The menu at Rockrose, the contemporary Greek restaurant in the International House Hotel, recently unveiled a new spring menu to reflect the abundance of Gulf seafood and regional produce now coming into season while retaining the signature enhancements of bright lemon, garlic, fresh herbs and rich olive oil the restaurant has become known for since opening in October.
Exposed, weathered brick, patches of plaster the color of warm sand, plush, tufted, deep blue velvet banquettes and flashes of mirrored glass create an environment at once soothing and invigorating. It is a fitting backdrop for locally born Chef Brian Doyle’s interpretation of Greek cuisine that’s reliant on local seafood instead of the hummus and grilled meat found on other local Mediterranean-inspired menus. Doyle’s partner in Rockrose is Nick Asprodites, a childhood friend and front-of-the-house restaurant veteran. The duo travelled extensively throughout the Mediterranean in planning Rockrose, which takes its name from a wild flower common to southern Greece.
The fresh, inventive cocktail program at Rockrose is spearheaded by Jennifer Hussey. Her Greek Me Up combines Chartreuse, fresh lime and watermelon juices, and a hint of mastiha, an herbal liqueur made from the resin of a tree that grows exclusively on the island of Crete. Another signature cocktail, the Air Drop, combines the unexpected flavors of sherry, sparkling wine, lemon, honey and a splash of chocolate-walnut bitters. It is a toddy gone heavenly.
On the primary menu, save for the tender gilled octopus served with black garlic potato salad, which Doyle sources from southern Spain. Each of the four starters features seafood pulled from nearby water; tuna tartare, for instance, no longer uncommon on local menus, is rendered striking here served with a rich fennel confit and a bracing vinaigrette flecked with Kalamata olives. Dig in with the provided sunchoke chips to scoop up the perfect bite. The briny flavor of plump U-15 Gulf shrimp is enhanced, not masked, by a light tomato sauce kissed with a touch of ouzo and the faint muskiness of browned goat butter. Rich jumbo lump crabmeat is rendered ever more so by a binding of spinach, fennel, bright preserved lemon and creamy feta and sharp kefalotyri cheeses. This is a starter for sharing, lest you ruin yourself for what’s to come.
Flatbreads meant for sharing come topped with either earthy mushroom ragout and creamy pillows of Buratta cheese, or richly spiced Colorado lamb, feta and sundried tomatoes offset by fresh Greek oregano.
While braised lamb, served tender at the bone, and a 10-ounce Tomahawk Berkshire pork chop crusted in crushed pistachios present solidly delicious arguments for straying from the signature seafood theme, the whole fish still steals the show. Speckled trout was the specimen of the day on a recent visit. Dressed simply with a sauce of lemon, olive oil, capers and chives, hunks of pearly white meat fell to the plate between an intact head and tail. The rich sauce pooling beneath the fish was divine, and we used the abundant warm, fluffy pita bread to mop it up. Add a side of the charred rapini finished with garlic confit, a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette and crisp crust of breadcrumbs and Pecorino cheese for a satisfying meal that’s plenty for two to share.
On April 19, Rockrose will host a family-style Greek Easter brunch featuring whole, locally sourced lamb, baby vegetables (including new asparagus with a butter-free Mediterranean take on Hollandaise) and fresh seafood.
Keeping it fresh and vegetable-focused this spring? Check out the newly re-opened Seed, now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The vibrant space, lush with colorful live plants thriving in dappled natural light, is entirely vegan – but you’ll never miss the meat. Check out the artichoke cakes; masa gnocchi in an oat mole; and shaved and grilled asparagus, fennel and avocado with tahini dressing and fried quinoa served atop toast. Wash it all down with an incomparably perfect (and beautiful) Garden Vesper cocktail.
Rockrose, 217 Camp St., 369-3070, RockroseNola.com
Seed, 1330 Prytania St., 417-7333, SeedNewOrleans.com