Meril, From Emeril Lagasse, Looks Beyond New Orleans for Inspiration

Even with three successful restaurants in New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse knew that there was room for a new addition to the city’s ebullient dining scene. Emeril’s New Orleans has long cultivated contemporary food in the city, while Emeril’s Delmonico offers a fresh take on Creole cuisine and NOLA Restaurant presents a taste of Acadiana, with a global tinge. Meril, which Mr. Lagasse named after his youngest daughter and opened in the Warehouse District in September 2016, is the newest star in his constellation.

Unlike the others, though, Meril looks farther afield for inspiration: The menu, an array of small plates, is influenced by his international culinary forays.

“This is not the typical New Orleans experience,” Mr. Lagasse said. “I’ve had customers who have been with me for nearly 30 years who see the menu and ask, ‘Where’s my entree?’ Others ask, ‘Is it a Creole place?’ Meril is how I think people want to eat today.”

Wilfredo Avelar, the chef de cuisine and a New Orleans native, has worked at every New Orleans restaurant owned by Mr. Lagasse. At Meril, Mr. Avelar has relished being able to drive the creative process in the kitchen. “One of the things we did was take the tamale, a delicacy popular in Central America, where my family is from, and mix it with boudin, a product that we love here,” he said. “We have a pasta section on the menu, but we’re thinking about having bowls, with shrimp and grits and jambalaya. We’re not limiting ourselves.”

During a recent visit, the atmosphere was jovial. Reclaimed wood is a prominent interior element, giving off a modernist vibe. I was promptly seated in front of the open kitchen, where I felt immersed in the inner workings of the restaurant.