Doris Metropolitan, part of the new breed of high-end restaurants currently replacing the old tourist traps that once clutched Jackson Square in a vise grip of mediocre red beans and rice dishes, brings a peculiar European showmanship to the traditional steakhouse. The dry-aging room is arranged like a rare artifacts exhibit, with ruby red cuts of beef held aloft on silver pedestals as if they were crowns for a carnivorous king, and the wine bottles are displayed in the main dining room on a clean, spotlit wall. Dispensing with the cloistered atmosphere of the traditional steakhouse in order to achieve a cooler, more cosmopolitan vibe is just part of how Itai Ben Eli says he and his partner Doris Rebi Chia like to do things their own way. The other part, of course, involves sourcing some really excellent beef.
So, at one month in, how's business going?
We opened about six weeks ago, and actually the city's been very welcoming.
You've opened restaurants other places, but did New Orleans offer any unique challenges for you?
Absolutely. I think as far as customersthe New Orleans crowd is the foodiest I've ever run into. People have high standards, but that's why we chose New Orleans, because its people do have a very studied approach to food.
Americans have a very particular idea of what the traditional steakhouse looks like. Do people here seem to be appreciating the cosmopolitan nature of Doris?
I think so. We are not a traditional steakhouse; we do things our way, the way we would like to have a steakhouse. In general, we like to combine a little bit of every world. Of course, meat is our main issue, but we believe the rest of the menu should be of the same quality. We like to have dry-aged beef, but on the other hand, we like to have Mediterranean and New World cuisine. I think people really appreciate it.
Where did you come up with the idea for those dramatic silver pedestals in the dry-aging room?
First of all, I think it showcases the importance of the meat in the restaurant. At the entrance, you see our dry-aging room. We just didn't want to present it in the usual or traditional way. Doris, my business partner, was in charge of that design. He really wanted to model it on jewelry showcases. We didn't want it to seem industrial; we wanted it to be more artistic.
How did you settle on your location? The area around Jackson Square used to be tourist-trap central, but now it seems like it's becoming a destination for diners.
Honestly, this is the first place we've opened that's been in a prime location. All of our past restaurants have been off the main drag. We are always a destination restaurant, rather than a walk-in. But when we found this property, we really loved it it suits all of our needs and the vision of how we're going to make and design the restaurant. And, besides that, the French Quarter is amazing. When we choose this location, we did not know about the other restaurants. We just loved the location.
What's the crowd been like in these first weeks? Locals? Out-of-towners?
I think that most of our crowd by now consists of locals. Obviously, being where we are, we get a lot of tourists, too, but I would say the big majority is local people, especially French Quarter people.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've come up against so far?
Every beginning of every restaurant has some challenges, but I don't think there's anything particular to New Orleans that we've had to work around. I think a lot of the difficulty comes from dealing with a new business, especially honing service.
Where do you hope to be this time next year?
Obviously here [laughs]. We're very happy to see how the local people have received us. It's great to hear great reviews and excellent feedback. At the end of the day, we made this place for local people, and it's encouraging when they take to it.