Photo by Brenda Maitland
A new dining experience with very old roots.
French Quarter hotels have been hoppin’ this past summer. Three hot new hotel restaurants have just opened in a three-square block radius, providing a new set of dining-as-entertainment options.
Several of these new culinary destinations have been featured in recent issues of Country Roads. The first and most ambitious of the trio to open—Royal Sonesta Hotel’s R’evolution, the John Folse-Rick Tramonto enterprise—has been highly praised in fine dining circles as harkening back to the grandeur and style of New Orleans’ great restaurants of yesterday with classic, regional cuisine prepared and served in stunning updated presentations.
The next hot spot to open, the glitzy, vibrant SoBou in the W Hotel, was profiled in these pages last month.
Hotel Monteleone’s Criollo offers yet another only-in-the-Quarter dining experience. The historic 125-year-old family-owned hotel developed the restaurant as part of an extensive renovation and expansion of its dining and bar areas on the first floor. The beloved Carousel Bar remains intact, however!
Most nights, as diners take their seats in the hotel’s new gourmet gem and expert mixologists behind the adjoining Carousel Bar serve guests as the bar revolves, it’s show time. Musicians play live for the guests’ drinking and dining enjoyment, and they kick it up during Happy Hour most evenings.
Throughout its storied existence, the fabulous Hotel Monteleone has hosted noted authors and featured the music of legendary artists such as Etta James, Dr. John, Louis Prima, Allen Toussaint, Pete Fountain, among many others. Now the lounge is showcasing members of the second generation of top New Orleans talent.
For example, Lena Prima, daughter of the late, great Louis Prima, displays her song stylings regularly. Singer Sasha Masakowski, daughter of jazz guitarist-composer Steve, makes weekly appearances. George French, the son of the renowned, late Albert “Papa” French, and his group take the stage; and jazz pianist David Torkanowsky, whose late father, Werner Torkanowsky, was the magnetic conductor of the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra, performs with his trio.
Meanwhile, just a few steps away, a show of another kind is unfolding in the Monteleone’s new restaurant. Criollo’s Chef de Cuisine Joe Maynard and his terrific team are busily entertaining dinner guests as they prepare selected dishes in the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen.
The dinner menu, developed by Chef Maynard and hotel Executive Chef Randolph Buck, presents delightful creations from a palette of abundant fresh, seasonal local ingredients from nearby farms, fields and waters, inspired by Louisiana’s Creole culinary heritage.
Even though it only recently opened, Criollo, the Spanish name for “Creole,” has become a gatekeeper of the traditions and the diverse flavors and cuisines from the Louisiana’s French, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean and African cultures.
Chef Maynard, a native of Florida, draws from his background and extensive experience to produce ingenious contemporary Creole dishes, enlivened with unusual spices, new approaches and other unique touches.
A graduate of Florida’s Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts, Maynard served in New Orleans as executive sous chef at Windsor Court’s Grill Room, and executive chef at the Royal Sonesta. He most recently held the executive chef post at the Miami Mondrian Hotel’s Asia de Cuba.
Maynard served as executive sous chef at Miami’s Delano Hotel under the renowned French chef Claude Troisgros, the hotel’s executive chef and consultant. “He just touches food and it’s amazing,” said Maynard, “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Maynard’s menu at Criollo is pretty fantastic itself and changes often to reflect the availability of seasonal produce and other fresh ingredients. A recent visit produced a number of exciting appetizers including a trio of Louisiana Black Bay oysters with different toppings: artichoke and brie; Swiss chard and herbsaint; and angel hair tetrazzini.
In addition, guests can choose an appetizing charcuterie board with cured meats; a chilled shellfish combo with shrimp, blue crab and avocado; and crawfish ravioli with collard greens, heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese.
Demitasse samplings of Criollo’s trio of soups are another good choice: turtle, seafood gumbo and andouille and sweet potato bisque.
Fresh salads include a house made mozzarella with Speck ham and heirloom tomatoes; the Criollo salad with baby lettuce, duck bacon, Humboldt Fog cheese, quail egg, and tomato basil gelée; and a summer salad of papaya, sweet plantain, mango, fig, feta cheese, hearts of palm, peppered cashews, lettuce and a sweet honey dressing.
Entrée selections feature soft shell crab with golden chanterelles, tomato concasse and brown butter sauce. A pan-roasted swordfish is joined on the plate by saffron and asparagus risotto with a coconut crustacean sauce.
Another enticing fish entrée, the Perdido Pass snapper, is served with jumbo lump crab, orange and fennel slaw roasted sweet pepper and an ancho–lime butter. Grilled grouper is accompanied by black bean-avocado salad, charred papaya and grilled hearts of palm.
For game devotees, Covey Rise Muscovy duck shares the plate with a duck confit spring roll, cipollini onion and passion fruit sauce.
Cane-marinated pork tenderloin is served with sweet potato and chorizo hash, rainbow chard and chipotle tamarind apricot sauce. A savoy cabbage crepinette gets cozy with a ragout of summer beans and grilled hearts of palm.
Steak lovers will be happy with the Black Angus filet accompanied by a shrimp, tasso and eggplant timbale, baby carrots and a cipollini tarragon hollandaise. The grilled prime Angus sirloin arrives with chevre polenta, local tomato and chimichurri sauce.
An outstanding dessert selection follows: Valrhona white chocolate crème brûlée; Ponchatoula strawberry shortcake with candied pecan scone and crème fraîche; warm praline bread pudding with spiced rum sauce; New Orleans ice creams with crispy cookie tuile; and a warm chocolate savarin with Port wine ganache, caramelized Bing cherries, stone ground chocolate and vanilla gelato.
Criollo manager Richard Vitale has composed a 70-bottle, food friendly wine list that tracks the playful character of Maynard’s eclectic dishes.
“I was looking for wines that would complement the food and be indicative of the cuisine style,” he said. Vitale chose wines from areas that “reflect the rustic, coastal style food we prepare in our kitchens.” Many of the wines are from wine regions in Spain, France and Italy where similar kinds of fresh, seasonal foods are served.
”I wanted approachable, unpretentious wines that diners would enjoy and feel good about ordering, just like the vibe of the hotel… comfortable,” he noted.
Criollo is a perfect addition to the Monteleone, providing an unmatchable experience all its own, while paralleling the hotel’s ageless charm and affability.
Details. Details. Details.
Criollo at the Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal Street
New Orleans, La.
Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner.