WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The Monteleone Hotel dominates the 200 block of Royal Street, the entrance hallway of the French Quarter. It was old-fashioned and dowdy for a long time, but in recent years its prominence has risen enormously. Criollo (pronounced “kree-OH-low,” not the Spanish way) is the hotel’s most successful modernization yet. This is a comfortable, handsome restaurant with a casual service style, but menus that reach from the most familiar local dishes to some very ambitious cooking.
As the name implies, the kitchen keeps its targets well within the range of local flavors. At lunchtime, you can start with a cup of turtle soup or gumbo, then have a poor boy or a plate of red beans. Or take the other fork and love the seared pompano with capers and brown butter, or the pork osso buco. And an elegant dessert. The concepts are a mix of the familiar and the creative, with the expected fine ingredients of today’s upscale dining room.
After a century of operating just-passable restaurants in its lobby, the Monteleone Hotel ripped them all out in 2011 and started over, from the floor plan outward to (and through) the walls. Replacing the dreary cafe and the dark, lonely Hunt Room, Criollo is now the hotel’s sole eatery, serving all three meals every day. It’s the latest development in a decade-long program of improvements instigated by Ron Pincus, the most accomplished hotel manager in New Orleans history.
The most dramatic change was the opening of large windows in what had been blank walls. That brightened things up and added dimension. A mix of standard tables and booths plus a bar that doubles as a breakfast counter add texture to the room. The best tables are those nearest the open kitchen, where chefs are always working at a calm pace. On the other end is an entrance into the well-known Carousel Bar.
Shrimp, crab & avocado salad, spicy tomato coulis
Barbecue shrimp & boudin, hedgehog mushrooms, corn, field peas
»Crabmeat mirliton salad, crystal tapioca
Seared foie gras, candied stone fruit
New Orleans turtle soup
»Artichoke & Camembert bisque
»Forager salad (lettuce, beets, quail egg, watermelon radish, Humboldt Fog blue cheese)
Creole tomato & buratta mozzarella, prosciutto
»Criollo Cobb salad
Shellfish panzanella (grilled shrimp & scallops, French bread salad, heirloom tomatoes, olives
Shrimp Caesar salad
»Grilled cobia (lemonfish), black-eye pea succotash,
»Shrimp and scallop courtbouillon pasta
Herb marinated chicken paillard, arugula, jicama, roasted peppers
»»Pompano Grenobloise (potato cubes, capers, grilled lemon)
»Soft shell crab belle meuniere
Pan roasted swordfish
»»Pork osso buco, pomegranate barbecue sauce, white cheddar mac & cheese
»Grilled lemonfish sandwich, apple-fennel slaw
Fried shrimp or oyster poor boy
Shrimp beignet BLT, remoulade
Roasted vegetable & mozzarella baguette
»Snapper, lump crab, orange-fennel slaw, ancho-lime butter
Pan roasted swordfish, saffron & asparagus risotto, coconut crustacean sauce
»Grilled grouper, butter poached shrimp, asparagus, citrus beurre blanc
Muscovy duck breast, clementines, sun-dried cherries, wild rice
»Grilled veal chop, potato souffle, whiskey-morel sauce
Cane marinated pork tenderloin, sweet potato-chorizo hash, apple-tamarind chipotle sauce
Porcini crusted beef filet, truffle butter, oxtail ragout
»Pecan speckled trout, pancetta, herb roasted tomato, lemon-brown butter
»Grilled pompano du jour
»»Mille-feuille of fresh berries
FOR BEST RESULTS
Criollo keeps a inventory of seafood deeper than most restaurants, making that the better side of the menu. The desserts are beautiful and luscious–not to be missed.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
This turtle soup recipe must be a holdover from the old days. Time to rework the formula. Servers as very friendly, but the personnel at the host stand could use more polish.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
About two years ago I ran into Monteleone Hotel general manager Ron Pincus at Parkway Poor Boys. He told me that he was in the last stages of pulling together the budget for a major change in the hotel’s superannuated, dull restaurants. Knowing Pincus’s track record (particularly his years at the Royal Orleans, during that hotel’s heyday) I expected something good to come out of this. The result was Criollo, the best new hotel restaurant to open in a very long time. It is much better than I anticipated. Better get a reservation. It’s not like the empty old days here.