Quaintrelle spent the better part of five years serving as Mississippi Avenue’s fine-dining destination. In the dark, two-story dining room, guests would imbibe brightly colored, wildly garnished cocktails and local wines alongside equally colorful dishes of hyper-seasonal seafood and produce. Chef Ryley Eckersley, chef de cuisine Jamie Wilcox, bar manager Camille Cavan, and wine director Chris Cooper work as a team, pairing drinks and wine with elaborate but playful tasting menus. But the restaurant made the surprising announcement in May that it would be moving locations, closing the Mississippi space and moving into a building on Clinton Street that formerly housed Burrasca.
This weekend, Quaintrelle is ready to reopen with a blend of the familiar and new. Eckersley calls it “Quaintrelle 2.0.” While still atmospheric and somewhat dark, the restaurant has far more natural lighting, and the team has worked to express their identity in the art and decor as much as they do with their food and drinks. “This has given us an opportunity to define who we are as a restaurant,” says Eckersley. “We’re taking a space and starting at the beginning with our identity completely. It screams ‘us’ right when you walk in.”
Among the changes to the space are elements that Eckersley and Cavan designed themselves. Cavan was able to build her bar from the ground up, and its design immediately evokes her style of bartending — bold and experimental but with an eye for balance. She even brought over many of the plants from the old building to add to Burrasca’s. Along with the space, she’s overhauled her cocktail program — customers will still find inventive drinks mixed with amari and herbal liqueurs or topped with bushels of herbs and dehydrated citrus, but she says it’s now more mature, a little less “flirty” and a little more refined. Eckerlsey describes how perfect Cavan’s cocktails look served under the elaborate chandelier that now hangs from the ceiling.
Eckerlsey, too, was able to shape his space, rebuilding the kitchen with help from a team to meet his specifications. The large wooden slab used to plate dishes was brought over and extended. He calls it his easel, and anyone who has seen his food before knows why — each dish looks like a piece of art, playfully adorned with local and seasonal flowers, fruit, herbs. The menu often refers to ingredients simply as “crunchy things” or “pretty things.” Eckerlsey feels it’s more fun this way, building the experience from the moment diners look at the menu. It’s always purposeful, though, too: he uses his food as a chance for expression and to deliver a memorable — and thoughtful — experience. There’s a reason diners still flock to the somewhat pricey tasting menu. It’s whimsical, yes, but never superficial.
Alongside the tasting menus — which are offered as five, seven, or nine courses with available add-ons and drink pairings — a la carte dishes are available. With this new iteration of the restaurant, the tasting menu will be entirely separate from the a la carte dishes, and the latter will stick around a little longer on the menu than before, though they’ll still reflect the seasons and locality.
Eckerlsey has a talent for emphasizing ingredients and flavors without relying heavily on fats. He’d much rather season something with fish sauce, garlic, and chili than by adding butter, salt, and oil. It’s also not a meat-dependent restaurant — there’s plenty of seafood and produce. The beef tartare does carry over from the old space, though, a seasonally changing dish that Eckersley says is very non-traditional, currently including bread-and-butter pickled squash, sesame egg yolk, and smokey British cheddar.
These dishes can be enjoyed in the artful dining room or out on the back patio; the spacious outdoor area can comfortably fit around 40 diners, and the team is currently building a covered pergola for the rainy season.
Quaintrelle opens officially on Sunday, August 29 at 2032 SE Clinton Street. Reservations begin on September 1. Diners will be required to provide proof of vaccination and wear a mask unless seated.