Bar Dining in the French Quarter
Sara Essex Bradley Photograph
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This romp around the French Quarter focuses on full course meals at bars in restaurants within the boundaries of our beloved Vieux Carré. It begins with a revolution, a new restaurant named R’evolution spawned out of a three-way with Louisiana Chef John Folse, Chef Rick Tramonto and Royal Sonesta Hotel owners, or management, or some combination of it all.
Bar R’evolution has become French Quarter hot spot for those of us who enjoy a bar setting more for eating with drinking. My first meal at R’evolution last summer was actually in their most formal center dining room. The reasoning was the same as my first visit to most new restaurants: I needed to go at least once so I could say I had been and so I could give an estimate on its longevity. After a shot glass liquid amuse-bouche of a heavenly citrus concoction, highlights included wood-fire grilled sweetbreads, steak tartare and “Bird in a Cage,” which rivals the fried chicken at Galatoire’s as the tastiest bird dish in town. To provide full details about the incredible edible cage would be like giving away the ending of a movie.
The décor equals the food, easily the most smartly dressed eatery to open in New Orleans since Restaurant Jonathan on North Rampart Street in the 1970s.
Further investigation was in order. The next day I returned solo. As is my custom when dining at a bar, my favorite seat is one near the service area. The cross pollination of bartenders and waiters guarantees access to a flow of insider gossip – a guest with a peculiar order, need the check quick for Table 10 or they will be making a baby at the table, and a local chef just left in an ongoing journey to find himself.
The bartender that second night quickly gained my confidence after recommending an iced platter of P&J oysters on the half-shell as a starter. I was under his forces. I forgot what else I ate that night, but a tattoo caught my attention. There was a bold letter on the bartender’s right forearm that resembled the “R” in R’evolution’s logo. None of the other bartenders had the same branding, and I soon learned that the name of the man with the “R” tattoo was Randy. The tattoo had preceded his employment at R’evolution.
“Death by Gumbo, Crabmeat Beignets and oysters on the half-shell – our three most popular food selections at the bar. Folks like eating in our relaxed and lively atmosphere,” says Randy Colbus, a lead bartender at Bar R’evolution since they opened with a bang last June. He was lured to New Orleans by food, drink and a girlfriend similarly named Randi. “On a busy night at least half our bar customers are eating at the bar. They include walk-ins to the restaurant, out-of-towners traveling alone and folks out for a grazing who want a quick in-and-out bite, in addition to our local destination bar diners.”
All the bartenders are stars who know food as well as drink, but wait until you meet the directors of their 10,000-bottle wine cellar. Wine director Molly Wismeier is as pretty as she is knowledgeable, and her dapper assistant Matthew Allen visits the bar as well as tables with recommendations that shouldn’t be ignored. For example, a perfect Loire Valley cabernet to pair with one of their signature appetizers, a pair of long-roasted bones sawed down the middle presented with a marrow spoon best shared to reserve stomach space for other courses.
In a recent tour of the wine cellar, Wismeier showed two friends visiting from Virginia and me some of their older wines in the cellar, including a 1929 Maury she described as “lighter than a port but with all that fruit.” We were snagged once we heard it was available by the glass and were soon back at the bar with three glasses. The $35 a glass price tag breaks down to 42 cents a year for an 84-year-old wine that rested in casts for decades before being bottled in the 2000s. I think that it was the first wine I drank that was older than I am.