If you're hunting for the next area transforming from having a dearth of dining options to becoming a culinary hotspot, look no further than Tulane Avenue, where Treo — the cocktail and small plates restaurant from the owners of Finn McCool's — is blazing trails.
The Treo space is grayscale and streamlined, and mauve accents help it seem effortlessly cool when temperatures outside are blistering. At first glance, Treo may appear cramped, but new areas of exploration pop up around every corner. The second floor serves as an art gallery and additional space for meetings or dining, with a lovely wraparound balcony that provides a bird's-eye view of the Tulane Avenue corridor. A courtyard seems to be still in development, but it should attract cocktail enthusiasts when temperatures begin to dip. An eclectic collection of art lines the walls, which can jump-start dinner chatter if conversation begins to lull.
Treo is not a spot to expect a three-course meal or a range of entree options to accommodate a sit-down dinner. It is first and foremost a cocktail bar where chef James Cullen takes the small plate concept employed at places like Mimi's in the Marigny and Bacchanal to a new level of intricacy. It's an ideal place for a gaggle of girlfriends to meet for snacks or a somewhat-professional meeting of the minds during happy hour.
The printed menu is limited to dishes meant for sharing, and daily specials grace a chalkboard and add a level of substance for diners seeking a heartier bite. The special salad and entree portions are generous, and a pork loin entree — served with broccoli rabe and creamy mashed potatoes — proves so succulent one might be inclined to pick up and gnaw remaining meat off of the bone. A large arugula salad is topped with croquettes of gooey, tangy fried goat cheese and charred endive and is a refreshing, layered dish thoroughly appropriate for combatting the dog days of summer.
Spanish and Irish influences, both with Louisiana twists, play heavily into the small plates menu. Crawfish empanadas are large and flaky, with tender bites of well-seasoned crawfish. Paprika remoulade drizzled over fried oysters and paper-thin slices of manchego prove the versatility of New Orleans' favorite bivalve and help to enhance its natural, briny flavor without overwhelming each bite. Treo also is one of the only spots in the city to serve Scotch eggs (one of the finest drunk foods ever crafted) which are prepared in the traditional style: A hardboiled egg is wrapped in sausage, panko-coated, deep-fried and served with Crystal hot sauce.
Treo struggles to find the right consistency and heat balance with the mushroom ragout, which arrived in a watery broth with too much peppery seasoning and too few crostini. The mushrooms are tender and well-balanced, but they are overwhelmed by the surrounding spicy moat.
The cocktails deliver serious bang-per-buck and are a reminder that while challenging one's palate is admirable, the best cocktails keep imbibers wanting another sip because they simply are enjoyable. The Mistress — a twist on a French 75 with blueberry syrup and sparkling rose — goes down easily enough to get you in trouble quickly. Many of the cocktails do serious work balancing flavors, including the Sunda Selat, which combines cumin- and jalapeno-infused bourbon with lime and Licor 43 — a Spanish liqueur made with 43 herbs and spices, including citrus and vanilla.
Above all else, Treo is a reminder than dining is the kind of interactive, communal experience best shared among friends, with satisfying bites in one hand and a cocktail in another.