Sit down at MiLa, the glossy new restaurant in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, and two miniature cast iron skillets arrive with the bread basket. One has the expected dab of butter glistening with grains of salt. The other holds a lima bean purée. The silky purée is earthy with an edge of sourness. It’s comforting and precisely balanced, like a family member’s secret recipe the one time they cooked it just right.
The small opening gesture sets the tone at MiLa. Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing are two of the most technical adept chefs in New Orleans, but they don’t try to dazzle. Instead, the husband and wife team devote their skill to drawing out the essence of flavors familiar to Southerners. Technique serves the end of taste.
Vines-Rushing won a James Beard rising star award in 2004 while at Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar in New York. Around the time of Katrina, the couple opened Longbranch on the Northshore, but closed it last summer. Now, in the space that once held Rene Bistrot, they’re bringing Southern and Louisiana food into the 21st Century without turning their backs on tradition. With their signature Oysters Rockefeller “Deconstructed” (ignore the trendy, pretentious name), the couple boldly suggests that this New Orleans classic could be better. They ditch the thick cap of sauce that too often overpowers the oyster. In this version, the delicious Gulf oysters aren’t treated like an unwelcome uncle at Sunday supper. Spinach, bits of bacon and wisps of licorice root surround the plump, poached oyster. A redfish advertised as “filo-crusted” arrives with a single shingle of crust across the top that provides crunch without obscuring the fish’s flavor. The pot of pig cheeks and langostines with turnips and collard greens gets a final dash of hot pepper vinegar at the table that makes the whole dish snap to attention.
MiLa never flags, not even in the final moment when a whimsical update on the root beer float or an almost floral rice pudding ends the meal as capably as it started.
817 Common St.
Sun-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10 p.m., Sat 5:30-10 p.m.