Ian McNulty: A meal-sized staycation, a needed escape at an Uptown Spanish restaurant | Where NOLA Eats

The redfish was cooked skin on, but by the time it reached us that skin was a marvelously caramelized cap of salt-flecked crispiness over the tender fish within.

This was the signature of the plancha, the ultra-hot flattop griddle in the kitchen at Costera, and at that moment it felt like the only thing hot enough to cut through a thick New Orleans summer night.

This particular night was especially heavy. A few hours earlier we’d learned that Jazz Fest was canceled, an exclamation point on the painfully obvious fact that we will be slogging through the pandemic for quite some time.






Mint and grapefruit swirl in the Spanish-style gin and tonic cocktail at Costera in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


But my wife and I had a date night penciled in, and that proved to be what we needed, desperately.

We went to Costera, the Uptown Spanish restaurant, because it always reminds us of happier times, when we traveled to Spain. We sat at the bar, because that’s usually what we did on our travels.

We had a meal that proved to be a miniature staycation for our duration at Costera. It brought a progression of beautifully done dishes, and also a fresh endorsement of how much we get from a dining scene that is both a magnet for talent and an incubator for distinctive independent restaurants.






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Gambas al ajillo is served with grilled bread to dredge through the garlicky sauce at Costera, a contemporary Spanish restaurant in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Chef Brian Burns and Reno De Ranieri opened Costera in a busy block of Prytania Street in 2019 after spending years in Donald Link’s restaurant group.

Share a paella around the table, get a salad of beets with radish and blue cheese, pluck on a plate of olives or jamon while looking over the deep wine list and you get a taste of what they’re doing here.






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A salad of beets and radish with blue cheese and walnuts at Costera, a contemporary Spanish restaurant in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


But then there’s always the plancha.

In Spain, plancha refers to the griddle itself, and also to a way of cooking. Anything “a la plancha” is assured of bringing a high, tight browned edge to the dish.






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Scallops a la plancha with fideo noodles at the Spanish restaurant Costera in New Orleans. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Costera shows this with scallops, with a crispy-golden crown around the dense marine sweetness of it all, paired with toasty, saffron-streaked fideo noodles.

The redfish that night, however, was next level.

The skin was essentially rendered into a crusty, buttery, softly smoky layer over the juicy white fish. The splash of grape tomatoes and a tumble of homey lima beans finished a dish that was 100% itself — beautifully cooked redfish.

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Redfish cooked a la plancha for a crisp edge is served at Costera, a contemporary Spanish restaurant in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


We started the meal with crisp Iberian whites and a Spanish “gintonic,” in a globe-sized wine glass swirling with mint and grapefruit, as aromatic an eye-opener as you can imagine.

We had snapper crudo dressed with olive oil and pistachios and the tiniest dice of red onion. Gambas al ajillo were heaped with garlic and streaked with the saline flavor of sherry. We had some more wine.






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Red snapper crudo is a light start to a meal Redfish cooked a la plancha for a crisp edge is served at Costera, a contemporary Spanish restaurant in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


The early Sunday evening dining room was affable and mellow, and provided yet another unscripted demonstration of the good feelings that good places like this cultivate.

One couple nearby was celebrating their engagement, showing off the ring to the bartender as if to an old family friend. Another regular insisted on sharing a glass of his favorite wine with a stranger, because anyone who enjoys Costera would surely appreciate the granacha he was sipping.






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Tuna is piled with olives and draped in olive oil at Costera, a contemporary Spanish restaurant in New Orleans (photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Our restaurants are required to take more safety protocols now as the delta variant rages, which predictably but pointlessly makes them again a focal point for pandemic angst. That mainly registers as commentary posted through social media companies.

Meanwhile, in the real world of people striving to get through this, our restaurants are still delivering all the pleasure, rejuvenation and gratification that we seek from them.

Costera made this as clear as the sear of the plancha.

Costera

4938 Prytania St., (504) 302-2332

Dinner Wed.-Sun. (happy hour 4-6 p.m.)

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