Where Y'Eat: Camp Cooking Comes To Town
An impressive-looking dish arrived at our table and out came the devices to dispatch it all to social media. It seems perfectly normal by now. Even still, the commotion that ensued after something called the oyster log hit our table caught me off guard.
We were at Trenasse, a new restaurant in the CBD’s InterContinental Hotel, and this oyster log was a lacquered slab of cypress nearly as long as our four-top table. It was like a diorama of variously prepared oysters, three dozen of them, some sizzling with garlic butter, some done as Bienville or Rockefeller, others bubbling under caps of smoked cheese and pancetta, plus a half-dozen fried oysters that looked as though they’d been spilled over the platter by accident.
Of course we all snapped photos. The guys at the adjacent table stopped eating to gaze over. A woman laughed at the whole hubbub and the oyster shucker who had plated and presented this log was only too happy to dish out high-fives and pose with the platter for still more photos, grinning like a proud papa.
What was the big deal? It was the presentation, the execution and the high-low balance of casual extravagance that made this spectacle of a shared appetizer so compelling, and that’s also a fitting introduction to Trenasse.
The style and flavors at this restaurant are manifestly of Louisiana, but they’re also more modern and original than a textbook Cajun or Creole read on the subject. In this way Trenasse is a new addition to a niche of restaurants that I'm very happy to see growing in New Orleans — restaurants that evoke Louisiana hunting camp cooking.
In its natural environment, camp cooking is about taking some piece of fauna from the wild and running it through a mix of family tradition, adaptability to what’s on hand and a dash of bravado, the better to impress your company. In restaurants, it’s about conjuring the same attitude in the framework of wine lists, daily specials and side dishes.
Some other examples to emerge recently are Basin Seafood & Spirits on Magazine Street, the Donald Link restaurant Peche Seafood Grill, with its whole fish and wood-fired grill fascinations, and Borgne, the John Besh restaurant inside the Hyatt Regency hotel.
Trenasse, meanwhile, comes from chef Jim Richard, a Lafayette native who may already be familiar to New Orleanians who vacation on Florida’s Emerald Coast thanks to his popular waterfront restaurant Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach.
At Trenasse, you’re getting rabbit and shrimp fricassee, whole redfish bent like an edible fishing trophy over a bed of boudin, an array of grilled fish, squash stuffed with crabmeat, quail stuffed with mozzarella and frog legs done two ways. And you’re getting even more types of oyster dishes than could fit on the prodigious oyster log.
Like the other restaurants that are moving camp cooking into the urban dining room, you’re getting a flavor that is original and contemporary, but manifestly tied to a sense of place, namely, Louisiana. To appreciate that, you don’t need a camp or even a fishing license.
Restaurants mentioned above:
444 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-680-7000; www.trenasse.com
Basin Seafood & Spirits
3222 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-302-7391; www.basinseafoodnola.com
Pêche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-522-1744; www.pecherestaurant.com
601 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, 504-613-3860; www.borgnerestaurant.com