I was recently having an awful day, complete with a pounding headache, self-doubt, relationship woes and I felt icky and unattractive to boot. On this stellar day I was helping a friend search for a new place to live as she entered into a nasty divorce; her day was bad, too.
“Lunch! We need lunch,” my friend said. We settled on Compère Lapin. They have nice, fresh, hearty cocktails thanks to the sure hands of Abigail Gullo. Beyond this, we had few expectations of brightening the loom.
Perhaps sensing our mutual malaise, chef Nina Compton sent out an offering of her house-made cheese curds (stracciatella) dotted with a fine, uniform dice of roasted butternut squash, faint island flavors ushered in with allspice, a scattering of both pumpkin and sunflower seeds and a wash of nutty brown butter. Our spirits lifted as we smeared the unexpectedly cold, creamy concoction onto toasted, buttered ovals of bread. The dish was unlike anything either of us had ever encountered before. Our spirits continued to ascend with the arrival of a timbale of deep ruby-hued, cold-smoked tuna tartare tossed with chile oil and dotted avocado crema and caviar. Sweet, crispy banana chips serve as dipping implements for the dish.
Petite, elegant and speaking with the soft lilt of her native St. Lucia, Compton earned acclaim when she competed on “Top Chef: New Orleans.” She took second place and earned the title of fan favorite. Following that score she left her position as chef de cuisine at the celebrated Scarpetta in Miami to open her own place in New Orleans in 2015. Named after a folk figure from her native island, Compère Lapin is lauded for its unique, yet approachable flavors.
Compton’s husband and business partner, Larry Miller, says he maps each day’s success by the number of goats coming in the back door. “They come in whole and they exit the kitchen curried,” Miller says. Tender chunks of flavorful goat are stewed down in a curry kissed with cinnamon then ladled atop soft, rich pillows of plantain gnocchi.
Compton’s Hot Fire Chicken adds a new category to my roster of Best Fried Chicken Ever. Here a boneless thigh is thickly battered, then fried, to have a sturdy, jagged crust before it’s drenched in a fiery vinegar-based hot sauce. Compton beats down the heat with a gorgeous, crunchy confetti of julienned carrots, scallions and mirlitons. Zesty house-made pickles and a dice of sweet, ripe mango further cool the palate.
We shared a spectacular side of roasted fall root vegetables (parsnips, radishes, and carrots) tossed with a brilliant salsa verde, then topped with a toasted butter amandine. Like all of the others, this dish was modestly presented, its simplicity offset by rustic Dudson stone-wear serving vessels. The artistry on the table carries over to the walls with a vast collection of colorful original works by New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos.
If your holiday plans aren’t yet set in stone, chef Compton will offer a different special each day for the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25-January 5, as well as prix fix menus on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Café Sbisa, the third oldest fine-dining establishment in the French Quarter, recently reopened with Alfred Singleton (formerly of Bacco, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse and Desi Vega’s Steakhouse), serving as both the Executive Chef and a co-owner. Singleton worked at Cafe Sbisa from 2000-’05, when it was shuttered by Hurricane Katrina, so this serves as a happy homecoming.
Singleton’s menu for the Parisian-style bistro will include classics such as turtle soup, blue crab cakes, barbecue shrimp, duck confit and a rack of lamb served over roasted corn pudding with English peas and rosemary lamb jus. Each day will bring a gumbo du jour including a vegetarian version as well as an exotic recipe using smoked alligator, crawfish sausage and smoked oyster mushrooms.
1011 Decatur St.
535 Tchoupitoulas St.