Riffs on Southern Themes
Chefs Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing opened MiLa in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel after Rene Bajeux’s eponymous Bistrot was shuttered by Katrina. The chefs, who are married, are from Mississippi (Slade) and Louisiana (Allison), and the restaurant’s name reflects both their union and the states from which they hail. They met while working at the now-closed Gerard’s Downtown and then spent several years in New York City, the last as co-chefs of Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. New York, however, is not the South. (At least, that’s what I’m told. I have to confess that I have no sense of direction or geography.) The chefs returned to the area to open the Longbranch in Abita Springs before coming to New Orleans to open the long-awaited restaurant they now helm.
Where Bajeux’s food was classically French, the cooking at MiLa is an improvisation on Southern and New Orleans themes, albeit with a classic, technical foundation. The “deconstructed” oysters Rockefeller, for example, is exactly the way deconstruction should be done. All of the components are present but in unexpected ways: oysters poached in a beurre fondue and placed onto a mix of chopped, sautéed spinach and watercress and then topped with a bacon “chip” and grated licorice root as well as additional butter sauce.
There are nods to the chefs’ roots on most of the dishes; a rack of lamb may come with a black-eyed pea purée, and a rotisserie duck that is served with wilted farm greens, roasted beets and a date glaze has been soaked in a sweet-tea brine. The restaurant also serves a New Orleans “barbecue” lobster with lemon confit and thyme.
One thing that MiLa continued from the days of Rene Bistrot is an excellent lunch special. Three courses will run you $20, and there are two choices for each. When I dined last, the first course was a decision between a salad of locally raised greens with sunflower seeds and a lemon vinaigrette and a creamy parsnip soup with roasted scallops, apples and mustard oil. My next choice was sautéed redfish with cauliflower, haricots verts and lobster sauce or a seared flatiron steak with potato purée and mustard greens. For dessert, the choices are usually a seasonal ice cream –– this time it was persimmon –– or rice pudding with a seasonal fruit.
I usually go with the soup, and this was the first time I wasn’t immediately happy with the choice. It had a slightly off-putting gelatinous quality, but it tasted good, and I ended up eating the whole bowl. I was definitely content with the redfish, which was cooked perfectly. The lobster sauce was light, with a subtle lobster flavor that didn’t diminish the fish. The fish was placed atop a purée of cauliflower and a few thin beans. The whole dish was very well-thought-out and well-executed. I am a big fan of rice pudding, and this time the accompaniment was raisins soaked in New Orleans rum. There was just enough rum in the dish to make me feel like a pirate –– which was great until I tried to “board” the adjacent table. If I go back to MiLa, it will have to be in disguise, I think.
At dinner, a six-course tasting menu is available. It changes with the season and runs $65. The fall tasting menu, as I write this, includes a salad of figs, blue cheese and muscadine vinaigrette; a loin of venison with brussels sprouts and red wine sauce; and a fragrant pineapple salad with pineapple ice, served just before dessert. I haven’t sampled that menu, but I’m confident, given the level of competence the kitchen has demonstrated every time I’ve dined at MiLa, they can do it justice. The restaurant is located, as mentioned above, in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel at 817 Common St.
You can call for reservations (and I would) at (504) 412-2580.