I first learned about Iris when the chef/owner Ian Schnoebelen became a Food and Wine Best New Chef in 2007. Lady and I dropped into Iris a few nights before LSU dismantled the Buckeyes. We sat at the bar and were completely blown away by the food, drinks, and quaintness of this wonderful Riverbend eatery. As we were leaving that visit, Matt Flynn walked in; coincidence or good food?
This past weekend Legend came back to New Orleans after a 4 month hiatus and he brought with him the Ultimate Law Clerk. Also, joining us were the Bodegas. I had called weeks before to get reservations and I am glad I did. When we arrived at 9 p.m., the place was packed. It took only a few minutes to get our table ready and we were seated.
I need to mention this restaurant is tiny, minuscule even. In a converted Riverbend house with two rooms, space is at a premium; but it still feels comfortable. In fact the entire experience will make you feel like you went over to a friends house. Allow me to explain.
Cocktails, especially retro classics and new spins on old favorites, have made a strong comeback recently, although for some of us they never went away. Iris' barkeep is a delightful, only in New Orleans-esque character named Alan. His concoctions will blow you away. Lady had the honeydew melon and lemongrass daqiuri. Some egg white helped froth up this sublime toddy. I had the Parsely Julep (it was Derby Day after all). What sounds weird was actually incredibly refreshing, perfect after being in the heat at Jazz Fest all day. A bottle of Rioja and 2 vodka martinis and we all settled in.
First, a double order of the Washington State Oysters served with a classic mignonette sauce. The mignonette sauce is incredibly complex. Varying between black pepper and vinegar flavors and perfect not only oysters, but also to sop up with bread.
I was a little concerned that the food would suffer based on just how busy the place was. Luckily my fears were as baseless as an Eskimo's tan. An amuse bouche arrived. Duck Liver pate on a crostini topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. Ok, that was awesome. (Last time we went the amuse was a crabmeat stuffed Zucchini Blossom.)
Lady got the Lamb Meatball soup. A huge bowl of warm soup with 3 good size lamb meatballs arrived. The broth was sensual, the meatballs divine, and the tapenade smeared crust of bread added a delightful touch of salinity. Chef Ian loves using olives to add a sublime note of salt and remind one of simple pleasures.
An order of Gulf Shrimp, baked simply in garlic and tomato kept the bodegas occupied. Legend rocked some escargot and he refused to share so it must have been good. I got the gnocchi, good and light. But I should have gotten the Veal Cheek Ravioli, when I tried the ravioli on my first visit fireworks went off.
Two orders of Halibut for the Bodegas, they ooohed and ahhed. I should mention, they big New Yorkers who are used to eating in world class restaurants, were absolutely charmed and enchanted by Iris. Legend got the Lamb Loin. Cooked perfectly, I only tried the meat, but that could have been improved by the addition of nothing. Lady got the poussin. A young, tender chicken cooked and crisped with little more than butter, salt, and pepper. Served with simple summer vegetables, Lady was in her words stoked.
Two orders of what was essentially steak frites rounded out the table: perfectly cooked hangar steak topped with a marrow maitre'd butter and crisp house cut fries. The marrow in the butter instead of serving as a flavoring, functioned more as a textural device giving the butter, and hence the steak, a silken mouthfeel. I have stopped eating steak in fine dining restaurants recently (mostly, because whats the point, I can cook a steak), but this dish re-awakened my inner-carnivore.
Desserts: cheese plate, coconut creme brulee, and the best dessert in the city. Poached Pear filled with mascarpone, served with a caramel and sea salt ice cream. Remember when you were a kid and you came home to a snack of Potato Chips and Chips-Ahoy? Its like that only much better; the ying and the yang of snacking, salty and sweet.
Service is punctual, effectual, helpful, and very hip. Eric, our waiter, picked out an affordable, delicious Sonoma Pinot Noir for the table to compliment the variety of dishes. Laurie, the maitre' d/owner, and girlfriend of Chef Ian, keeps things moving along.
This description sums up Iris, in my view. A small gem of a restaurant; seriously good food and if you look at the Maitre'd close enough you will notice she makes no attempt to hide her ink. Iris knows what it is and is confident in its own skin. Go and feel welcome.