As word got around last year that a new restaurant called Redemption would open at the Mid-City address that had for so long been Christian's, it naturally kindled expectations, and even specific food cravings. Christian's was one of the few major restaurants that didn't return after Hurricane Katrina, and its setting, inside a century-old church, gave it an ambiance like nowhere else in town.
Christian's, named for an original partner, Chris Ansel, a relative of the Galatoire's restaurant family, first opened in Metairie in the early 1970s before moving to the church property in Mid-City. But here's where it made its enduring reputation, and here the name Christian's even seemed in synch with the locale. Here, ceilings soar, polished woodwork abounds and the room is suffused with golden-amber light, courtesy of the flanking walls of stained glass windows.
The news of a new eatery in this setting stirred longings of a lost restaurant returned. But Redemption is no Christian's replica, nor did its owners intend it to be. Now, however, the associations customers bring to its door may be tied to a missing New Orleans restaurant of much more recent vintage. In November Redemption owners Maria and Tommy Delaune turned over their kitchen to chef Greg Picolo, who had been chef at the Bistro at the Maison deVille for nearly two decades prior.
The chef is making changes slowly, though a more thorough overhaul is the works as he brings to bear more of the approach he was known for during his 18-year tenure at the Bistro.
At its prime, the Bistro was one of the great insider pleasures of the French Quarter. Just steps off Bourbon Street, in a room that felt as narrow as a streetcar, the restaurant exuded romance, while Picolo's blend of French bistro fare and contemporary Creole flavor was original and often captivating.
The Bistro had a hard run after Katrina. Its then-owners closed it in 2006, citing post-disaster business concerns. Picolo and a partner bought the business and reopened it a year later, but in 2009 a fire started in the adjacent building forced them to close it again, this time for five months. Yet another blow came in August, when a dispute with the landlord over an air conditioning system led to the restaurant's latest closure. There's a court date pending in late January to try to resolve that dispute, but when the Delaunes approached Picolo with an offer to run Redemption, the timing seemed perfect to the chef.
It also signaled an important change for Redemption, which has struggled to distinguish itself during its first year in business. It's had a few chefs already, and along the way its food has changed from its initial menu of original, contemporary Creole dishes to a much shorter roster of familiar French Creole standards.
While Picolo plans to bring more of his former Bistro's flavor here, he's also planning specials inspired by New Orleans' culinary past, like turkey poulette, an open-faced sandwich some may remember from the Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel, and also dishes inspired by Redemption's address, notably the smoked soft shell crab that was perhaps Christian's best-known entrée.
The evocative setting of Redemption's building is bound to conjure memories. It seems that soon some may materialize on the plate too.
3835 Iberville St., New Orleans, (504) 309-3570