In June, we reported that, despite rumors, Marena's Gerani was still open for business. Approximately a month later, the restaurant was sold to Kevin Rains, former executive chef at Equestria. Roustica, which serves modern comfort food, opened two weeks ago.
"We have been in here for three months, but it took us a long time to get the kitchen updated, the place cleaned, and the private dining room added," Rains says.
Most of Marena's interior is still intact. "Our landlord likes the murals, and he also likes the overall feel of the restaurant. We knew that there were certain things we wouldn't be able to change, but we changed everything that didn't fall within those parameters," Rains says.
Among those changes was the restaurant's name. Although Rains knew that Marena's has had a long and strong reputation as a neighborhood restaurant, he felt that it was time for a new name to emphasize his own style and to give the place a fresh start.
The menu at Roustica is simple and is updated weekly. "We are using as much local produce as possible, which means that our menu changes because of the availability of certain items," Rains says.
Appetizers include a vegetable-stuffed crepe, Caesar and salmon BLT salads, crab cakes, and Ripley tomato and shrimp gazpacho. Entrées range from Alaskan halibut to Australian lamb, Maine lobster tail, beef filet, and barbecued pork tenderloin. Desserts are also kept simple: a gelato or sorbet trio of the day, a torte, and chocolate soufflé cake.
Rains received a bachelor degree in business from the University of Tennessee and a chef of winery arts degree from the Colorado Institute of Arts. His right-hand man is longtime friend Andrew Masters, who will run the kitchen while Rains tends to his manager duties.
"We are here to stay. This is a great neighborhood, and we want to contribute our part to make it attractive for people who come here from a different part of town," Rains says.
Roustica is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Roustica, 1545 Overton Park Avenue (726-6228)
Two new domestic vodkas recently became available in Memphis.
Paul McCann of Richmond, Virginia, gave up his government job as policy analyst to make vodka. Since it was introduced in 2004, Cirrus has won medals in several international competitions, beating out brands such as Belvedere and Ketel One.
"My preferred alcoholic beverage is vodka — potato vodka, to be more specific. I remember sitting at a bar with a friend of mine a few years ago and realizing that there weren't that many high-end vodkas produced in the U.S.," McCann says.
With a business idea in place, he worked on product development for about a year before he finally started distilling potato vodka. "Potato vodka just gives you a smoother feel. Vodkas that are made from grain often have more bite to them," McCann explains.
Currently, Cirrus Vodka is a two-man show that includes McCann, and, if he "gets in a pinch," his brother. McCann plans to move his distillery into a larger space and develop a single malt whiskey. But for now, all efforts are going toward getting the best out of potatoes.
Cirrus is available at local liquor stores for about $24. It is distributed by the Victor L. Robilio Company.
Another new vodka in town, Vodka 360, is eco-friendly and distilled from grain by the Earth Friendly Distilling Company in Weston, Missouri. Everything that goes into this vodka is from within a 40-mile radius of Weston. For packaging, the company uses 85 percent recycled glass and chlorine-free paper for the labels. Southwestern Distributing Company distributes the "green" vodka locally, which sells for about $25 in most area liquor stores around town.