Caribbean influenced, Creole inspired" is the tag Bruce and Carla Coury use to describe the sights, sounds and flavors at Mojitos Rum Bar & Grill (437 Esplanade Ave., 252-4800, www.mojitosnola.com). It's a concept the Courys, who left the Midwest and careers in publishing and academia to move to New Orleans, have worked hard to perfect. The Latin-meets-local attitude is evident in the tropical island decor, lush courtyard, full bar stocked with more than 50 kinds of rum, the menu and the chef, Luis Marin, who hails from Spain.
"We didn't want to be just another touristy place," Carla says. "It was also our intention to cater to the local crowd. So we created a concept with Caribbean, Cuban and Creole cuisine that helped differentiate us from other places in the French Quarter and in the city."
As a live music club offering everything from jazz to salsa, Mojitos also has the distinction of being located at the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and Frenchmen Street, home to some of the city's renowned music venues. Passersby heading from the Quarter to the Marigny are regularly drawn in by the inviting view of the courtyard, an oasis of palm trees, ivy and umbrella-shaded wrought-iron tables that also serves as a dance floor. "Frenchmen Street starts here, and we fit right in with the music scene," Carla says.
On Friday and Sunday nights, the Latin sounds of Fredy Omar's and Javier Olondo's bands lure dance enthusiasts. A New Year's Eve dinner and dance party will feature an early dinner seating at 6 p.m. ($40) with Eudora & Deep Soul, and a celebration dinner seating at 9 p.m. ($50) with Fredy Omar and his band, among other vocalists. Nearly a year after opening Mojitos, the Courys say their efforts to make the restaurant a consistent music and food "experience" that attracts both visitors and locals are working.
With a name like Mojitos and an owner (Bruce) who's a rum connoisseur, it's fitting that freshly made mojitos are the signature drink. The bar offers 11 flavors, including cucumber, orange and watermelon. There's also a rum dinner tour and tasting that includes a trip to Old New Orleans Rum Distillery on Frenchmen Street. The menu features small plates like Aruba scallops: seared scallops with white chocolate-chipotle sauce served with jalapeno cheese grits and seasonal vegetables. The NOLA Benedict — poached eggs, fried green tomato, alligator sausage and crawfish sauce on an English muffin — is a jazz brunch specialty.
"Our chef has been able to add quite a Latin flair to our menu," Carla says. "Everything has a little kick to it."
Chef Luis Marin, a native of Spain, brings a Latin twist to Mojitos' Creole fare. Photo by Cheryl Gerber