In New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, it’s natural to be artsy, edgy, and a little bit different. Within its blocks of historic shot-gun houses stand several newly renovated industrial buildings that embrace and reflect the area’s vibe: the Rice Mill Lofts complex has been thoughtfully developed by partners Sean Cummings and TJ Iarocci, and in one of its most prominent corners is Mariza, opened in late January, 2013, right in step with its highly individual and creative neighborhood. Here, chef Ian Schnoebelen of the critically acclaimed Iris restaurant in the French Quarter is shaking up his own winning formula with a menu that showcases honest, unfussy Italian cuisine.
Schnoebelen and his wife and partner, Laurie Casebonne, found inspiration for their second venue in the seafood of Venice. “How natural to draw from the Italian seascape for inspiration, and blend it with our own beloved coastal city,” Ian says. “New Orleans’ first grocery stores were run by Italian immigrants, and their influence already runs deep here.” Mariza, which means "of the sea," makes the most of Louisiana’s local products, enhanced 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, as is the Salume – meats painstakingly cured in-house – such as Prosciutto, Lamb Viola, Coppa, and Salami. Schnoebelen hand spins eggs and flour into pasta for his Squid Ink Linguine with crab, shrimp, and mussels and Duck Ragout with green papardelle and goat milk ricotta. He has perfected the art of Neapolitan pizza with fresh, flavorful Italian ingredients; specialties like Whole Roasted Fish, Braised Lamb's Belly, and Hanger Steak vie for your appetito.
With a wallet-conscious menu emphasizing Italian gastro-fare comes a drinks selection aimed at the local community. A wine list of forty predominantly boutique Italian White and Red blends ranges from $25-$60. Wines by the glass and apéritifs are standout signatures at Mariza, and Dessert Wines and Sippers are thoughtful finishes to the well-executed meal.
Schnoebelen and Casebonne were struck by the raw, rustic building materials they encountered in Italy – which reminded them of the old-school, industrial space they had been offered in the Rice Mill Lofts. They left it mostly unchanged: a wide open, yet intimate space – an artful urban haven perfect for drinks, nibbles, or complete, lingering dining. The creative couple has lived in Bywater for years, and delights in bringing this establishment to the neighborhood they love: Va bene!
Dinner is served five days a week at Mariza, Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m. The average check sits in the $30-$40 range, with most dishes priced at about $10-$12.