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Review: Curio 

A lighter approach to seafood in the French Quarter

click to enlarge Chef Haley Vanvleet prepares fried pork ribs
at Curio.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Chef Haley Vanvleet prepares fried pork ribs at Curio.

Seafood restaurants in New Orleans can be predictable, safe bets. We're proud — and rightly so — of our Gulf Coast classics and our culinary prowess in preparing them. Familiar dishes include oysters, char-grilled or presented raw on the half-shell, and barbecue shrimp served with buttery French bread. Fried seafood platters abound, and blackened redfish fillets arrive with mounds of lump crabmeat. It's all very familiar and often very good.

  Every now and then, however, it's nice to find something that falls outside the boundaries of the Creole repertoire. At Curio in the French Quarter, seafaring dishes take a turn for the lighter side, and it's a pleasant detour. With executive chef Hayley Vanvleet at the wheel, scallops and tuna are sliced razor-thin and served carpaccio-style, under a colorful drizzle of tangy ginger-citrus vinaigrette, jalapeno gremolata and fresh mint. The silky texture of the scallops pairs beautifully with rich ginger and citrus emulsion while jalapenos and mint add dimension and a snappy bite.

  Vanvleet is a veteran of Meauxbar, Peche Seafood Grill and, most recently, Kingfish Kitchen & Cocktails. She worked at several renowned restaurants in Seattle before she moved to New Orleans and has said her West Coast experience influences her cooking. Her expertise with seafood is clear.

  Bakkafrost salmon, a high-quality fish, is grilled until the skin is crisped and the delicate fish beneath cuts like butter. The fish is nestles on a nutty farro salad with heirloom tomatoes, lemon-shallot vinaigrette and a smoked pine cone oil that adds an herbaceous note.

  Seared scallops get a much richer treatment. Dabbed with a salty Kalamata olive butter and topped with thick flakes of Grana Padano cheese, they were almost too buttery. Bal- ancing some of the dish's heft is a bed of Swiss chard sauteed with Roman artichokes, which imbue a necessary touch of brightness and acidity.

  A couple of dishes take a Southern turn, including shrimp boulettes. They're fried and served with a thin buttermilk chive dip, white cheddar grit tots and a tangy roasted red pepper coulis.

  Though seafood is highlighted at Curio, there also are a few meat entrees that impress, including a massive grilled rib-eye steak served under a cap of garlicky, punchy gremolata with charred onion rings.

  Dessert takes a hint from the Caribbean with a delicious and dense browned butter rum cake drizzled in a spicy cayenne caramel sauce and paired with a creamy coconut semifreddo and bits of caramelized pineapple.

  The restaurant's central location can make it a prime spot for people-watching, and while the downstairs features a spacious bar, the bright lighting can be a bit much. A better bet is finding a spot on the restaurant's wraparound balcony.

  Curio's menu colors outside of the lines, imagining a selection of dishes that honors the sea in creative ways.

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