Friday, May 29, 2015

Ursa Major opens for dinner Saturday in The Paramount

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 11:58 AM

click to enlarge Ursa Major, a new restaurant in the Central Business District, opens Saturday for dinner. - HELEN FREUND
  • HELEN FREUND
  • Ursa Major, a new restaurant in the Central Business District, opens Saturday for dinner.

Ursa Major (611 O' Keefe Ave., 504-309-8765), a new restaurant where the zodiac and all things celestial reign supreme, opens for dinner Saturday in the Central Business District. 

The restaurant is located inside The Paramount building, part of the South Market District development, and is named for the “big bear” constellation. It is the second venture for Kevin Farrell and Nick Vivion, who run the street-food themed eatery Booty’s Street Food (800 Louisa St., 504-266-2887) in the Bywater.

An image of a giant astronaut printed on ceiling tiles sits adjacent to a long cement bar facing an open kitchen which anchors the upper level of the restaurant. A couple feet below, in the spacious dining room, orbs dangle from the ceiling and wooden booths and banquettes sidle up to floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Civic Theater on O'Keefe Avenue.

click to enlarge astro.jpg


The restaurant’s celestial theme expands beyond artwork and decor, influencing everything from the dinner menu that features the cuisines of star-gazing cultures to a cocktail list inspired by the zodiac.

Chef Daniel Volponi’s internationally influenced menu takes cues from astrology, he says, focusing on cultures with strong ties to the stars. The cuisines of Peru, Greece, Korea, Egypt, Japan and China all feature prominently.

Volponi, who worked at the now-closed RioMar, recently traveled to Bolivia, where he spent time learning and cooking alongside the chefs at Gustu, the acclaimed restaurant from Noma alum Claus Meyer.

“To see the rest of the world and then to cook the rest of the world’s food has been my passion in recent years,” Volponi says. “I think this town is very much ready for those foods that are underrepresented.”

click to enlarge Ursa Major Executive Chef Daniel Volponi.
  • Ursa Major Executive Chef Daniel Volponi.

The international influence is evidenced by exotic ingredients in many dishes. Those familiar will the small plates program at Booty’s will recognize a common theme to Ursa Major’s menu.

“A lot of the inspiration for this space was built off the international ingredients that we had at the pantry at Booty’s, but just couldn’t figure out a way to work into the street-food focused menu there,” Farrell says.

Moroccan fish comes with shredded carrot salad and harrissa, a Tunisian spice paste. Eggplant pakoras come with spicy, sweet and sour mango relish. Shrimp dan dan noodles are served with XO sauce, Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil and a dish called the “Manchurian” is composed of crispy vegetable pate meatballs and sweet chili jam.

Larger dishes, called thalis, are inspired by the Nepalese dining tradition in which meals with six to eight complementing components are served in separate vessels on large, silver trays. A Bedouin leg of lamb from Two Run Farms comes with ramekins of cinnamon-cardamom rice, preserved citrus, kasundi – a type of Indian relish – green beans in fermented mustard and viili yogurt.

Bone-in duck is paired with a chili-garlic broth, simmered greens, fresh cow’s cheese, blanched almonds, olives and raisins.

 “I think it’s really interesting, and I think it’s a fun way to eat," Farrell says. "People might be more inclined to try different things that they otherwise may have been afraid of if they know that there are eight different components on that plate.”

Booty alum Wyatt Lowrey takes inspiration from astrology for the bar program. 

A drink menu inspired by Gemini will be offered until June 21, with drinks specially created with the rising sign in mind. The opening menu includes The Twins: Luke and Leia. It actually consists of two gin cocktails made separately but both including flavors of orange and juniper, ingredients that are said to benefit those born under the Gemini sign.

The cocktail menu will change zodiac signs monthly with the cusp, Lowrey says, and several drinks will be available on tap.

Dinner will be served nightly beginning Saturday and a brunch and lunch program are imminent. Reservations can be made through a ticketing system; patrons purchase $20 "tickets" instead of reservations, and that sum will be applied to the price of the meal.

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