When the Delachaise opened 13 years ago, it didn't take long for the crowds to come. Though there are clear distinctions between the popular St. Charles Avenue wine haunt and its new Uptown sister, Chais Delachaise, the concept is similar. The new spot has an extensive wine list heavy on international selections and a globally inspired bistro menu. And crowds — mostly young professionals and a healthy neighborhood following — already are there.
The Maple Street spot is smaller than the original and has more of a dining atmosphere, but the menu and clientele make it clear that either one goes. Despite its intimate appeal, the restaurant's noise level soars on busy weekend nights.
Chef Daniel Volponi's menu skips across continents and cuisines like a globetrotting backpacker, but his dishes don't feel jumbled and the menu offers a rounded selection of eclectic and creative bistro fare.
Dutch-inspired bitterballen provide nice snacking fodder. The crispy golden balls are stuffed with shredded top round beef and gravy and served with a saffron-hued mustard sauce that has a sharp bite.
Dishes including duck fat fries and flank steak bruschetta topped with Peruvian garlic sauce are familiar from the St. Charles Avenue flagship. Other bruschetta versions feature shiitake mushrooms cooked in sherry and topped with pickled white beech mushrooms, an earthy medley with notes of rosemary that is rich yet restrained compared to a thick and juicy eggplant version in which olive oil seeps through the crevices of the bread with every bite.
The international theme covers the menu, but there's a particularly strong South American current, especially with raw and cured seafood. Plump mussels, squid and Gulf shrimp form the backbone of a tart Peruvian ceviche, and the heat and crunch of jalapenos are complemented by bursts of citrus and capped off with a handful of popped corn.
Poached seafood tops a simple salad of olive oil, lemon and arugula. In a Nordic-inspired dish, steelhead trout is cured with citrus and juniper, and the fatty pink slices are fanned out on a wooden cutting board with a dollop of skyr, a yogurtlike Ice-landic spread. Crisp caraway crackers, pickled fennel spears and briny fermented mustard seeds round out the platter. The new Nordic movement has yet to hit the New Orleans dining scene, but this dish could be its introduction.
One evening's special was an Italian seafood dish: spaghetti alle scoglie. Mussels, Gulf shrimp and squid in white wine and caper sauce bursting with the sweetness of fire-roasted tomatoes were served over strands of chewy pasta.
Dessert occupies a small portion of the menu, but an excellent lemon pound cake is anything but an af- terthought. The warm cake arrives with a syrupy lemon glaze, its edges crisp and caramelized, while a vanilla ice cream flecked with tarragon carries a whisper of anise, and a thick and tart blueberry compote balances the flavors.
In the end, no matter how many countries the menu dances across, it always feels appropriate to return to some classics. A few cheese selections and a glass of port are as good a reminder as any that this is, after all, a Delachaise operation.