One of the things that made dining casually at chef Emeril Lagasse's NOLA (534 St. Louis St., 504-522-6652; www.emerilsrestaurants.com/nola-restaurant) difficult was the size of the bar: It was tiny.
That's no longer the case now that the celebrity chef's French Quarter restaurant has reopened following a massive, two-month renovation to the three-story space in anticipation of the restaurant's 25th anniversary this month.
The restaurant reopened Sept. 22, and the ground-floor area has been transformed into a more casual bar area, with a long bar, ample banquette and high-top seating and a chef's table overlooking the open kitchen.
The new look also is brighter and bolder than before, featuring exposed brick walls and neon accents.
Philip Buccieri, who began working with Lagasse's restaurant group in 2011 and most recently was the sous chef at NOLA, is now the chef de cuisine. When Lagasse's most recent New Orleans restaurant, Meril, debuted, the casual, shared-plates format proved a quick hit, and the revamped menu at NOLA feels like it might have taken a few hints.
The selection of small plates includes charred Gulf tuna escabeche with skillet-cooked vegetables and olivade, oyster and brie pot pie with roasted marrow and parsley salad, and a crunchy mirliton salad with cashew-bacon praline and nuoc cham. Old standbys like Saint Paul's Gumbo and Miss Hay's stuffed chicken wings remain on the menu.
A long list of appetizers in the "social" section of the menu includes alligator sausage bao with house-made hoisin and kimchi, "hot" frog legs with bread-and-butter pickles and garlic yogurt, and oyster boudin toast with mirliton chowchow and Crystal butter.
NOLA is open daily for lunch and dinner.