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By the River, Flavors of the Sea: Mariza

In New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, it’s natural to be artsy, edgy, and a little bit different.  Within its blocks of quaint, colorful, historic shot-gun style houses stand several newly renovated buildings, thoughtfully developed by partners, TJ Iarocci and Sean Cummings, which embrace the character and vibe of the area today. Like many of the filmmakers, glass artists, painters and furniture makers so drawn to Bywater, these buildings reveal a forward-looking creative process through contemporary design. This selective and strong progression has been the primary focus of Sean Cummings’ vision. One prominent street corner of Iarocci’s and Cummings’ Rice Mill Lofts holds the newest restaurant, Mariza, in this most creative of New Orleans neighborhoods. Here, one will find chef Ian Schnoebelen shaking up his own winning formula – so skillfully executed at his critically acclaimed Iris restaurant in the French Quarter – but now courting a menu at his second venue which showcases honest, unfussy Italian cuisine.

On past trips to Italy, Schnoebelen and his wife and partner, Laurie Casebonne, were especially enchanted by the seafood of Venice. “How natural it would be to draw from the Italian landscape for inspiration and blend it with our own beloved coastal city,” says Ian. “In fact, that is how the Italian influence began here in New Orleans, as the first grocery stores were run by Italian immigrants.” Mariza, which means "of the sea," makes the most of Louisiana’s locally sourced produce, and Ian and his team scour the hinterland for edible finds, enhancing them with flavors and sensibilities of the Mediterranean.  

A raw bar with Oysters on the Half Shell and Carpaccio of Tuna and Snapper is a central feature along with a selection of Salume – meats painstakingly cured in-house, such as Prosciutto, Lamb Viola, Coppa, and Salami. Schnoebelen hand spins eggs and flour into Pasta and Gnocchi that are artfully presented in dishes such as Squid Ink Linguine with Crab, Shrimp and Mussels and Duck Ragout with Green Papardelle and Goat Milk Ricotta. Served as the Saturday staff meal at Iris, Schnoebelen has perfected the Neapolitan pizza to an art with fresh, flavorful Italian ingredients. Whole Roasted Fish, Braised Lamb's Belly, Hanger Steak, and other earthy, rich and flavorful specialties creep into your day-dreams.

With a wallet-conscious dinner menu that emphasizes Italian gastro fare, comes a custom-crafted bar selection aimed at the local community. An organized wine list with selections of 40 friendly-priced White and Red blends, predominately Italian from boutique houses, range from $25-$60. Wines by the glass and Apéritifs are standout signatures at Mariza with the debut of a classic offering – the Spritz, mixing Terriero Prosecco, Campari and Club Soda. A small batch of Dessert Wines and Sippers are thoughtful finishes to a well-executed meal.

The first sign of good things to come touches you before the menus arrive, an amalgam of thoughtful design details found in the fixtures and furnishings mixed with the cruder warehouse textures evident in masonry walls and structural columns. Schnoebelen and Casebonne were struck by the abundance of rustic building materials they encountered in Italy – which reminded them of the old-school, industrial space they had just been offered in the National Rice Mill.  With its soaring windows, exposed brickwork, massive wooden beams and cement floors, this design ensemble is at once gutsy-contemporary and charmingly industrial warehouse.  Keeping it decidedly local, Schnoebelen salvaged vintage wood from a neighboring building to fabricate Mariza’s tabletops. Otherwise, the interior was left mostly unchanged: a wide open, yet intimate loft space from which one can take in the bar, the kitchen, and the dining area at a glance as well as the active streetscape and area street art through the restaurant’s large windows; it’s an artful urban haven, perfect for wine and cocktails, tasty nibbles, or complete, lingering dining. 

Dinner is only served five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 5pm. The average check sits in the $30-$40 range, with most dishes priced at about $10-$12. 

Schnoebelen and Casebonne, who have lived in the Marigny and Bywater for years, were thrilled to bring this caliber of establishment to their own neighborhood – without altering the raw, quirky character they love about this space and Bywater itself. Says the chef, “When we developed the restaurant, we envisioned the frank, casual, neighborhood restaurant being one of the city’s most gracious, where one can grab a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and visit with friends on a Tuesday night without a reservation.  Then a walk on the riverfront of the Mississippi under the moonlight.” Va bene!

Mariza | 2900 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70117

P: 504.598.5700 | www.marizaneworleans.com