New Orleans has so much great seafood that sometimes it’s overwhelming. In the land of chargrilled oysters and shrimp poor boys sometimes we gravitate to our usual suspects rather than finding new fish in the sea. Here are three chefs’ unique preparations of seafood that are worth a try this spring.
Walk into Mariza, the new Italian-inspired restaurant inside the Rice Mill Lofts, and you’re sure to notice the jars of pickled vegetables above the bar, the oysters resting on ice and maybe even a beautiful vegetarian lasagna laid out to cool inside the open kitchen. It is already a bustling addition to what’s certainly becoming a very hot dining neighborhood. At Mariza, large brick walls and an industrial feel are accented with throw rugs and chandeliers, giving the space a casual feel with a swanky edge. Here, chef Ian Schnoebelen and his wife, Laurie Casebonne, (they also own Iris and met while working at Lilette) have a very good thing going. The raw bar, a first for the Bywater, turns out fresh oysters, tuna carpaccio and a lovely red snapper crudo, the fish simply balanced with blood orange and olive oil. Schnoebelen also cures salumi in house and serves his charcuterie in an array of venues: a breasola salad, a pepperoni soup. But it’s the black fettuccine with shrimp and crab in garlic wine sauce with plump little tomatoes that truly delights. The dish has a sinful quality but isn’t overwhelmingly rich, more so the type of fare perfect for a spring evening.
In the Central Business District, renowned chef René Bajeux has been serving up his classic French dishes for the past year at the newly reopened René Bistrot, located in the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel. Bajeux recently revamped his menus, bringing back a few original René Bistrot favorites and additional menu items that range from casual to chic. Largely known for meatier fare such as the incredible boudin noir and wild boar bourguignon, there’s a delightful wealth of seafood stashed away on Bajeux’s menu, too –like the Portugese sardines served over octopus salad. Here, the large salty sardine, the flesh of which melts away with the swipe of your fork, is perfectly balanced with a sweet salad starring tender morsels of octopus that hide beneath. Eat this for lunch and you’re certain to need a glass of white wine to wash it down. For those who need to get work done the rest of the day, the trio of seafood salads, including salmon, tuna and shrimp, are wonderfully light on fresh brioche.
Long known for his impeccable seafood preparations and eccentric menu of fresh fish from around the globe, chef Tenney Flynn continues to inspire at GW Fins. If you’re unfamiliar with Flynn, he’s the guy that causes the two-hour wait at the Po-Boy Fest every year with his famous lobster poor boy. At GW Fins he prints the menu daily, assuring only the freshest fish will be served. To start, the smoked sizzling oysters are a showstopper, arriving to your table with the steamy threat of deflating your girlfriend’s hairdo. To make these smoked oysters, Flynn and company remove the oysters from the shell, heat the shells to the temperature of Hades, then throw the oysters back on them as they’re brought to your table – it’s a beautiful sight. The entrées are always difficult to choose from for seafood lovers –diver scallops, pompano, grouper, oh my. On a recent trip I was blown away by a meaty swordfish served with buttered spinach, mashed potatoes and a roasted corn butter sauce. There are also these mashed sweet potatoes that you cannot do without. Mashed with bananas and fresh vanilla, the side has the appeal of a Thanksgiving Day casserole without the tacky marshmallows. You will be hard pressed to decide on dessert, too. Tenney is famous for his apple pies topped with cheese, but a house-made malted salted caramel pie is the stuff of dreams.
The blackened red fish tacos at Juan’s Flying Burrito are served with a creamy cabbage and cilantro slaw and salsa fresca, perfect for lunch or dinner.
GW Fins | 808 Bienville St. | 581-FINS (3467) | GWFins.com
Juan’s Flying Burrito | 2018 Magazine St. | 569-0000 | JuansFlyingBurrito.com
Mariza | Rice Mill Lofts | 2900 Chartres St. | 598-5700 | MarizaNewOrleans.com
René Bistrot | Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel | 700 Tchoupitoulas St. 613-2350 | MarriottMarketing.com/ord/production/ReneBistrot