Season of Superlatives
Two places to try
As a child, I frequented the rickety Sid Mar’s in Bucktown with my family. Down the road from the bustle of West End, the wooden building leaned on its pillars over Lake Pontchartrain. The warped wooden floors tilted to one side, and the wooden screen doors shrieked as they opened onto the screened-in dining porch with unadulterated views of the lake and the ever-present pile of crab traps in the yard. Today neither the road nor Sid Mar’s exists, the former replaced by a massive and unsightly, but hugely reassuring, pumping facility, the latter washed into the lake by Hurricane Katrina.
My sister and I recalled those lazy afternoons as we dined 30 or so feet from the old restaurant at the decidedly more polished Station 6. Opened last fall by chef Allison Vega Knoll, Station 6 features updated takes on the kind of humble seafood dishes once found at Bucktown’s many small family oriented joints. Raw oysters and a smattering of Mediterranean-style foods executed with Louisiana’s indigenous ingredients are also offered.
I have known Knoll from her days as chef and proprietor of Vega Tapas Café, and welcome her return to our dining scene after 10 years in the Caribbean.
The sleek interior of Station 6 opens onto a front patio adorned in colorful foliage with a horizontal-slatted wooden fence that manages, through little glimpses, to turn the pumping station just behind it into shadowy public art. Happy Hour would be just the time to occupy the inviting communal sectional sofa in the corner. Offered Tuesdays-Thursdays, 3-6 p.m., for a thrifty $15 guests enjoy a tasting of ice cold Cajun caviar, a glass of Champagne and a half-dozen Gulf oysters.
On our visit, we were unable to make decisions. Each dish was carefully thought out and lovingly presented: Mamere’s crabmeat casserole served with rounds of toasted French bread; wild fried catfish and chips with malt vinegar tartar sauce; tuna tartar with jicama, avocado and spicy Cajun caviar; a fried crawfish-stuffed poblano pepper with creamy goat cheese-infused grits; a perfect fried soft-shell crab; and skewers of filet Mignon served with bleu cheese smashed potatoes.
We neglected to order the garlic shrimp. Noting this, the chef sent out an order, anyway.
Oh my. Jumbo, screamingly fresh Gulf shrimp arrived sizzling in a ceramic vessel with butter, capers, lemon, Parmesan and bread rounds to mop up the sauce. I don’t say this casually, but it was, quite possibly, the best shrimp dish I have ever had.
Stuffed, we declined dessert. Again, noting our folly, the wise chef sent out samples of her delicate seasonal cobbler (on this day made with fresh blackberries) and the kitchen’s buttermilk drop bread pudding with butterscotch sauce. Again, I don’t say this casually, but this is now my standard-bearer for bread pudding. It is simply that perfect.
Earlier this year I extolled on the virtues of the marinated Gulf Snapper crudo finished with a scant amount of puréed butternut squash, a scattering of pumpkin seeds and a faint drizzle of chili oil on the menu at Toups’ South.
I love that dish. I could eat it every day.
When Chef de Cuisine Seamus Rozycki surprised me with a serving – I have very generous chef friends for whom I’m grateful – of a new dish to debut on the menu (chili marinated Gulf tuna crudo with preserved Meyer lemon, cucumber, cantaloupe and puffed rice) I was horrified, knowing my favorite dish was on the chopping block.
He advised that I chill out. “This is for summer; the other will return next winter.”
Somewhat reassured, I succumbed to getting to know the dish with the brilliant hues and the fragrance of a summer garden. Once again, the unorthodox marriage in the bowl before me simply blew my mind.
Fickle woman that I am, I have a new favorite fish dish. This one isn’t to be missed.