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Pacific South Cuisine
West Coast meets New Orleans
Cane Syrup Glazed Beef Short Rib
The French Quarter is home to a great number of Creole establishments where you can find Trout Meuniere, Shrimp Etouffee and all that jazz. But now there is a new place that cuts against that popular grain by introducing a lighter, West Coast approach to New Orleans dishes, as well as widening its lens to draw in a broader range of international inflections. Fittingly it is named Curio, helmed by Chef Hayley Vanvleet, and is one of the latest outposts by the rapidly expanding Creole Cuisine Concepts restaurant group.
Curio occupies an enviable perch on the corner of Royal and Bienville streets. Split over two levels, its ground floor boasts a classic penny-tile floor and a long, lively bar brimming with activity. There is plenty of seating down there, but upstairs diners will find a more hushed, intimate dining environment that leads out to gallery seating as well, weather permitting. It is a tale of two dining rooms, but unifying them both is Vanvleet and her novel approach to traditional New Orleans fare.
For Vanvleet, Curio is the realization of a lifelong dream whose seeds were planted when she helped to care for her sick grandmother. They would watch Emeril together on TV as she cooked for her grandmother, who in turn encouraged her to apply to culinary school. She followed through on the advice and after graduating made her way to Seattle, where she soaked up the region’s penchant for fresh, farm-to-table, health-conscious fare. Soon after she came to New Orleans, bringing that ethos with her.
“For Curio I meshed that West Coast approach with New Orleans cuisine. So a lighter approach but still with the New Orleans flavors and ingredients,” she explained. A case in point is her Coriander Blackened Redfish, in which she cuts the traditional blackening seasoning with fresh-cracked coriander and serves it over a bed of honey-creamed mustard greens. “I top it with a jumbo lump crab salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil with capers, red onion and blistered tomato. You get the briny brightness and sweetness from the crab, lemon juice with capers and a little spice from the redfish. It sounds like it is pretty aggressive but all the flavors are well balanced,” she said.
Recommended appetizers include her terrific Candied Fried Pork Ribs, which were a standout dish at last year’s Boudin, Bourbon and Beer event. The ribs are first hit with a dry rub and are then braised on a bed of onion, fennel frond, garlic and star anise. Finally they are quick-fried to order to create crispy, indulgent exterior that yields to off-the-bone goodness. Her Roast Duck and Black Eye Pea Gumbo features popcorn rice and garners additional depth of flavor from Poche’s andouille. Main courses (in addition to the redfish) include a hearty cane-syrup Braised Short Rib over cheddar grits – delicious on a cold evening. For something lighter, her Steamed Whitewater Mussels in a coconut-ginger broth over shaved fennel salad has proven to be a big mover as well.
Since opening, response has been positive. “We’ve had so much good feedback,” she said. “When there are 1,200 restaurants to choose from I’m just flattered that someone chose to take a seat in my place.”
Curio is open seven days a week and serves an early brunch on weekends, and includes a happy hour service with a curated bar menu to match.
Curio, 301 Royal Street, French Quarter, 717-4198. L, D Daily. Bruch Sat. & Sun. CurioNola.com.
New Orleans Light
Other restaurants that approach New Orleans cuisine with a lighter sensibility include Josephine Estelle in the Ace Hotel, informed by Chef Chris Borges’s time spent in the Bay Area. Kenton’s on Magazine Street also offers many interesting twists including its Mini Fried Oyster Sandwich with bread and butter pickles and jalapeño aioli.
MEET THE CHEF
Originally from Monmouth, Illinois, Hayley Vanvleet got early inspiration from the TV chef craze of the 90s and decided she wanted to be a chef cooking in New Orleans when she was just 16 years old. She attended Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and spent time out West before coming to New Orleans, where she learned about seafood and butchery after stints with the Link Restaurant Group. Creole Cuisine Concepts hired her to work at Kingfish and, recognizing her talent, later tapped her as executive chef of Curio. “I take a lighter approach to traditional New Orleans cuisine and I try to be a little eclectic as well,” she said of her style, describing Curio to a ‘T’.