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NOLA On The Square jazzes up Downtown

| Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Background

When Yves Carreau walked through the former 1902 Landmark Tavern at Market Square, he fell in love. In the building's bones, he saw a great framework for his next restaurant -- tall windows to lend an airy feel, a long stretch of antique wooden bar and a formal dining room beyond that.

"Our concept is that of a New Orleans jazz brasserie. ... The jazz music had to be an integral part of the concept. When you walk the streets of New Orleans, you can't help but getting drawn to the many beats coming from every street corner," he says.

Carreau, the owner and executive chef of NOLA On The Square, has an extensive culinary history, having studied in 1978 at the Thonon Les Bains Culinary Institute in France and fulfilling an apprenticeship in the French West Indies. After working at Los Angeles' La Serre restaurant, he moved to Pittsburgh and has been pleasing diners ever since with his other area restaurants, Sonoma Grille and Seviche.

With NOLA On The Square, Carreau hopes to make people forget the old idea of Market Square as a "vagrant hangout."

NOLA opened last week, and Carreau says the early response has been "tremendous."

During a March 25 outing, John Gresh's Gris-Gris band had numerous fedoras in the crowd bopping to their smoky blend of rhythm and blues. The notes and the distinct smell of Southern cooking peppered the cold air, beckoning with hospitality before we ever passed through the doors.

"We have over 10 bands lined up to play in the next few weeks. Honestly, it was not difficult finding them. They found us quickly. Pittsburgh is rich in jazz and blues talent and we are looking forward to becoming the place for jazz in Pittsburgh," Carreau says.

On nights where there is live music, patrons are asked to consider paying a voluntary $5 cover charge. All proceeds will benefit either the National Wildlife Federation or Make It Right, which is helping New Orleans rebuild the Lower 9th Ward.

Atmosphere

The interior of the restaurant is like a grand dame tricked out with a few new accessories. The sleek, burnished bar is offset by fleur de lis etched mirrors, reflecting jewel tones of burgundy, gold and an embossed copper ceiling. Elaborate Mardi Gras masks look down from glass shelves.

Tiny, colored glass tiles twine around tapping feet and along an exposed-brick wall.

My husband and I sidled up to the bar when we found out we'd have to wait a while for tables. We'd recommend reservations for those who want the subdued elegance of the dining room, but we enjoyed the close proximity to the band the bar offered.

Vibrant portraits of musicians by artist August Vernon are visible in flashes, as groups of people dancing and mingling pass in front of them.

Menu

Carreau works with chef Andrew Hebson, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute who has worked at Bruschetta's, to provide a lot of options for people to create their own culinary experience.

While sipping a Toulouse Martini ($9), laced with ginger snap, pineapple juice and prickly pear granita, we sampled a plate of battered Catfish Goujonettes ($9), offset by a peppery butter lettuce and parsley salad and a golden, spicy papaya ravigote sauce.

Bartenders in shirts, ties and vests darted in front of us, stopping to make suggestions. Ours recommended my husband try the Abita Seasonal draft ($3.50), at 8 percent alcohol, that was sweet -- almost honeylike, and was a good compliment to our dusky-red bowl of crawfish and sherry soup ($6). The tartness of creme fraiche was offset by the sweetest of crawfish chunks and neat cubes of potato.

For dinner, I wanted Carreau's take on seafood jambalaya ($25), while my husband selected the wood roasted quail ($25).

The jambalaya had a more paella feel, with mussels, large, wild caught shrimp, scallops and long slices of andouille sausage placed in neat clusters on a feisty blend of carnaroli rice and spices. The flavors ebbed and swelled in our mouths, almost in time with the band's beats. The quail was tucked tightly over a bed of rice and tiny asparagus spears, bursting with oyster dressing and drizzled with a chunky cranberry pinot noir reduction. The dark meat was cooked to bring out its naturally woodsy oils.

Be sure to grab a dessert before you head out. Our chocolate/hazel torte's ($7) bittersweetness blended perfectly with a bitter wild cherry sauce.

Additional Information:

NOLA On The Square

Cuisine: Nouveau Creole

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Entree price range: $17-$32

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Extensive list of wine, beer and specialty cocktails. Live jazz or blues every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Available for private parties in either dining room or private speakeasy. Catering available later this year.

Address: 24 Market Square, Downtown

Details: 412-471-9100 or website

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