Wednesday, November 11, 2009. Iris's New Place.

Written by Tom Fitzmorris November 11, 2009 06:26 in

Dining Diary

Wednesday, November 11, 2009. Iris's New Place. A radio caller once told me that too many restaurants were off my radar. I pleaded guilty to that, but I don't think that makes me different from anybody else. (It's my goal to think as much as I can like a typical if avid diner.) Some restaurants rarely come to my mind. The reason usually has to do with geography. Some locations are--for reasons I'm at a loss to explain--missing from my mental map. Ralph's On The Park, for example. Don's Seafood in Metairie. And whatever restaurant is currently operating in the Bienville House Hotel on Decatur Street.

Apparently many people share this blindness. That last location has seen more than its share of restaurants--some of them excellent. The current occupant supplies us with a particularly interesting case study. Iris originally opened in the converted cottage off South Carrollton Avenue on Jeannette Street. That's the spot where Ninja was years ago, and where Boucherie is now. I named that Iris the Best New Restaurant of 2006 in those days, and its brilliance continued there through last year.

Early this year, Iris moved to the Bienville House. Drastic! From the locals-only enclave of Carrollton to the tourist-intensive Decatur Street strip. A bigger restaurant, and a much nicer one. Knowing what some of the past restaurants went through there, my guess is that the hotel gave Ian Schnoebelin and Laurie Casebonne an attractive deal on the place. Hotels like having a quality restaurant on the premises, because it enhances what they can charge for rooms and brings attention to the hotel it would not otherwise get.

Who has been here before?. El Liborio, The Bull's Corner, Chef Andrea's Anacapri, and Greg Sonnier's Gamay were the most prominent. I think there were others. Why is this?

My guess: the location is terra incognita to most locals. It also doesn't help that the place doesn't have a noticeable sign (indeed, I couldn't see any sign at all) on the more heavily-trafficked North Peters Street side of the place.

I know where it is, and went there tonight for dinner. It was a third to a half full. Many of the diners were hotel guests, judging by snippets of conversation I overheard. However, anybody who was a regular at the old location would find a welcome. The dining room staff seems to be largely the same as it was Uptown, and a lady who has waited on me before (although I'm not sure it was here) did so again.

The menu changes daily, but I recognized quite a few dishes from the old place. The veal cheek ravioli, for example, has become a signature. (I can't imagine that happening ten years ago.) I started with cauliflower and sunchoke soup. Can't say I've had those two things together before. Sunchokes taste a bit like artichokes, but are unrelated. And this is the season for cauliflower. The big bowl brought an appetite-killing volume.

A salad sounded good and was: roasted poblano peppers, pickled onions, goat cheese, and arugula from the Hollygrove farmlet, in the Carrollton section. I ordered this mainly because my father grew up on Holly Grove Street, and this is the first time I've ever encountered a dish with that name.

I picked the entree as much to go with the Gain Bay Merlot as for any particular hunger. It was a Niman Ranch lamb loin in a pretty presentation I wish I'd photographed. (I left my camera at home.) The slices were in two fans, focusing on a finely-chopped and mild ratatouille, with a single goat-cheese-fulled Chinese dumpling on top. Good to look at, good to eat.

Dessert? Yes. Recommendation? Yes, you really ought to have to doughnuts. Doughnuts? Yes. They were freshly made and filled with a jam made from fresh berries, with something like zabaglione on the side. Fun, rich, nice finish, shareable.

I talked with Chef Ian, who seemed to feel good about his new situation. But where are the local crowds that used to keep him ful? The French Quarter brings in lots of business, but there are August and September to consider. He assured me that things were going according to plan.

**** Iris. French Quarter: 321 North Peters 504-299-3944. Contemporary American.