3835 Iberville St., 309-3570; www.redemption-nola.com
Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun.
As word got around last year that a new restaurant called Redemption would open at the longtime address of Christian's, it naturally kindled expectations. Christian's was one of the few major restaurants that didn't return after Hurricane Katrina, and its setting inside a century-old church gave it an ambience like no place else in town.
Redemption is not a replica of Christian's, nor did its owners intend it to be. But now, the associations customers bring to its door may be tied to a missing New Orleans restaurant of more recent vintage. Earlier this month, Redemption owners Maria and Tommy Delaune turned over their kitchen to chef Greg Picolo, who had been chef at the Bistro at the Maison de Ville for nearly two decades.
"This is a building with a lot of character and dignity, and we wanted someone who would run it like it's his own," says Tommy Delaune, who also owns the local seafood processing and wholesale firm Tommy's Seafood. "We're really just in the background now to support Greg."
Picolo took the reins from Daniel Tolbar, of the former Mid-City restaurant Daniel's on the Bayou, who remains at Redemption. Picolo also brought with him Obie Chisholm, his longtime sous chef from the Bistro.
Picolo says he's making changes slowly, for now just refining sauces here, adding a few ingredients there. A more thorough overhaul is in the works as he integrates the approach for which he was known during his 18-year tenure at the Bistro.
In its prime, the Bistro was one of the great insider pleasures of the French Quarter. Just steps off Bourbon Street. In a room that seemed as narrow as a streetcar, the restaurant exuded romance, while Picolo's blend of French bistro fare and contemporary Creole flavor was original and often captivating.
The Bistro had a hard run since Katrina. It closed in 2006. Picolo and a business partner bought the business and reopened a year later, but in 2009 a fire in the adjacent building forced them to close it again, this time for five months. Another blow came in August, when a dispute with the landlord over an air conditioning system led to the restaurant's latest closure. Picolo says the Bistro's future is "nebulous at best," and there's a court date pending in January to try to resolve it. When Delaune approached him with an offer to run Redemption, he says, the timing seemed perfect.
It also signaled an important change for Redemption, which has struggled to distinguish itself. It's had a few chefs already, and along the way its food has changed from its initial menu of original, contemporary Creole dishes to a much shorter roster of familiar French-Creole standards.
Picolo plans to bring more of his former Bistro's flavor here, and he also is planning specials inspired by New Orleans' culinary past, such as turkey poulette, an open-face sandwich some may remember from the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel, and dishes inspired by Redemption's address, notably the smoked soft-shell crab that was perhaps Christian's best-known entree.
The evocative setting of Redemption's building is bound to conjure memories. It seems that soon some may materialize on the plate too.