Go to Spain with a good appetite and you’ll come home with great stories about the food and drink, and perhaps also about the local food culture.
Between robust flavors, compelling but not necessarily complicated dishes and the way socializing and dining blend into one gregarious whole, it’s easy to be seduced by Spanish gastronomy.
You can count New Orleans chef Brian Burns and Reno De Ranieri among the converted, and their experiences inform Costera, the modern, Spanish-influenced restaurant they debut this week Uptown.
“It’s the simplicity, the straightforward, honest dishes with punchy flavors that let the ingredients speak for themselves,” Burns said of his interest in the Spanish table. “It’s a lot like the way we eat at home when we’re cooking for family and friends.”
Costera is the first restaurant from the two business partners, who worked together at Donald Link’s restaurant group.
At Costera, their aim is to create an upscale-casual neighborhood restaurant, one drawing on Spanish flavors and pitched to food-loving New Orleans locals. Costera is more about a style of eating than any particular dish.
“It’s about the way we ate in Spain,” said De Ranieri. “Get a lot of stuff in the middle of the table, roll up your sleeves and get a spoon in there to share it.”
Burns’ menu isn’t structured for the conventional three-course meal. Instead it moves from inexpensive snacks through larger dishes that can pull double duty as full-fledged entrees or shared dishes.
Paella with seafood (shrimp, clams, squid, mussels) or meat (duck, ham, chorizo) are prepared in a progression of larger pans, based on the number of people partaking.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s simple pan con tomate (toasts rubbed with tomato and garlic), olives marinated in citrus and vermouth, shishito peppers and ensalada rusa (a creamy potato salad) with boquerones and capers. In between, look for littleneck clams with chorizo and white beans, shrimp al ajillo, potato bombas stuffed with beef shank, wine-braised lamb shank, seared tuna, hanger steak and octopus stuffed calamari with squid ink fideos (thin, vermicelli-style noodles).
Burns works with a mix of Gulf seafood and other types brought in for certain dishes, including conservas, or specialty imported seafood preserved in olive oil. Soon, Costera will have plates of fine Spanish serrano ham on the menu too.
De Ranieri, who oversees the bar among his many job titles here, devotes about a third of his impressive wine list to Spanish producers, with plenty of French wines and a smattering of others. That list also works dry sherry and Spanish ciders into the selection, highlighting their potential – so readily embraced in Spain - as food pairings.
Costera’s home at the corner of Prytania and Robert streets was La Thai for a decade. Today, the layout is largely the same, with its space split between a casual dining room and a lounge area up front, now trimmed in Spanish tile, iron grilles and bare wood.
Given Costera’s Spanish menu and its long bar, with room for 18 and an adjacent communal table, the idea of tapas naturally comes to mind. Having experienced Spanish tapas culture, with its feel of a roving, door-to-door party, Costera's co-founders know they can't transplant that culture. However, they believe they can bring a taste of what gets people so fired up about casual Spanish food in the first place.
“We’re drawing a lot from tapas flavor profiles and adapting them for the way we eat here,” said Burns. “It gives us so much to work with.”
4938 Prytania St., 504-302-2332
Wed.-Mon., 11 am-til
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