Donald Link's latest restaurant Chemin a la Mer debuts at Four Seasons

Chef Donald Link had a kitchen apron on, a menu in his hand and a list of dishes he was field-testing for his new restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel.

But as he showed a few visitors around the dining rooms and oyster bar, all he and everyone else around him wanted to do for a good stretch was check out the view of the Mississippi River just outside.

“It’s that ancient river out there next to the style and glamour of this hotel,” Link said as an oceangoing freighter pivoted around Algiers Point across, as if on cue.

After all, this is the vista that inspired his new project.

The restaurant is called Chemin à la Mer, French for path to the sea, and it serves a menu mixing influences of vintage Creole, modern French and a dash of the islands. The raw bar plays a big role, as do steaks.

Since the Four Seasons opened in late summer, it has been introducing its various features one at a time. Chemin à la Mer is slated to officially open Friday, Nov. 26, after serving a special Thanksgiving service for hotel guests.

The hotel has transformed the historic World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street into a high-rise complex of luxury lodging, private condominiums and hospitality spaces. It represents a rebirth for a landmark in downtown New Orleans and is crucial for the hopes of reviving the riverfront here.

The hotel’s glittering lobby bar, the Chandelier Bar, and the lux and decadent New Orleans-style restaurant Miss River from chef Alon Shaya opened in late summer.

Some parts of the hotel’s public spaces still show traces of the World Trade Center’s familiar midcentury design.

Chemin à la Mer, however, is different. It occupies a newly built addition that branches off from the original structure and angles toward the path of the river. This vantage is key for the view. Looking through the windows or over the rail of the open-air deck feels like gazing over the helm of a ship.

The restaurant has a number of distinct spaces, which share a subtle maritime motif of decklike floors and beams.

Up front, there’s a bar for drop-in meals and drinks. The same bar top curves around a corner and changes into the raw bar, a centerpiece of the dining room, lined with tall chairs and a platform for iced displays of fresh oysters, shrimp and crabs.

The main dining room, and a private dining room, are fronted by a wall of glass. Beyond that, there’s the deck set with umbrella-topped tables. With its unfettered view of the river, this adds a special perch to the growing ranks of outdoor dining in New Orleans.

Chemin à la Mer fields a separate menu for the hotel’s adjacent pool and cabana terrace. The pool is open only to hotel guests and residents, though it has four cabanas that are open to anyone by reservation.

“We really want to bring this space to life,” said hotel manager Mali Carow. “Having Donald here makes it a culinary destination, too.”

Link has been developing the restaurant menu with executive chef David Rouse, who was most recently chef de cuisine at his first restaurant Herbsaint.

He wants to keep it straightforward, with an emphasis on the best ingredients, like the Ora King salmon for one pan-roasted preparation and an A5 Kobe strip steak, a cut prized for its lavish marbling.

The raw bar has a variety of oysters, steamed shrimp, West Indies crab salad and snapper ceviche. The appetizer list brings a lot of bistro flavor — pâté grand-mère, foie gras, beef tartare — along with crab au gratin and seafood gumbo.

Look for main courses like duck confit with curry vinaigrette and côte de boeuf (a French-style bone-in rib-eye) for two.

Like at his other restaurants, Link said his intent is to create an upscale experience that remains approachable and a little loose.

“It’s always about riding the line,” he said.

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