The pop-up approach has led to many new restaurants and stand-alone ventures. Recently, it’s also led one talented New Orleans chef back to the helm of an ambitious restaurant, where he’s working a modern style with an unexpected undercurrent of Latin American flavors.
Baruch Rabasa is now executive chef at the Franklin (2600 Dauphine St., (504) 267-0640; thefranklinnola.com), a Marigny restaurant with a large bar, late hours and a darkly seductive room of chambers, coves and composed sight lines. It’s also a restaurant that has endured upheaval since opening last year, most seriously the death of co-owner Jason Baas in April at age 44.
Rabasa’s entry here started earlier, and it’s been gradual. A soft-spoken chef who is not often in the spotlight, Rabasa nonetheless won plenty of fans for his deftly contemporary style during stints at (the now defunct) Meson 923 and at Atchafalaya.
He later left New Orleans for a private chef gig but a few months ago turned up at the Franklin, running a weekend pop-up called Chilango NOLA with chef Christian Dischler. They serve brunch attuned to the traditions of Mexico City, where Rabasa has family ties. He started doing more for the Franklin’s kitchen along the way and recently made the move to executive chef, bringing some of those Latin flavors across to the dinner menu as he did.
So, buttery-tasting slices of hamachi, the nightly crudo recently, were ignited by aji amarillo sauce as thick as caramel and flickering with chile heat. The frisée salad is joined by guacamole puree and a chicken taquito to break apart in crispy chunks between the bitter greens. And the bacon-wrapped pork loin gets a roasted corn and poblano relish and hominy puree.
Latin is just one influence at play across the menu. See also grilled octopus with a sweet/tart beet gastrique and quail set over savory bread pudding imbued with flavors of Vietnamese pho. Some favorites are from earlier menus, such as the crabmeat-stuffed fried avocado; and there remains a strong specialty in oysters, served fried, in chowder and raw.
The Franklin is open daily from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (and until midnight Friday and Saturday). Chilango NOLA’s brunch continues on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.