-dining claims at opposite ends of this trendy neighborhood. Less beholden to touristy fare than the French Quarter and suffused with an uncommonly progressive energy, this area offers some of the best dining in New Orleans. The difference with these two places is that they bring some stately balance to the high-gloss, go-go-go of the American Sector. This only deepens the neighborhood’s appeal.
Annunciation is helmed by Chef Steve Manning, formerly of Clancy’s, and is located in the former Deanie’s Restaurant space. A thorough renovation revealed some hidden surprises, like picture windows in the front that had been covered by stucco and long beams crossing the dining room that were formerly obscured by the drop ceiling. The end result is a strikingly elegant bistro that bears almost no resemblance to the previous cafeteria-style lunch spot.
If you like Clancy’s, chances are you’ll like Annunciation. The menu shares DNA with its Uptown cousin, such as the Fried Oysters with Melted Brie and Sautéed Spinach. But overall the menu is less conservative and is given more room to breathe. Annunciation sets itself apart with a greater emphasis on seafood (one of the restaurant’s partners is in the seafood business) and vegetables options. The latter are featured in a submenu of sides.
“I am really interested in vegetable cookery,” Manning says, “but at Clancy’s they were kind of put on for color, as it were. I wanted to feature their flavor more here.” Southern-style yams are joined by more daring choices, like Stir Fried Cabbage with Kari Leaves and Black Mustard Seeds. “At home I cook Indian food for a hobby and I grow the kari leaves in pots,” Manning says. The sides also offer vegetarians and vegans some options in a city not known for them.
Overall Manning would describe the menu as “Creole cooked to order.” It features subtle intrusions from other cuisines – sautéed black drum with crabmeat gets underscored with coconut milk, for example – but none of it’s heavy-handed enough to qualify as fusion. “I think it’s just the kind of food locals like,” he says. “My signature dish over the years has been the fried oysters with brie. That ain’t exactly light, but it’s something that people here really enjoy. I’ve tried that dish in New York and it just doesn’t catch on like it does here.”
As Annunciation gains traction, Manning plans to add lunch service. “We will kind of reference the old Deanie’s,” he says. “We’re going to have plate lunches, do more traditional sides, and it’s going to be reasonably priced.” Manning is joined in his kitchen by chef de cuisine Ronald Carr, who came over with him from Clancy’s and before that worked at Bayona for 16 years. “He does a lot of the specials, and also does fabulous sauces,” Manning says. “His sauces have this certain purity. He has a lot of skills.”
In March Chef Rene Bajeux left the Rib Room to open Rene Bistrot in the Renaissance Arts Hotel on Tchoupitoulas Street. Hearing that name again made a lot of local food lovers very happy – one of just 44 French Master Chefs in the U.S., Bajeux is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished chefs in the city.
The Rib Room – with its traditional, rotisserie-centered menu – seemed like a forced fit for Bajeux from the get-go. Asked about the move, he praised the Rib Room and its GM but agreed that it didn’t really fit his style. “In all fairness they did give me a lot of range, but being in the French Quarter it is just a different market,” he says.
Now he’s in a place where he can more comfortably let loose. While there’s no escaping the hotel feel of the dining room, the menu is pure Bajeux and the large picture windows looking out over Tchoupitoulas Street and the commodious seating are pleasant features.
Much of their inventory is made in-house. “With my young chefs we’re making homemade burrata, homemade mozzarella, all kinds of good stuff,” he says. “With burrata, years ago nobody would have known what I was talking about, but now is an exciting time.” Bajeux is excited about the wave of new talent in the city, and his experience also offers some perspective for the younger cooks around town. “I am so excited about our city right now; it’s just a vibrant place with all these young chefs mixing it up.”
The menu is hard to pigeonhole, ranging from earthy dishes like homemade Blood Sausage “Boudin Maison” to a delicate House Smoked Salmon drizzled with a Juniper Berry Vinaigrette. The core of it reflects Bajeux’s provenance; he grew up on a farm in Lorraine, France. For example, his Tarte Flambe, an Alsatian-style tart with cheese, onion and bacon, and his Rabbit Leg Farcie made with turnips and sauerkraut in a riesling sauce.
But he defies easy categorization with other items like his Whole Fish served with Vietnamese Stir-Fried Vegetables and a Ponzu-Ginger sauce.
In fact, Bajeux has always had a sweet spot for Vietnamese cuisine (“My family lived in Vietnam for 92 years,” he says of the former French colony) and he offers a unique Vietnamese lunch on Wednesdays. In the end, though, the menu is all his own. “My style is Rene’s style,” Bajeux says. “I’m not going to do gumbo and crab cake and all that. That is not what I do. I do my own menu, my own thing.”
Annunciation’s fried oysters with brie
1016 Annunciation St.
Dinner Mon-Sat. Closed Sun. Note: Lunch service to begin in fall.
Renaissance Arts Hotel
700 Tchoupitoulas St.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner daily. Brunch on Sunday
Other places to keep in mind include Capdeville, right, (520 Capdeville Place, 371-5161, CapdevilleNola.com), with its custom burgers, fun cocktail menu and wonderful French fry compositions including the rarely-seen Québécois classic snack food Poutine, made with cheese curds and smothered in a peppery gravy; also, a seriously good mac and cheese. Rio Mar (800 S. Peters St., 525-FISH (3174), RioMarSeafood.com) has some of the best ceviche in town in an array of styles, as well as a Tres Leches dessert sweet enough to make a grown man weep.