There is finally a chill in the air in Louisiana as we put aside our 80-degree-weather shorts & t-shirts, and bust out the scarves, boots and gloves (at least for a couple of days, that is). Lazy Friday lunches of Poco Loco’s and chips & salsa on the patio of Lafayette’s The Filling Station transition into Cajun-Zydeco Grammy conversations inside just-like-Mama’s kitchen holes like Country Cuisine while dining on fried catfish and rice dressing or cowboy stew. It’s really not a difficult transition after all.
During recent dining outings, I was impressed by the freshness of Shucks’ oysters and catfish, while disappointed by the lack of consistency at Charley G’s, though the duck & andouille gumbo is always a winner. This weekend brought me to New Orleans, a much-needed outing into the ‘city.’ My friend Nicole was heading off to Nova Scotia the following morning, so we thought a night on the NOLA town might be just the sendoff necessary. Only two hours east, it can often seem like a lifetime away from Cajun Country. So it’s much appreciated when a good excuse pops up. Our friend Arpana was kind enough to accommodate us, and proved the perfect match for our dining crawl plans. First stop was Cochon, Donald Link’s delightful space on Tchoupitoulas spiffyin’ up Louisiana flavors in a warm, natural setting complete with light wood seating, stone floors and Cajun/Bluegrass music. Our choices: Wood-Fired Oyster Roast, Fried Chicken Livers with Pepper Jelly Toast, and Spicy Grilled Pork Ribs with Watermelon Pickle. All were sweetly superb. The oysters were fluffy and woodsy; the crispiness of the liver batter blended perfectly with its interior and the syrupy pepper jelly; and we couldn’t get enough of the honeyed spicy ribs. Max, the bartender, was a hit too; smooth, knowledgeable, and great with names. Our next stop was Chef John Besh’s August. Swankier digs, also on Tchoupitoulas across from the W Hotel, the ballet of the staff reminded me something out of a New York restaurant. The management was attentive, professional, and even allowed me into the kitchen to meet Steve (Chef Besh was overseeing an event at La Provence). Our menu: Foie Gras Three Ways, Crispy-Coated Lamb’s Tongue, and Gnocchi with Blue Crab and Winter Truffle. The foie gras was terrined, enveloped in cake, and crispy-fried, none of which was disappointing in the least. The lamb’s tongue was a bit on the cool side, but Nicole and I still regaled in its tender flavor. Arpana chose to stick with the foie gras and gnocchi. The latter was the biggest hit as the earthy aroma of the truffles put us in only the best of moods, reminding me somewhat of Payard’s cheese soufflé with white truffle oil (one of my favorites). The three-way pear dessert was not as big of a hit, but the banana rum cake swaddled in white chocolate definitely made up for it. While unfortunately Nicole had to take off rather early the following morning, Arpana and I opted for sleeping in followed by a savory brunch of dim sum. Royal China in Metairie, maybe the only dim sum place around New Orleans, was a breath of fresh air considering Lafayette is greatly lacking in ethnic cuisine, and very much missed. While they opt out of passing around carts, the diners choose instead from a picture menu of dishes and note those choices on a paper menu. Dumplings, shrimp toast, fried rolls, and more dumplings hit the spot with my hot tea and Arpana’s chrysanthemum tea. Such a delightfully delish weekend, we’re hoping to make it a permanent thing once every month or so – ladies’ dining crawl weekend. Next time maybe we’ll hit some tapas joints or do all Asian. New Orleans has a pretty good selection of interesting dining options, so I’m sure it won’t be too hard to keep the trend alive.
Sunday night ended with an intimate Christmas party in the country complete with gumbo and mulled wine; my kinda way to end a scrumptious weekend. What’s next? Pamplona Tapas Bar opens in Downtown Lafayette this Wednesday, December 19, and proves to be a much-desired hotspot in town offering exquisite small plates and all Spanish wines. Attending a dinner there with friends, the next day I’m off to spend the holidays with the fam, and then back to Lafayette to ring in the new year.
Happy Holidays! Eat in moderation! And Bon Appétit!
The Filling Station: 900 Jefferson Street, Lafayette; 337.291.9625
Country Cuisine: 709 N. University Ave., Lafayette; 337.269.1653
Shucks: 701 W. Port Street, Abbeville; 337.898.3311
Charley G’s: 3809 Ambassador Caffery Pkwy, Lafayette; 337.981.0108
Cochon: 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans; 504.588.2123
August: 301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans; 504.299.9777
Royal China: 600 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie; 504.831.9633