The recent additions of Ace Hotel and the South Market District have expanded the footprint of the Warehouse District and created a new scene in the New Orleans area. Hipsters, Yuppies and thirty-somethings that once fled New Orleans like a bad mullet are now flocking to the area, living in high-end apartments and sipping cocktails in swanky hotel bars.
Ace Hotel New Orleans won immediate fans when they recruited James Beard-nominated, Memphis chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman to run the kitchens in the lobby restaurant Josephine Estelle and the pool bar Alto. When the opportunity arose to add a third restaurant into the mix, management tapped local restaurateurs Alex and Michael Pincus, who honed their chops as proprietors of the popular Manhattan schooner oyster bar Grand Banks. The Pincus brothers brought in some extremely talented help to create Seaworthy, including Kerry Heffernan who worked under Danny Meyer at Eleven Madison Park and heads the kitchen at Grand Banks, as well as Lauren Schell who oversaw the bar at celebrated New York bar Milk & Honey and created the cocktail menu at Grand Banks. To execute their creations, Heffernan and Schell called on Daniel Causgrove, chef of the Windsor Court’s Grill Room, and Steve Yamada, the original head bartender at Latitude 29.
Located within Ace Hotel three doors down from Stumptown Coffee, Seaworthy fronts Carondelet Street in a recently renovated three-story 1832 cottage. With dark wood and mellow lighting, you almost feel as if you’re entering the belly of a ship, which is no surprise since their other restaurant Grand Banks actually floats on the Hudson River. On the main floor, a long marble bar has a carve-out for an ice well filled with ten different kinds of oysters. Along with caviar service, the oysters are meant to showcase seafood that may be new to most New Orleanians. My guest and I sampled the night’s bounty which included oysters from the Northeast, Northwest and the Gulf Coast. The oysters really accentuated the differences in the flavor profiles between the regions: from the sweet and salty bivalves of Murder Point Oysters off the coast of Alabama to the briny flavors of the Naked Roy oysters in the North Puget Sound off the coast of Washington.
To compliment the oysters, Schell created a cocktail menu which includes classics like the sidecar, negroni and daiquiri, but also more ambitious creations like the Holywater (spiced rum, cognac, chartreuse, house-made almond syrup, grapefruit, lemon, lime angostura bitters), and Mint Business, a simple but tasty combination of gin, honey and lime. She also included what she calls “Session”: low-alcohol cocktails that were exceptionally crafted. The highlights included the Outer Banks (angostura bitters, house-made ginger beer, sweet vermouth, averna, lime), and the Sherman’s Cup, a spritzer of rose with fresh blackberries and a squeeze of orange, lemon and lime. There's also a small selection of craft beers and wines by the glass to round out the bar menu.
Before sampling some of the small plates and large plates on the dinner menu, I took a quick tour of the restaurant. There is a welcoming courtyard patio in the back that should fill up once the weather permits, as well as a second-floor dining room with its own bar that continues the theme of the main bar area in a mellower setting, kind of like the difference between sitting downstairs and upstairs at Coquette.
Back at the table, our affable server brought us an order of ceviche, blue crab dip and watermelon and tomato salad. The ceviche was outstanding with a hint of mint balancing out the spice of habanero chilies and served with crunchy grit crisps. The salad was the only forgettable menu item we sampled all night, and with watermelon season coming to a close, I expect that they will come up with something more ambitious down the road. We also sampled the fresh lobster tail, but had I had more room in the stomach, I would have loved to have tried the lobster roll, a New England favorite that isn’t widely available in the New Orleans market.
The goal of Seaworthy is to showcase fresh regional seafood as well as rarely-seen fish from around the country, but until local purveyors see more of a demand for such items, Causgrove and his team are going to have to settle for what’s available. Not that there’s anything wrong with sheepshead and red snapper when they’re in capable hands. The seared snapper was draped over an andouille rice mixture and topped with green onion sauce. It was an odd, yet thoroughly enjoyable combination that was only outdone by the butter-poached sheepshead swimming in red chili-spiced sauce nantua, crawfish tails and braised alliums.
For the carnivores in your group, there’s also a pork belly small plate as well as an eight-ounce burger served with fantastic French fries that we sampled. Small plates range in price from $10-$16 and large plates from $18- $29, so Seaworthy can be enjoyed as a light meal before or after a game at the nearby Smoothie King Center or the Superdome, or as a reasonably-priced dinner date. With the built-in business from the hotel, I’m sure Seaworthy will do just fine, but if it manages to find its niche among local diners, the 600-block of Carondelet Street along with Josephine Estelle and nearby Balise may turn out to be one of the best dining blocks in the city.