The Dish | Finding Beauty at Trenasse
A chef-driven delightful experience for visitors and locals alike
“Trenasse” is a Cajun term for a cut-through in a marsh. It leads to something. Founded in 2013 by chef and restaurateur Jim Richard, Trenasse, located inside New Orleans’ Intercontinental Hotel, is still going places, revealing inventive surprises, delighting – still leading to something.
A pathway that evokes a stream bedded in satiny-smooth, time-worn rocks winds sinuously from the entryway through the bar to the back of the restaurant passing works of art that strengthen the marsh theme without resorting to taxidermy. Tables, some of them with live edges, are crafted of rough-hewn planks of wood thickly encased in shinning resin. Moody lighting imparts the feel of shimmering water.
Richard, a Lafayette native, created the restaurant to be a chef-driven experience celebrating Louisiana seafood, charcuterie, seasonal produce and culinary traditions. Eight years later the current kitchen team, spearheaded by Chef de Cuisine Matt Farmer and Sous Chefs Raymond Signal and Nicholas Childress, is keeping the interpretations fresh and interesting with refined techniques. There is an obvious bonhomie among the men which seems to serve them well as they labor together with no shortcuts to turn out several varieties of house-made charcuterie, duck confit, thick roux the color of bitter coffee, from-scratch stocks and numerous condiments and dressings – before they even open the doors for daily service.
“Matt and I were line cooks together 17 years ago at Arnaud’s,” Signal says. “I joined him in the kitchen here nearly three years ago. He is a strong leader who allows the rest of the staff to imprint their own ideas.”
The result is a menu with dishes visitors to the city come seeking that also carry enough je ne sais quoi to keep locals engaged and coming back. Case in point: the shrimp and grits offered for Saturday and Sunday brunch. Here the work-a-day Louisiana standard is elevated with house-made andouille, roasted corn, a smothered lemon-leek sauce and stone-ground grits enlivened with pepper jack cheese grits, served with shrimp boulettes.
Upon being seated guests are greeted with baskets of freshly fried pork cracklin’ with a side of red bean butter that would be divine on anything.
Oysters never go out of season at Trenasse. They come up cold and salty from the oyster bar, where diners can sit to await their dozens. From the kitchen they are served broiled with a variety of toppings including Intercontinental (Champagne butter with grated Romano); smoked Gruyere and pancetta; Rockefeller; shrimp and crab Bienville; garlic butter; and au gratin. The stunning Oyster Log features 36 broiled: six Intercontinental and six each of the other varieties served on an irregularly shaped, glazed wooden board. If the reactions of the beautiful people who seem to head here in droves can be used as a barometer, this showstopper is best enjoyed with glasses of Champagne and peals of laughter.
Trenasse is currently operating at a capacity of 120 (pre-Covid was 250), with plenty of outdoor seating and generous spacing between tables. Crawfish boils and outdoor oyster bar service are planned for the spring.
The restaurant and bar are open Tuesdays through Sundays for lunch, brunch and dinner, as well as a generous Happy Hour, 3-6 p.m.
Spurred in by news that Lilly’s Café is opening as second location at 3329 Magazine St. this coming summer, I recently revisited the original location and fell in love all over again. The dishes I have long loved – the Lilly Rolls with sliced fresh strawberries, the spicy chili tofu served with incomparable steamed rice – were still there. So was a new favorite: Vegetable Dumpling Soup. The fragrant soup arrives in a bowl crammed with the essence of a new spring – julienned snow peas, fresh English peas, wilted baby bok choy, flecks of fresh corn, shitake mushrooms, scallions and pillowy dumplings filled with yet more fresh vegetables. I will crave this every day.
Lilly’s Café, 1813 Magazine St., 599-9999
Trenasse, 444 St. Charles Ave., 680-7000, Trenasse.com