Even among diners who never visited Feelings Cafe, the Marigny restaurant's romantic courtyard and magnetic charm were not well-kept secrets. Though the Chartres Street space has changed hands several times in the past few years, its most recent revival includes significant renovations to the building and a finessed Creole-inspired menu.
Some aspects, like the lush courtyard, still evoke a nostalgic, magical New Orleans vibe, but other elements give the impression of a restaurant in flux. On one evening, my group was informed that more than a quarter of the menu was no longer available, and diners should know that while small plates and appetizers are served in the courtyard, full dinner service and brunch are served only in the main dining room — an odd choice given the courtyard's popularity. The indoor dining room feels divided, as if the decorators couldn't decide on a theme and split the space down the middle: One half highlights the romantic, crumbling old New Orleans aesthetic (exposed brick, gilded accents and mirrors) and the other side has walls plastered with raised canvas artwork reminiscent of items from an IKEA catalog.
There's a more cohesive theme where the food is concerned, and most of it is quite good. While a Creole undercurrent runs through most of chef Scott Maki's menu, many dishes evoke classic bistro fare with a New American touch. Creamy pecan-smoked trout deviled eggs are topped with ribbons of pimiento peppers and have a touch of brine and sweetness. An appetizer of roasted beets is delicate and flavorful with soft beets nestled atop a generous dollop of whipped goat cheese studded with candied pecans. "Spicy" boiled shrimp and cream cheese dip doesn't carry too much heat and is intensely rich and feels decadent served with homemade potato chips.
A number of dishes straddle excess and refinement. The excellent crab maison is lighter than air, dotted with whole grain mustard and chock-full of lump crabmeat — a delightfully fresh preparation that comes with radish slices, grapefruit supremes and wisps of shaved fennel. Classic French pommes dauphine are served with tangy creme fraiche and scallions. The golden cheesy orbs taste like a cross between beignets and the fluffiest of scrambled eggs.
Southern-leaning dishes include shrimp and smoked Gouda grits with braised collard greens that arrives doused in a deep, dark New Orleans-style barbecue sauce. The dish carries a slight sweetness and deep molasses notes — a creative and delicious rendition of the Southern classic. Fried chicken Clemenceau isn't quite as successful, served with a creamy fricassee of peas, potatoes and mushrooms. The dish needs a jolt of acid to wake up the flavors.
Vegetarian entrees are scant, but on one occasion a delicious fried eggplant special was dressed with a sweet and soft ratatouille-like cherry tomato and zucchini medley sprinkled with green onions and green peas. The dish closely mimics a vegetarian Benedict offered at brunch, in which eggplant slices are topped with poached eggs, vegetable ragout and a blanket of light bearnaise.
Though the food at the new Feelings delivers, much of what made the restaurant feel special in the past was the atmosphere. With such a promising menu, one can only hope that some of that will be restored and honored.