On the Level
New restaurant owner Andrew Martinez was fortunate to find a space precisely at sea level in which to unveil his "modern Creole" cuisine, and so he named it after the prime terrain. Sea Level Restaurant (133 N. Carrollton Ave., 482-5565) should open later this month in the 45-seater space once known as Bennachin (now at 1212 Royal St., 522-1230), permits and other formalities pending. Martinez worked with Kevin Vizard at both of his now-shuttered restaurants, Vizard's and Vizard's in the Garden District, and also at Indigo (2285 Bayou Road, 947-0123).
Dream team Rene Bajeux of Rene Bistrot (817 Common St., 412-2580) and Bingo Starr, formerly the chef at Cuvee (322 Magazine St., 587-9001), are set to open their joint project, La Cote (700 Tchoupitoulas St.), on Aug. 8. When describing the new digs, Bajeux was especially enthusiastic about the central open kitchen, the "snake-like" 35-seat oyster bar, the Chef's Table, and Joy Jessup, the pastry chef whose sweets he admired when they worked together at The Grill Room (300 Gravier St., 522-1992). (The Grill Room recently acquired pastry chef Keegan Gerhard, a veteran of Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel, among other big-name venues.) La Cote's menu, according to the French-born Bajeux, will incorporate both French and New Orleanian sensibilities, maximizing on Starr's "good connections" in the seafood business. I inadvertently learned during Tropical Storm Bill that Rene Bistrot is the place to be when Mondays and hurricanes cause other restaurants to lock their doors. Eager to try Rene's table d'hote (a three-course meal offered Monday through Friday for $15 at lunch and $25 at dinner) in what I suspected would be an empty restaurant, I was turned back into the rain when not a seat was free in either dining room or bar. When given longer lead time on the seasonal storms, Bajeux says he ditches his regular menu and creates an affordable buffet from all of the kitchen's perishables, a tradition he started while chef at The Grill Room. Stick that in your cap.
Storm Stories, Pt. 2
The closest living restaurant that evening, Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave., 524-4114), came through with a Sazerac and a few dishes worth braving the floods. Rabbit croquettes, crisp outside and dreamy inside, flanked bitter greens dressed in a perfect grainy mustard vinaigrette. And a revelatory entree on the current menu features pork belly, its fat rendered to a crackling finish, paired with Thai red curry and the cooling accompaniments of cucumber and mint.