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In New Orleans, chefs push Creole cooking beyond gumbo

Executive chefs Rick Tramonto (left) and John Folse preparing crab beignets. Liza Weisstuch for the BOSTON GLOBE/Globe Freelance
The dining room at R’evolution.Liza Weisstuch for The Boston Globe

NEW ORLEANS — There is no shortage of dining choices on Bourbon Street. You can join the throngs of bachelor party revelers for hush puppies and fries at any number of bars. You can order the famously rich, anise-spiked oysters Rockefeller at Galatoires, where jackets are a requirement for men. Or you can dress as you please and go to R’evolution, where you can indulge in espresso-crusted, paper-thin venison carpaccio sprinkled with black walnuts and shaved dark chocolate. And, yes, it sounds unusual, but it’s wonderful.

R’evolution, which opened last summer in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, might seem like a mirage as you enter the serene, stately dark wood bar area just paces from the rowdy, gaudy party strip. But take a few sips of a ratafia-spiked cocktail and you’ll be grounded in a delightful reality. That ratafia, by the way, is brandy infused with wild fruit from the swampland. It’s made by chef John Folse, who can wax rhapsodic in his mellifluous, soft-edged Cajun drawl about the drink, which he makes in 20-gallon ceramic pots at one of his plantations in Baton Rouge. He’ll do the same about the butter, which is nothing short of silken, from the dairy farm on his other plantation 70 miles west.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Folse, who has written the authoritative “The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine,” a doorstop of a book, among others. The dishes at R’evolution are intricate and complex, but the idea is simple: Take traditional Creole cuisine, which blends the essentials of various cultures, dismantle the dishes to their basics, then reconfigure them for diners who want local fare that’s more thrilling than gumbo and po-boys.


He had help in this endeavor. Rick Tramonto, the prolific cookbook author and James Beard Award-winning chef who opened Tru in Chicago, worked with Folse when Tramonto was in New Orleans immediately after Katrina to help the city during reconstruction.


They’re an unlikely pair: Folse is the son of a Louisiana fur-trapper and learned how to cook so he wouldn’t have to follow the family tradition and work in the swamps. Tramonto is an unapologetic urbanite with an Italian heritage. The seemingly disparate ingredients the two paired in some of the dishes fuse effortlessly, in accordance with the original premise of Creole cuisine.

The jewel box of confections. Liza Weisstuch for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Folse is often found moseying through the restaurant checking up on guests. When he passes our table, we are treated to a crash course in Creole culture. Creole derives from an old Spanish word meaning “mixture of color,” which came to refer to people born to foreigners in the New World. The foundation of Creole cooking, then, is liberally intermingling food traditions — the gardens of Germans, Spanish spices, crab and corn, staples of the Native American plate, with French preparations.

When global customs merge in R’evolution’s kitchen, they yield results like the truffle-topped corn and crab bisque, which Folse says signifies the Native Americans’ gift to Louisiana. The fragrant crabmeat-stuffed Louisiana frog legs Nicoise is a nod to the amphibians Native Americans pulled out of swamps for their meat.

Salumi platters are a tribute to the Italian kitchen. And the quartet of what’s quickly become the restaurant’s signature — beer-battered crab beignets presented with four aromatic remoulade sauces (including saffron) and filled with velvety cream cheese from Folse’s dairy — is a refined riff on one of New Orleans’s own classic powdered sugar-covered treats.


The Creole word “lagniappe,” which means a “little something extra,” is a term that Folse often uses to describe his culinary sensibility. That comes into play here when the chef sends out a variety of confections in a hand-painted lacquered jewel box. The tiny drawers contain everything from truffles to a bacon praline to a handmade mint marshmallow.

Once you’ve worked your way through this tiny treasure chest, you exit thinking about unexpected tastes coming together in formidable ways.

R’evolution  Royal Sonesta
Hotel, 777 Bienville St.,
New Orleans. 504-553-2277, www.revolutionnola.com

Liza Weisstuch can be reached at liza.weisstuch@gmail.com.