Chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse opened Meril (424 Girod St., 504-526-3745; www.emerilsrestaurants.com/meril), named after his daughter, in the Warehouse District on Sept. 24. It's his first new restaurant in New Orleans since Emeril's Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Ave., 504-525-4937; www.emerilsrestaurants.com/emerils-delmonico) opened in 1998, joining his flagship Emeril's New Orleans (800 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-528-9393; www.emerilsrestaurants.com/emerils-new-orleans) and NOLA (534 St. Louis St., 504-522-6652; www.emerilsrestaurants.com/nola).
Meril's chef de cuisine, Will Avelar, is a New Orleans native who began working for Lagasse in 2005 and advanced to lead the kitchen at Delmonico. He will oversee day-to-day operations at the new spot and created the menu with Chris Wilson, the culinary director for Lagasse's empire.
Wilson calls Meril a "chef-driven neighborhood restaurant," and the menu is a multifaceted collection of dishes pulled from myriad international cuisines, inspired in large part by Lagasse's travels. There are Mexican-inspired pork rib tamales and street-syle roasted corn on the cob slathered in chili, lime and mayonnaise. For Asian-inspired dishes, there are spring rolls, steamed mussels in coconut milk and meats cooked on a Japanese robata-style charcoal grill, including Korean short ribs served with kimchi cucumbers (pictured).
There's strong Italian influence on wood oven-fired flatbreads and pastas, all of which feature noodles from local chef Dan Esses' company, including fettucini nero, folded with crab, toasted almonds, Calabrian chiles and arugula. There also is a glass display case featuring St. James Cheese Company cheeses and Bellegarde Bakery baguettes.
For dessert, pastry chef Bergen Carman, another Delmonico alum, oversees a simple list of lemon icebox cakes and pecan pies, and a Pacojet churns out no less than eight flavors of house-made ice cream daily.
The restaurant is Lagasse's most casual approach to dining yet. Everything on the menu costs less than $20, with a large portion of snacks and salads falling under $10.
The yawning Warehouse District space includes a 20-seat horseshoe-shaped bar and a second expansive dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing Girod Street. The dining room features two giant murals — one of a Gulf fish and the other of a crab — painted by local artist Landon Lott on exposed brick walls. The large, open kitchen offers guests a glimpse of the chefs at work from anywhere in the dining room.
Bartender Milan "Miki" Nikolic is running the cocktail program, which he says is based largely on local and seasonal ingredients featured in the kitchen, including herbs such as basil, lavender, mint and oregano. Fruit and vegetables also will find their way into the cocktail glass, Nikolic says. A drink made with white rum and yellow Chartreuse includes carrot juice and lemon grass, and a gin elixir combines cucumber water, lime juice and jalapeno simple syrup.
Cocktails fall in the $8 to $12 range and local beers on draft are $6. The wine list features more than 80 domestic and international bottles, and many are available in 5-ounce and 8-ounce pours.
Meril opens daily at 11:30 a.m.