When it first opened in 2003, the Delachaise helped usher in a different style of dining for New Orleans, bringing bistro-quality cuisine from creative chefs to a bar and serving it into the wee hours.
Now, its new sister spot, Chais Delachaise, is folding more of the restaurant back into the proposition, with table service, a proper dining room and an all-ages policy.
“I’m excited that we can be more accommodating here, because it’s hard to serve people in a bar,” said Evan Hayes, proprietor of both the Delachaise and Chais Delachaise. “But here we can do a lot more.”
Chais Delachaise opened this week along Maple Street’s strip of neighborhood businesses near the Uptown universities. “Delachaise” is a reference to the original bar’s address near Touro Infirmary; “chais,” is French for a wine storehouse, and it signals that wine is still the focus here (note: after initially opening under a BYOB policy, the restaurant now has its liqour license).
Alongside a deep by-the-glass list, Chais Delachaise serves dishes ranging from raw seafood preparations to Continental bar snacks to ginger-spiked Chinese stir-fries napped in lettuce cups.
“I think our menu is right there with the way people want to eat now — lighter, fresher food,” said executive chef Daniel Volponi. “People want to have two or three plates and try different flavors, and that’s how we built this menu.”
The original Delachaise remains a bar, where patrons are on their own to flag down a bartender to place orders and to find a seat in the stylish but not exactly commodious space. Chais Delachaise is designed to be different.
The world in a glass, and on a plate
Volponi calls it a “global-influenced, full service wine bar and bistro,” which sounds like a mouthful but does indeed fit when you take in the setting of tables and booths, the outdoor patio and the bar.
The Chais Delachaise menu has some similarities to the Delachaise. The bar menu’s duck fat fries, Thai-style mussels and steak bruschetta with Peruvian aji verde sauce are all part of the menu on Maple Street, for instance.
From here though, Volponi has developed many of his own dishes. There’s a board of cured steelhead trout, which looks like salmon and shares its luscious texture but has a milder flavor. Layer a slice on caraway crackers with sharp fermented mustard seed, pickled fennel and a dab of skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt.
And there’s an unusual but delicious bit of Dutch drinking food called bitterballen. Made from beef and roux cooked together, rolled into balls and fried, they’re like croquettes that burst with a thick, meaty gravy when you bite in, with a very sharp whole-grain mustard on the side for dipping.
While some of the names may be unfamiliar, many of the dishes correspond with modern bar food cravings, albeit with different accents.
“Sometimes it feels like the whole world does the same food in different ways,” said Volponi with a laugh.
On the short dessert menu, a crisp-edged slab of lemon yogurt pound cake has a coulis of blueberries and cabernet and a melting scoop of tarragon vanilla ice cream, and there’s Berliners (or krapfen, cream-filled doughnuts) and a flourless chestnut chocolate cake.
The address for Chais Delachaise has seen a succession of restaurant concepts, none of which were marked by longevity.
The list since Hurricane Katrina alone includes Uptown Cajun, Big Apple Deli, Antonio’s, Singha Song and the Sammich. Hayes said this track record doesn’t bother him, pointing out that the Delachaise location on St. Charles Avenue also had also seen high turnover.
“People told me I that it’s jinxed, but I say there’s no such thing,” Hayes said. “That’s what people told me about the Delachaise, but you just need the right fit.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.