On the surface, it was an unlikely combination: John Folse and Rick Tramonto.
The two chefs had widely divergent backgrounds. Folse was a Louisiana native son, a home-grown talent who made his bones at Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldson and went on to spread the gospel of Cajun cooking around the world. Tramonto was the driving force behind Tru, the legendary Chicago restaurant, and an alumnus of establishments such as Charlie Trotter’s and Manhattan’s Gotham Bar and Grill.
They became friends after Hurricane Katrina, when Tramonto joined the effort to feed survivors. Last year, the pair opened R’evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, in the heart of the French Quarter, which immediately became the most exciting new restaurant in the city. The interior is luxurious and relaxed, with the dining area split into a series of small rooms for additional intimacy. Ensconced in the Wine Room adjacent to the cellar, our party of ten quickly found out what all the fuss was about.
The menu is a reimagined rendering of Creole classics, using the ingredients of Louisiana’s “swamp floor pantry”---oysters and crawfish, Andouille sausage, catfish and alligator, and an array of local game birds and seafood. Standout appetizers include Death by Gumbo (roasted quail, Andouille, oysters and file rice), light and fluffy crab beignets, snapping turtle soup and house-made salumi. Entrees range from a Crawfish-stuffed Redfish Napolean and a lyrical rendition of Shrimp and Grits to roast duck, braised short ribs and a Tryptich of Quail. A selection of pasta dishes pays homage to Tramonto’s Italian roots, with the clear winner being the Sheep Ricotta Gnocchi with Lobster.
R’evolution’s wine list is a stunner. By the glass, there are 40 selections poured from magnums, including grower and tête de cuvée Champagne. The list is enclyclopedic, heavy on Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, and includes many hard-to-find estates in multiple back vintages. The restaurant is applying for the Grand Award next year, and they expect to get it.
Restaurant R’evolution is a glimpse into the future of Cajun cooking, and takes one of America’s great food cities a step further.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); his second book, Moonshine Nation, will appear in June of 2014. For more information, go to amazon.com