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When Grand Isle Restaurant first opened its doors on the Fulton Street pedestrian promenade in downtown New Orleans in 2007, locals and visitors flocked to the restaurant for fresh Louisiana seafood served up in a relaxed and inviting setting. Not content to rest on their laurels, the owners of Grand Isle Restaurant recently appointed Executive Chef Ryan Haigler who will unveil an array of exciting new dishes on Friday, March 6, 2015. That day, the restaurant will also reveal its recent refurbishments, which include new private dining options, as well as a delightful outdoor dining and lounge space, situated on Lafayette Street.

Chef Haigler is no stranger to seafood, having grown up fishing and crabbing in the creeks, beaches and surrounding waters of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Realizing he had a passion for cooking during his teen years, he worked in a variety of kitchens in Charleston before accepting a position in New York City. Stints at Tom Colicchio's Craft, Kittichai and Jean-Georges Spice Market helped the young chef hone his skills and refine his technique. In 2006, Haigler moved to New Orleans where he spent several years working at local restaurants until he was offered a position running the charcuterie program at Emeril's Delmonico. In 2012, while gaining recognition for his culinary prowess, Haigler was tapped by award-winning chefs John Folse and Rick Tramanto to join the opening team at Restaurant R'evolution, the French Quarter eatery that has earned raves and accolades both locally and nationally. Haigler also starred on the inaugural national tour of Dinner Lab, the members only roving dinner series that started in New Orleans.

At Grand Isle Restaurant, Haigler will bring his signature style, which is both refined and rustic, to modernize and elevate the seafood-centric menu. "Between its name and location, the restaurant has always been a destination for amazing seafood and there's no reason to move away from that completely," says Haigler. "My goal with this new menu is to broaden the scope of our offerings and introduce new dishes, new influences and new inspirations that complement the things that people already love about Grand Isle."

Haigler kicks things off with new Starters ($6 - $15) such as crispy calamari accompanied by a Vietnamese-inspired Covey Rise green garlic & sesame vinaigrette; fried crawfish tails with preserved lemon and a pickled jalapeño; and baked crab & artichoke gratin, served with parmesan crisps and butter crackers. Cold seafood ($6 & up) additions include can of sardines dip - a playful interpretation of a classic fish camp snack, served in a small jar with Steen's Cane Syrup vinaigrette and topped with dehydrated hot sauce crispies; oysters on the half shell with pickled green strawberry mignonette; and a rotating selection of seasonal crudo. Not-to-be-missed Soups and Salads ($8 - $15) are deep fried crab & mascarpone ravioli, served with baby greens and pepper jelly; smoked fish chowder - sugar and rum cured fish, corn, and peppers in a light cream based soup; and the thunder cheese salad - Covey Rise cardinal spinach, with Haigler's twist on thunder cheese - pickled Fresno peppers, crispy bacon and spring onions, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with candied spiced pecans. Of course, Grand Isle favorites will remain on the menu.

Entrees ($12 & up) highlight the bounty of fresh seafood and local ingredients, while taking a creative approach to the fish camps of Grand Isle. Dishes include cold smoked Gulf tuna with pea tendrils, butter braised radishes and horseradish cream; confit pork cheek and clams Grand Isle's Next Wave served with popcorn rice pilaf, escarole and carrot salad, and green tomato gastrique; and grilled seasonal Gulf fish with local field pea succotash and housemade Chappapeela Farms crispy ham. Haigler will also feature a boil-by-the-pound - perfect for sharing with friends and family. In fact, as the weather warms, Grand Isle will host an array of festive boils on the outdoor patio.

Desserts, created by pastry chef Jamileth Ortiz, complement Haigler's savory style, leaning toward the familiar and homey with just the right touch of whimsy. Selections ($8) run the gamut, from warm white chocolate bread pudding and chocolate truffle cake to lemon ice box pie and Steen's Cane Syrup bourbon pecan pie. Ortiz will also create seasonally-inspired tarts, cobblers and cheesecakes.

Diners can complement their meals with one of the creative libations at Grand Isle. Overseen by head bartender and cocktail enthusiast Julia McElroy, the bar program at Grand Isle is progressive and fun but built on the solid precepts of flavor and balance, utilizing housemade syrups and infused spirits. McElroy will also introduce cocktails based on the season. Spring Cocktails include Southern Breeze (Cathead honeysuckle vodka, housemade blood orange syrup and watermelon mint shrubb with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice); and Just Peachy (Eagle Rare bourbon, peach schnapps, housemade peach-pecan syrup, iced tea and fresh lemon juice). Signature Drinks include Lavender Sea Salt Margarita (reposado tequila, Clement creole shrubb, fresh lemon and lavender-sea salt syrup) and Ginger and Spice (gin, jalapeños, ginger, lime and ginger beer), amongst others.

Just in time for spring, guests can dine and imbibe at the new al fresco dining and lounge space on Lafayette Street. With seating for 64, the rustic outdoor area features tables made of reclaimed wood from the Green Project with galvanized steel legs (handmade by Grand Isle General Manager/Partner Jeff Hof), couches and low-slung lounge-style tables. A fresh herb garden lines the perimeter of the space, providing delightful scents and ample ingredients for cocktails and food. Inside, the restaurant now boasts private dining for up to 100 in the back room with some soft refurbishments and additional seating.

Grand Isle is located at 575 Convention Center Boulevard, on the Fulton Street promenade in New Orleans. Lunch and dinner served 11AM - 10PM Sunday through Thursday; 11AM - 11PM Friday and Saturday. $3 discounted parking is available in the Harrah's parking garages with validation. Telephone: (504) 520-8530, 

Follow Grand Isle Restaurant on social media:

Twitter - @grand_isle
Instagram - @grandisletaste