by Ian McNulty
Summer is typically a bit slower for New Orleans restaurants, many of which respond with any number of creative specials to entice local diners. Some of these specials have become annual traditions, and a few of them revolve around culinary tours of different regions and countries.
One such program is underway at RioMar, where chef Miles Prescott has taken the helm in the kitchen (Adolfo Garcia, RioMar’s original chef and co-founder, recently sold his share in the restaurant to focus on his other projects, as Brett Anderson at the Times Picayune reported earlier). These dinners explore mostly Spanish regions, and Prescott says the focus is on the contemporary style of restaurant cooking in these areas rather than strictly traditional dishes.
A Rioja menu is featured each night this week, through July 28, and the Basque region gets the spotlight Aug. 5-11. For the week of Aug. 13-18, the menu will be based around sherry and the region south of Madrid, while Aug. 20-25 Prescott goes transoceanic with a Peruvian themed menu, bringing in the prevalent Japanese influence in that country’s contemporary cuisine. These are five-course dinners that vary somewhat in price, but generally are around $40 for the meal and increase to around $70 for wine and cocktail pairings (this week’s Rioja dinner is $45 and $73 respectively).
Around the corner in the Warehouse District, Garcia's newer restaurant a Mano normally focuses on the cooking of southern Italy, but for its own summer series the restaurant picks a more specific region and goes to town on its particular specialties for one night per week. Sicily is up tonight, July 25, then it’s on to Campania on Aug. 1 and the series concludes on Aug. 8 with Sardinia. These are four-course meals, served “family style”. The cost is $35. Reservations “are essential,” according to the restaurant.
Vega Tapas Café takes in a broader swath with its annual "Tour of the Mediterranean,” featuring a different country bordering the wine-dark sea each day for a week. This week, the tour continues with Egypt (through July 28). Then there's Turkey (July 30-Aug. 4), Greece (Aug. 6-11), Italy (Aug. 13-18), France (Aug. 20-25) and finally Spain (Aug. 27-Sept. 1).
Each menu consists of five to nine small plates chosen to reflect the classic flavors of each country. Each menu costs $27, with optional wine pairings for $15 more. Customers who partake receive a “passport” to collect a stamp for each themed meal they attend. After the promotion wraps, people with at least three stamps get a free bottle of wine on a follow-up visit to Vega Tapas Café in September.
Meanwhile Bayona hosts its own internationally-themed summer dinners less frequently but stretches them through September. These “Wine Dinner Wednesdays” feature four courses with wine pairings for $88. The next edition, scheduled for Aug. 29, features China’s Szechuan province, while Sept. 12 is on Turkey and Argentina is on deck for Sept. 26.
Note that Bayona will be closed for a summer break from July 30-Ag. 5, reopening for dinner on Aug. 6.