ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Restaurateurs Ian Schnoebelen and Laurie Casebonne gave a sharp turn to the rudder of their business a few weeks ago when they announced the closing of their Iris restaurant. (Its last day will be May 24.) That came as a surprise to a lot of people who had become fans of Iris. The restaurant they opened in 2013 was no less unexpected a move. Where the food at Iris was highly original new American and Creole cookery with a lot of polish, their new Mariza is quite the opposite. From the rough brick walls of the old rice mill it occupies to the thoroughly rustic, mostly Italian menu, Mariza applies zero momentum from Iris. But to anyone who follows the dining scene, it all makes sense. It’s just another strong piece of evidence that the days of fine dining are ending, with casual eats writing not only a new chapter of the annals of New Orleans food, but a new book.
Bywater & Downtown: 2900 Chartres St. 504-598-5700. Map.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Mariza is far from the first local restaurant purveyor of salumi (rough translation from the Italian, with zero sex appeal: deli meats). Indeed, chefs have been inexplicably wild about building their menus around an assortment of cured, smoked, and otherwise manipulated cold meats, despite the substantial amount of work it requires. But few have created charcuterie with the exactitude of Chef Ina and his time. The menu remains in an Italian groove through the rest of the meal, with almost everything showing both familiarity and new approaches.
A board of the day’s salumi selections or cheeses is a must to begin. Even if you haven’t yet picked up on this taste, the stuff is hard to resist. All of it is made in house, as are the pastas and nearly everything else. From that point, the menu seems almost impoverished in its simplicity, but that is only an illusion. This is an exceptionally good place to pass around plates and sample six to eight dishes per person.
Co-owners Ian Schnoebelen (chef) and Laurie Casebonne (dining room and wine boss) opened Iris in 2006 after working together at the French-tinged Lilette. Iris also had a French touch, one that blended with adventuresome local flavors. That evolved further after they moved Iris to the French Quarter–a move not taken by many restaurants throughout local dining history. They opened Mariza in early 2013, and liked it well enough that they decided to close Iris at the end of May 2014.
Mariza took over one end of an old, greatly overbuilt rice mill dating back about 75 years. Its warehouse feel will be familiar to those who find the industrial look popular in the Warehouse district. Most of the walls are made of brick, with concrete floors. All this is softened somewhat by a collection of art worth stopping and looking at. Somehow, it’s not as noisy as most spaces like this.
Oysters on the half shell
»Yellowfin tuna carpaccio
Red snapper crudo
Raw vegetables & pecorino romano
»»Salumi plate, apple mostarda, olives
Cheese plate, dried fruit and nuts
»Crispy guanciale (cured hog jowl) salad
Bresaola (dry-cured beef)
»Burrata crostini, tomatoes
Goat ricotta bruschetta, caponata, balsamico
Arugula salad, goat ricotta, olives
Anchovy and crispy pig ear salad
»Potato gnocchi, roasted peppers, eggplant, pecorino fiore sardo
»Green tagliatelle, guanciale
»Duck ragout, pappardelle pasta, duck liver mousse
Short ribs rigatoni, wild mushrooms, olive mascarpone
Black linguini, shrimp, crab, tomato, garlic, wine
Fresh mozzarella pizza
Lamb meatballs, poached duck egg
Fried polenta, kale, parmesan
Hanger steak, tapanade, pesto, bruschetta
»Braised lamb belly, polenta, tomato
»Whole fish of the day, fennel salad
Duck leg confit, stone fruits
»Vegetable lasagna, roasted garlic cream, mushrooms
Quail and pancetta, red onion, butter lettuce
»Apple panna cotta
Chocolate terrine, sea salt, candied blood orange
FOR BEST RESULTS
Forget the old appetizer-salad-entree-dessert routine. Order whatever appeals, however it falls. Most of the dishes are appetizer-size and priced accordingly, making this aneasy strategy.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They have a serious parking problem here, made more maddening by the adjacency of NOCCA’s enticingly large but off-limits parking lot. There are spaces on nearby streets, but most of them involved rolling over curbs or even old railroad tracks.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Oyster bar
- Difficult but nearby parking
- Reservations recommended