Hunting camp culture and its rituals of hearty, communal dining is not often the focal point of a haute cuisine restaurant. But Chef Jim Richard is changing that. Located inside the InterContinental Hotel, Richard's Trenasse (slang for a path leading through the marsh to a fishing spot) brings rib-sticking meals from the backwoods to the city.
Trenasse's food bridges rustic and refined dining, marrying elegant presentations and glossy decor with flavors of a rural hideaway teeming with fresh seafood and wild game. The cuisine is hearty enough to make you feel like you could headlock a bear — or at least stand in a frigid duck blind for a few hours.
The expansive menu is full of dishes that pay homage to the depth and breadth of Gulf Coast fish and meat. The sea, surrounding woodlands and everything in between are well represented by a hulking "Louisiana legacy" rib-eye dabbled with veal reduction and an elegantly presented crispy whole redfish that's almost impressive enough to mount on the wall. Vegetarians, however, should be warned that there aren't many dishes untouched by meat or fish.
Casting a line at any part of the restaurant's dinner menu will almost always reel in a dish that can surprise and please. Creole nachos have very little to do with tortillas and instead use cracklings (with a pork rind puff and texture) as a crunchy base. The dish doubles down on the pork with three glistening cubes of meaty and gelatinous pork belly, topped with a blend of tangy pickled corn chow chow and smooth red bean puree. The restaurant takes a straightforward approach with its big sauce-slathered Buffalo frog legs, which are well complemented by accompanying creamy Stilton and a note of cloverish honey. Inventive plays on traditional Buffalo chicken wings are popping up on local menus (such as Red's Chinese's Buffalo chicken feet), and Trenasse's take is among the best. One small-plate option that falls short is the alligator tamale; there's a modest amount of meat and it needs a burst of spice.
The fried brie burger might be the menu's most over-the-top offering, with a wedge of velvety, deep-fried cheese snuggled between a buttery griddled bun, a clump of caramelized onion and a thick hamburger patty. The burger almost requires a person to unhinge his or her jaw for each bite. Its decadence is rivaled by the menu's most curiously named item, Stinky's stew — the signature dish of Richard's Florida panhandle restaurant, Stinky's Fish Camp. The creation is similar in its seafood bounty to a bouillabaisse or to that South Carolina favorite, Frogmore stew. While the bowl spills over with crab legs, oysters, fish and shrimp, it's the mussels that shine, absorbing the bright, herbal broth in a melt-in-your-mouth phenomenon.
Trenasse is a good place for a highbrow lunch, but there also are more casual options. There are several cleverly conceived po-boys — including chili-glazed pork and a shrimp and oyster creation with jalapeno-spiced, smoked-tomato tartar sauce — and a set of quick dining options for those in a hurry.
With its commitment to grounded Louisiana-inspired flavors, Trenasse succeeds in being the culinary version of the sportsman's paradise.