An ambitious new restaurant in the Warehouse District blends the flavors of Spain, Vietnam, Germany, New Orleans, and more on a menu of colorful shareable dishes served on antique plates. Plates — styled as plates on its website and social media — opened this week at 1051 Annunciation Street in the Warehouse District, in the sprawling former home of the Mill, Sac-a-Lait, and Sun Ray Grill.
That’s where Chalmette-born chef Farrell Harrison first became acquainted with the space: he worked at Sun Ray Grill before Hurricane Katrina and prior to his role as chef de cuisine at restaurants like Public Service, Borgne, and most recently, Josephine Estelle. Harrison teamed up with longtime friend and former Link restaurant group general manager Brian Weisnicht for the restaurant, which came together faster than the two expected. “It started as a conversation about a year ago,” says Harrison, noting the proposition became more serious in late 2022.
By early 2023, the pair had a full business plan, and Plates became a months-long pop-up at nearby bar the Rusty Nail. Catering a wedding for two local restaurant industry leaders in April locked in the investors Harrison and Weisnicht needed to secure the space.
“This building has had a food and beverage business in it from the early 1990s through the pandemic,” says Farrell (the Mill closed in early 2022). “That’s what we wanted to bring back to the Warehouse District, a true neighborhood restaurant.” Enthusiasm for community extends to the food at Plates, where Farrell is inspired by the social nature of Spanish cuisine, specifically tapas. He sees a parallel between it and the culinary traditions of New Orleans, and sought to incorporate those customs on the menu. For instance, Farrell’s favorite dish on the menu is called “After the Boil.”
“When I get invited to crawfish boils, I generally have a rule where I’m not doing the boiling. But, I always ask to make my after-boil potato salad with the leftovers,” he says. Farrell brings an extra five to 10 pounds of potatoes to throw in with the last few batches, and before he leaves, makes a cold, New Orleans-style potato salad that’s heavy on the mayo, Creole mustard, eggs, celery, and green onion. For the dish at Plates, he decided to experiment with incorporating German influences, pickling mustard seeds in-house for a bacon vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar, and boiling smaller, 21/25 shrimp from local purveyor Mr. Shrimp — “they’re a little easier to eat,” says Farrell — then mixing it all with thinly-sliced potatoes. It was an instant hit at the pop-ups and one of the first dishes planned for the restaurant menu.
Other dishes are more obviously Spanish-inspired, like the bruleed manchego, serrano-wrapped tuna, and patatas bravas, “something everybody loves,” Farrell says.
One thing he wanted to change about the patatas bravas dish, however, was the cubing of the potatoes — and the waste it left behind. “Staff can only be asked to eat mashed potatoes so many times,” Farrell says. “We decided using whole fingerlings was a great way to do it, so we salt-roast them with a light smash and then give them a flash fry. The bravas sauce is a piquillo pepper sauce stewed down with garlic, tons of Spanish onions that have been sweated down, and spicy pimento, finished with a touch of sherry vinegar.”
Another dish, the garlic shrimp, blends Spanish, Vietnamese, and French flavors. Farrell focuses particularly on making its chili oil stand out. “We fry about five to seven pounds of shallots and two quarts of garlic per batch,” he says. “We pull that out, add spicy pimento and tons of fresh ginger and lemongrass, and let it cool down. Then we fold the crispy shallots and garlic back in.” They make a traditionally French black garlic soubise as a base.
Farrell says he and Weisnicht are realistic about meeting the needs of their guests. “Not everyone is comfortable sharing dishes,” he says. Along with the tapas-style plates, a few large dishes made it on the menu, including a grilled wagyu flank with an Italian-style salsa verde topped with cipollini onions.
Then there’s the story of the plates themselves, a collection of antique plates dotted throughout the restaurant as decor. Some are family wedding china; many are from Weisnicht’s wife’s grandmother’s collection. While Farrell’s family lost a lot of their plates in Hurricane Katrina, he says, his mother’s side was also able to find a few to contribute. As word got out, more friends and family started wanting to send plates. Farrell’s brother in Portugal, for example, became an antique plate-hunter. One of their wine purveyors loved the idea, so her husband, who was in Bolivia then, started sending plates from there, too.
“What started as a very small idea to honor our families grew into honoring our industry families.” Even the plates used for serving diners at the table, Farrell says, “have all been used in other people’s homes.”
Plates is open for dinner Thursday through Tuesday from 5 to 10 p.m. with plans to add brunch later this fall. Happy hour is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.