One of my best friends moved away from New Orleans a number of years ago. He and his family have bounced around a bit, including a stint back here, but they’re now living outside of Boston, and we don’t see them very frequently. So when he texted a bunch of our mutual friends to let us know he’d be in town for a couple of days this week, and proposing dinner, I was in. As it turned out, only one other of our friends could join us, but that’s par for the course when you get to be my age; so many obligations, so little time…
My friend is in town for a conference, and thus staying downtown. There are many, many restaurants we could have chosen for this meal, but because I am dedicated to you, dear readers, I picked a place that’s been open a little less than 2 months, and which I’ve been meaning to check out for quite a while: Curio.
I guess the knocks I’ve heard about the place have mostly to do with the fact that it’s not an “organic” restaurant, because it’s owned/operated by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, whose businesses include casual eateries and daiquiri shops in addition to fine-dining places. I understand that concern, because the danger with a “corporate” owner is that the menu will be designed by committee after extensive focus group testing, and will end up being indistinguishable from TGI Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday or any of a dozen other places that sell the idea of quality food but not the reality.
But if the restaurant serves food that reflects the viewpoint of a chef, executes it well, uses local ingredients and pulls all of that off at a reasonable price? The owner is pretty much irrelevant to me. The chef at Curio is Hayley Vanvleet, who has worked at Meauxbar and Peche, among others.
That said, I wasn’t going into this meal with the highest of expectations. I’ve had good but not exceptional meals at other Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts restaurants, including Kingfish and Broussard’s, and I’ve heard good things about the Bombay Club. I had a feeling the food would be good, if not better than what I’d tried before, because I’ve spoken to people who enjoyed it and I’ve come to believe that these folks are actually shooting for outstanding restaurants rather than playing exclusively for the tourist business.
So I’m happy to report that the food was very good, that the restaurant looks great, and that the service was efficient if a bit on the “we’re being very helpful but it’s clear we’d like to turn your table soon” end of the spectrum.
The fried candied pork ribs are pretty obviously either braised or cooked sous vide before they hit the oil, and the glaze on top was perhaps a bit sweet. I ate every morsel of meat off the bones with my hands like a savage.
I also had a damn near perfectly cooked piece of black drum over bitter greens that were also damn near perfectly cooked, with damn near perfectly cooked rice and a pecan-butter sauce. My friends complimented the roast duck and black-eyed pea gumbo and the “grit tots,” which they had to start, and both of them also cleaned their entrée plates: coriander-blackened redfish with lump crabmeat salad and creamed mustard greens and chicken Clemenceau, in this case made with a sweet pea purée, sautéed mushrooms and Brabant potatoes.
The price was certainly more than you’d expect to pay at one of the chain restaurants I mentioned above, but less than you’d expect for food of this quality. When I called to make a reservation, they asked where I’d like to sit, and I’m glad I didn’t respond before walking through the place, because while the downstairs would be fine for lunch, our spot on the balcony overlooking Royal Street was much more conducive to conversation, and instead of the televisions behind the bar showing the 7th game of the World Series, we got to watch people walking through the Quarter. If the balcony hadn’t been available, I think I’d have been happy with the upstairs dining room too, especially if the rain that was looming over us all day yesterday had actually carried through on its threats.
With all of the restaurants in town, I can’t actually say I’ll be going back to Curio any time soon. But that’s true of just about every restaurant in town, because I cover new restaurants for the most part and I have been too busy on too many fronts to eat out much lately anyway. But I will absolutely recommend it to people who want to dine in the Quarter in the future, because I feel pretty confident they’re going to continue to put out quality food at a reasonable price in a lovely atmosphere.
Another relatively new restaurant, Vessel, has a few announcements. Some months ago, they hired Eric Sibley, who was most recently the executive chef at Doris Metropolitan, the upscale steakhouse near Jackson Square. I’ve eaten Sibley’s food, and he’s a talent. He’s updated the menus at Vessel, introduced a Jazz brunch starting this Sunday and it all looks pretty damn good.
This Tuesday, Vessel will also institute something I’ve never heard of outside of a few beer-centric bars – they’ll give away cocktail glasses on Tuesday evenings with the purchase of a featured cocktail. They’ve got a pretty swell drinks program, so while I’m not sure I’d want to lug home a bunch of glasses after a night out, I am sure they won’t force you to take the stemware home if you don’t want to. Should be a win-win.
If you’ve been to either Curio or Vessel, let me know what you thought, eh? I will also accept compliments on my appearance and odor.