New Orleanians are super-survivors when it concerns man-made disasters, and it was no different for Emery Whalen and Chef Brian Landry. They ran Our House Hospitality, an arm of the Besh Restaurant Group that managed the Caribbean Room. But Whalen and Landry ultimately broke off to form the QED Hospitality Group when Besh’s company regrouped after sexual harassment allegations.
QED has transformed the toney, rather staid Caribbean Room into Jack Rose, a more contemporary take on a classic New Orleans restaurant, in part inspired by the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo. Although it still remains upscale and posh, Jack Rose has a more relaxed dress code that does not require jackets—as did the old Caribbean Room. Trumpeter Wendell Brunious once recalled that the best advice he’d ever been given was “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” By that measure, Jack Rose certainly makes a dramatic, almost over-the-top impression as one arrives via the plush hallway of the stately Pontchartrain Hotel into the luxurious Living Room that’s adorned by a wall of floral still life paintings juxtaposed with Ashley Longshore’s striking portrait of rap superstar Lil Wayne.
Their abbreviated appetizer menu from The Bayou Bar includes delights such as smoked pompano terrine, country paté, and ’nduja bruschetta if you’re fancy; cracklins, cocktail meatballs, pimento cheese, and fries with aioli, if that’s how you roll.
Take a quick glance around the room and you might find a bachelorette entourage partaking in a champagne bong toast. This convivial spirit continues into the four splashy dining rooms where Midnight In Paris meets Alice In Wonderland in unique, theatrical settings envisioned by designer Andrew Alford and abstract artist Gavin Jones in a vibrant garden of delights spiked with floral motifs in a saturated psychedelic tropicalia that somehow complements the original Charles Reinike mural.
The kitchen at Jack Rose is presided over by Chef David Whitmore, a former compatriot of Landry’s at Besh’s Borgne. Here, tried and true classics are given inspired modern flourishes as in the case of Pompano en Papillote (a signature dish of the old Caribbean Room back in the day), now scented with saffron and garnished with sunchokes and bok choy. Similarly, the blue crab bisque is given a Caribbean kiss of coconut and a sprinkling of charred corn. A nod to Uglesich’s, Royal Red Shrimp Muddy Waters is served on a bed of squid ink campanelle pasta. Our party was delighted by the opulent presentation and delicious flavors of the octopus carpaccio garnished with fava bean hummus and oregano vinaigrette. The roasted cauliflower steak was also a big hit.
The Italian classic fennel and orange salad gets a local makeover featuring Plaquemines Parish satsumas. Likewise, the Roman classic veal saltimbocca gets a substantial upgrade here as a bone-in chop flavored with sage and prosciutto. Jack Rose also offers an impressive take on Chicken Parmesan, as well as a heavenly dish of chanterelle mushrooms tossed with homemade pasta, capers and lots of butter. A perfectly rendered roast duck was complimented by black kale, Bellegarde grits, and a luscious hunter’s sauce. Another highlight was the whole fish presentation garnished with fresh asparagus. Many of these dishes are also available at brunch. Some of the highlights from the brunch menu include quail and waffles garnished with figs, shrimp and grits, and duck confit hash served with poached eggs.
The half-dozen dessert menu offerings include knockouts banana cream pie, blueberry bread pudding with Dulcey ice cream and blueberry stew, a killer red velvet sundae, and the signature Caribbean Room invention Mile High Pie that was simply a slice of heaven. My guests were not familiar with this classic and when it arrived they nearly fainted!
The libations at Jack Rose emanate from a well-stocked bar and a fine selection of classic and exotic spirits as found in the namesake drink the Jack Rose—whiskey, Calvados, pomegranate, rose, citrus and egg white—a real show stopper. Their variation of the Sidecar was sublime, and a spiced sugar rim made it perfect.
Our server, MC (Michael Emmons), who worked also with Chef Landry at Galatoire’s, pampered us with old-school charm, warmth and deeply felt enthusiasm for all the great things New Orleans has worth celebrating.
Jack Rose, 2031 St. Charles Ave. (in the Pontchartrain Hotel), New Orleans, LA 70130. (504) 323-1500; Wednesday through Sunday dinner, Friday lunch and Sunday brunch.