The historic church at 3835 Iberville St. housed the restaurant Christian's and after that Redemption. Now, under a new team, it's home to the more modern restaurant and lounge Vessel NOLA (504-603-2775; www.vesselnola.com).
Partners Alec Wilder, Eddie Dyer and Chuck Brechtel officially opened the restaurant last week after a series of soft-opening dinners. Though the owners have taken care to retain the building's historic features — including the 25-foot ceilings with exposed beams, originally built to resemble an upside-down ship's hull — the interior has been remodeled to offer a more casual environment than its predecessors. That includes a yawning 35-foot bar fashioned out of walnut, and come fall, a large outdoor terrace will open.
The restaurant's kitchen is being helmed by chef Nick Vella, who previously worked at MiLA, Noodle and Pie and Cibugnu. (Vella competed in Gambit's Emerging Chefs Challenge last year.)
The owners describe the cuisine as "coastal Mediterranean," which ranges from house-brined pickles and snacks to vegetable-heavy sides, seafood appetizers and entrees and Turkish-style flatbreads. Snacks include smoked Gulf fish dip served with lavash crackers and rabbit rillette with peach mostarda and a biscuit.
The menu is guided by a quality-driven California cuisine ethos, Wilder says, and the menu will change frequently to reflect seasonal ingredients.
Current dishes include heirloom tomato salad with cucumbers and Creole tomato water and Gulf snapper crudo with watermelon sorbet, pickled watermelon rind and basil "Pimm's fizz." Olive oil-braised chicken is served with charred okra, blistered tomatoes, corn, roasted shallots and chicken dashi reduction.
Pastry chef Amelia Watts' dessert list features buttermilk pie with pickled blueberries, sweet corn gelato and barley crumble, and Valrhona chocolate cake with roasted white chocolate pudding, cherry sorbet and smoked cocoa nib tuilles.
General Manager and Commander's Palace alum Joe Pilie is overseeing the restaurant's wine program while beverage director Wyatt Lowrey (formerly of Booty's Street Food and Ursa Major) is helming the craft cocktail menu, which uses house-made shrubs and bitters. The #gooddecisions combines Cathead vodka, cucumber and mint shrub and vermouth blanc.
Vessel is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The bar will stay open until midnight on weekdays and later on weekends.