3835 Iberville St., New Orleans, 504-603-2775
If your dining memory of New Orleans extends past Hurricane Katrina, you may remember Christian's Restaurant. It was a Creole restaurant in an old Mid-City church. Now the same unique space is back as Vessel.
From the outside, this church looks much the same, though with a new paint job. Inside Vessel immediately shows itself to be a different restaurant in its predecessor. The bar is a major focal point of the room, stretching nearly the length of one wall. Long communal tables, a lounge area with sofas, and a run of bistro style tables add more options for seating. The open rafters and the glow of the stain glass windows remain as striking as ever, though now there is a more modern pulse to the style here. Look for a outdoor patio to open soon.
Vessel's menu is Mediterranean, though Chef Nick Vella interprets this in original and mostly gratifying ways.
The menu is frontloaded with many more snacks, small plates and shared dishes. Top picks are:
- smoked fish dip with grilled lavash bread
- wild boar pate with pickled mushrooms
- red snapper crudo
- caramelle pasta (think candy wrapper shapes) stuffed with house-made ricotta
- seared octopus with black-eyed peas and bonito
- grilled lavash flatbread with ground lamb and crushed tomato
- a mixed platter of house-made and imported cheese (the house-made feta is especially excellent)
It is easy to make a meal of these, but there are entrées that deserve your attention. In particular:
- olive oil braised chicken, finished with a rich chicken dashi broth
- seafood brodo, a lighter, more delicate-tasting take on bouillabaisse
- whole smoked fish with charred eggplant and black sesame puree
For ideal dining here, get a few of the smaller courses and split an entrée.
Desserts are too often an afterthought at casual modern restaurants. Not here. The short list of sweets is artfully done. Try:
- Valrhona chocolate cake, with roasted white chocolate pudding, cherry sorbet, smoked cocoa nib tuiles
- buttermilk pie with pickled blueberries, sweet corn gelato, barley crumble
The name Vessel has a few different meanings here, and one of them relates to glassware. The bar makes a big deal of the proper types of vessels for cocktails, wine and beer. What they put in them is what counts. The cocktails are original and well composed. The wine list is diverse and shows great value in lesser-known wines. And beer lovers will have plenty to choose from with large-format bomber bottles, among other styles (no draft though).
As is often the case with non-traditional menu formats, you can rack up a high bill here if you keep the shared plates coming. But overall Vessel’s menu is reasonable for the quality. First courses range from $5 to $16, with most in the middle. Entrees start in the high $20 range. A couple should be able to have a full dinner with drinks here for $120.
Vessel is an eatery and bar with a modern feel and unique flavors. The format is tailor-made for groups dining together and for social outings, less so for a formal, structured meal. Still there are enough options on the menu and across the dining room for a date night dinner too. The bar is inviting and a great place to simply try things out.