817 Common St
New Orleans, LA 70112
Napoleon's Ratings - ****/*****
The name MiLa is forged from the combination of Mississippi and Louisiana, the home states of chef/owners Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing. Traditions from the two states merge with high style in their kitchen. Here, contemporary cuisine with rural underpinnings assumes a refreshingly original shine.
MiLa is in the Pere Marquette Hotel in the CBD, in the spot once held down by Rene Bistrot. The interior has a posh look, though it could be in a hotel or casino anywhere. Deep, cloistering booths make intimate coves, while oversized light fixtures and an illuminated bar add style points. Business lunches dominate during the day, while at night it's a mix of couples out on the town and expense account dinners.
The greeting and opening phases of service here feel overly scripted, even corporate, and it can set an off tone to the start of the meal. Once you have some one-on-one with your waiter, however, things settle down nicely. It feels like a few pros are carrying the show here while others are just learning the ropes.
Tiny, toy-scaled iron skillets arrive along with the breadbasket, one holding butter and the other a lemony white bean hummus that begs to be slathered all over the flaky rolls. The menu changes quite frequently at MiLa, but one standard, probably the marquee dish for the whole restaurant, is the oysters Rockefeller "deconstructed." This takes that classic New Orleans dish in a fundamentally different direction, one where the oysters are very lightly poached. The greens are sautéed spinach, there's grated licorice root in there, bacon chips rest on top and the whole plate is enveloped with a buttery foam. It's a memorable dish, but an even better one is the sweetbreads over grits, which has a rich, thick truffle sherry jus dribbling through the dense, creamy, beautifully textured grits. Salads are crisp, precise and simple, while soups are creatively conceived.
The roasted duck is brined with tea and cooked rotisserie style, with a thick, dark blend of spices and wine reduction coating it and a pile of kale, baby beets and date reduction below. Most of the fish choices are delicately done, like a perfectly roasted grouper encrusted with porcini mushroom "dust," though the tuna is hearty enough to stand in for a steak. Rolled in smoked pepper, cooked until just done at the edges and cut thick, this tuna is plated over black eye peas as another example of how this high-end cuisine goes on country fieldtrips. At lunch, a three-course meal could start with a smooth root vegetable soup imbued with buttered crab, move on to braised veal cheeks over spaetzle with a salty, thick red wine beef jus reduction, or maybe a pan-seared flounder over bulbous Israeli couscous, and then end with dessert, all for $20.
Some of the desserts continue the refined rustic approach, like the rice pudding or a very novel muscadine wine Jello. The more complex compositions are better though, especially the peanut butter tart capped with a brittle disk of tuile and a sculpted dollop of dark chocolate ice cream with fresh mint sprig.
The wine list is diverse, lengthy and pricey, though the by-the-glass selection is paltry. Basic cocktails are best, and they're all very expensive.
MiLa lands on the higher end of the fine dining price range. Most entrees are north of $25, and a few push on through to the 30s. The most exciting appetizers are in the teens. A couple should expect to drop $150 here at least. During weekdays, the three-course lunch for $20 is a major bargain.
The cuisine at MiLa is striking, original, memorable and expertly crafted. While the room does not have that intimate ambiance New Orleans seems to treasure in even its fine dining favorites it does provide a stylish, modern setting with a factor of hipness. It's a fine place to keep in rotation for a big night out or for a surprisingly affordable yet extraordinary lunch.