It could be the start of a joke: “A jazz singer, bartender and a chef take over an abandoned building in the Marigny…” Such was the scenario when Sophie Lee, Christopher Starnes and Dan Esses partnered up last spring to start building a hybrid restaurant, bar and jazz club. In fact, perhaps the best recognition of the Three Muses experience is every patron’s internal debate of which aspect shines best.
As you walk into Three Muses, tucked in the corner on your left is a small stage which hosts a variety of musicians and vocalists. There will almost always be music playing, but nothing loud or obtrusive unless the mood calls for it. Past the stage is a bar, stocked with only what is necessary to serve cold beer, interesting wines, and creative—yet simple—cocktails. In between and all around are tables, some high, some low. There is no waiting list and no reservation system. Find a table, look over a menu, and order your drinks and food at the bar.
Bar snacks are presented with a gourmet twist, beginning with the complimentary bowl of curry-spiced popcorn. Sliders have a Mediterranean flair and are filled with either falafel or miniature lamb burgers topped with tomato chutney. The daily preparation of bruschetta is built on soft, thick cut, grilled bread which is the perfect foundation for vegetarian delights like smooth butternut squash or roasted eggplant. For those craving meat in the Lenten doldrums, try the meatball flatbread or rabbit satay.
While the menu reaches beyond Chef Esses’ handmade pastas and sauces, these are still not to be overlooked. Soft pillows of basil gnocchi and dabs of housemade ricotta are sauced with a tomato-caper olive ragout that tastes of springtime in Provence. Stuffed pastas abound in combinations like crab cannelloni and mushroom ravioli, available in both small and large portions. Other fork-and- knife fare include head-on jumbo Gulf Shrimp in a puddle of mellow romesco sauce, and an arugula salad starring roasted baby beets and crunchy balls of hazelnut-crusted goat cheese.
The finale is punctuated by a banana mascarpone strudel in a buttery rum sauce and a scoop of slowly-melting Mexican chocolate ice cream. And after you finish your meal, you might find yourself staying to listen for the encore from the stage.
536 Frenchmen St. 298-8746. Kitchen open 5-10 Sun, Mon, Wed; 5-12 Thur-Sat. Closed Tues.