Everything is illuminated t Sainte Marie Brasserie (930 Poydras St., 504-304-6988; www.saintemarienola.com). Guests are bathed in an intimate glow emitted from bulbs that hang overhead like a minor constellation. It's all part of the experience: an invitation for guests to take "a fantastic, edible journey they may never have considered before," says executive chef Kristen Essig, who has helmed the kitchen since April 2013.
Owner Robert LeBlanc opened the brasserie in June 2011. Its name has historic origins with a tragically romantic plot. "The area of town located on the Uptown side of Canal Street from the French Quarter was once owned by Bertrand and Marie Gravier in the late 18th century," Essig says. In the aftermath of a fire that devastated the French Quarter, the property values rose. The Graviers chose to cultivate the land, which they named Ville Gravier. "Upon his wife Marie's death, Bertrand Gravier renamed the area Faubourg Sainte Marie," Essig says.
Walls painted in warm colors act as a tribute to the restaurant's local roots. Burnt orange and chestnut-hued surfaces are overlaid with hand-painted wallpaper depicting a waterline map of New Orleans and its surrounding regions.
Sainte Marie's menu pays homage to the past with some tweaks to the classics. The cocktail selection, which includes the Sainte Marie 75 (a crisp, verdant combination of green chartreuse, lime, mint and prosecco) and the Audubon (a new take on the Sazerac starring Casamigos Blanco tequila, bitters and herbsaint), showcases a different approach to beloved local spirits.
The kitchen caters to customers' growing demand for Louisiana-grown ingredients. Richard Power provides Gulf shrimp that top the house-made tagliatelle. Perilloux Farm grows kale for the Israeli couscous salad, and selections from St. James Cheese Company comprise the cheese plate, accompanied by a plum preserve.
"I am a huge supporter of locally sourced, sustainable product," Essig says. "It's important to keep that in the forefront. I want my local growers, producers and fishers to get the credit for all the amazing, hard work they do."
Essig hopes to challenge customers' palates. "I want the menu to at least start a conversation and maybe motivate diners to try something a little out of their comfort zone," she says. "I love adding a touch of international influence to stir things up a bit."
The Chappapeela Farms pork belly dish is an example of Essig's flair for melding local ingredients with global inspiration. Braised with ginger and satsuma and paired with panko-crusted scallops, the plate is finished with a kimchee vinaigrette, sherry gastrique, frill mustard and roasted cashews. "It's my fun twist on surf and turf," Essig says.