WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Even though the demand here isn’t what is it in larger cities, New Orleans needs a few avant-garde restaurants. MiLa hits the sweet spot: it’s highly original, but the flavors and concepts ring a bell. This is a restaurant for the head as well as the gut. That’s at dinner; at lunch, MiLa serves as a spiffy lunch venue for people who work in the surrounding CBD, with much less demanding cookery and prices.
You have to speak with the chef or one of the more forthcoming servers to learn this, but almost the entire menu here is made with ingredients custom-grown and raised for MiLa by a number of local farms, most organically. If you know that, you will pay enough attention to the cooking to tell the difference. The chefs ease back a bit from standard local spice and salt levels to let the flavors shine. The presentations of everything are striking without ever waning silly.
Proprietors Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing are both chefs, and married to each other. They grew up in different rural areas around New Orleans, and met while working together at Gerard’s Downtown, the short-lived bistro run by Gerard Maras in the early 2000s. After stints at Mr. B’s and Brennan’s, the Rushings left to work in New York City–impressively enough that Allison won a James Beard Award there. They returned to this area shortly after Hurricane Katrina to take over the former Artesia in Abita Springs. Their food at the renamed Longbranch was excellent but over the heads of the customer base. They shut it down after less than two years in favor of a deal with the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel. In 2007, they took over the former Rene Bistrot (the former home of Chef Rene Bajeux), renamed it MiLa (for the first and last letters in Mississippi and Louisiana) and opened with a promise of food with a rustic Southern quality.
Like the rest of the hotel’s lobby level, MiLa is unambiguously forward in design, colorful and sharp-edged. Still, it reminds me of the Four Seasons in New York, in miniature. Small, multicolored tiles cover the columns and walls. Tall, all-encompassing windows are shaded by thin curtains. In lieu of tablecloths, placemats top the sleek wood tables. Big lamps floating near the ceiling add a soft playfulness to the otherwise geometric room. Very modern–but in a 1950s kind of way.
Oysters Rockefeller “deconstructed”
»Pan-roasted sweetbreads, black truffle grits, sherry bacon jus
Creole tomato panzanella, haricots verts, soft boiled farm egg
New Orleans barbeque lobster
»Sautéed scallop salad, cucumber and avocado, garden gazpacho
Lujele farm salad
»Curried squash soup, glazed crawfish, lime cream
»Terrine of foie gras, pepper jelly gastrique
»Sweet potato pappardelle, baby shiitakes
»Pan-roasted grouper, poached heirloom tomatoes, basil broth
»Roasted rack of lamb, blackeye pea puree, roasted okra, tomato jam
Crispy skinned red snapper, broccoli purée, grapefruit sauce
»Tea brined rotisserie duck, spinach, roasted beets, date jus
Smoked pepper seared yellowfin tuna, Japanese eggplant, honshmeji mushrooms, molasses soy sauce
»Double cut pork chop, goat cheese, new potato gratin, banana pepper jam
»Roasted young French chicken, pickled chantrelles, fingerling potato, cabbage, foie gras emulsion
»Root beer float, vanilla bean bavarois, ginger snap tuiles
Lemon blueberry tart
»Chocolate croissant bread pudding, white chocolate mint ice cream
»Muscadine wine gelée, tropical fruits, sweet cream, mint chiffonade
»Creamy rice pudding, tonka and vanilla bean, glazed strawberries
Selection of sorbet and ice cream
FOR BEST RESULTS
The tasting menu is the best possible meal here, and a bargain at $65. For a few more dollars, they’ll do an inspired wine pairing all the way through. No matter what, make sure some of the truffled grits come to the table. The deconstructed oysters Rockefeller is a clever dish (all the flavor element are there, but rearranged), but will not remind you much of the original.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
They need to do something to attract larger numbers at dinner. There aren’t enough cerebral gourmets in New Orleans to fill the dining room all the time.
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
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly