No Paddle Required
Heading down the bayou
Chef Carl Schaubhut’s intention to reinterpret the experience of his Des Allemandes upbringing in a fresh way successfully runs through every aspect DTB (Down the Bayou), the stylish Oak Street destination he opened last spring.
Each visit reveals a new element I had yet to notice before in the décor that reflects the Cajun experience through textures, lighting, cutlery – even the lavatories in the restrooms. Deep, plush booth seating is upholstered in subtle moss hues of leather embossed with a crocodile pattern (I want this at home); circular metal chandeliers are adorned with bits of hanging moss; an array of brass fish heads, each of them unique, protrudes from the wall in the entryway. Instead of passing plated orders through a predictable window or loading them on a try behind a closed door, kitchen staff present them from atop an inviting, homey cypress table, allowing others to indulge in a bit of voyeurism before the plates are whisked away to their intended recipients.
The ever-changing menu is equally well thought out. Familiar Louisiana dishes are recreated with refined technique and a focus on Gulf seafood, Cajun flavors and fresh seasonal produce. Though I will eat pretty much anything, the presence of a meaningful vegan option never fails to impress me. The vegan Mushroom Boudin Balls look and taste confusingly like the real deal but are made with three types of mushrooms, charred eggplant and Louisiana jasmine rice, served with a smoked tofu mayo. Schaubhut worked with Chef de Cuisine Jacob Hammel in creating the excellent Oyster Gratin that arrives sizzling in a small cast iron casserole dish. A gentle smoke suffuses with the plump oysters’ brine to cut through a rich Parmesan-and-charred-onion-laced Béchamel sauce under the crackle of herb-rich gremolata crust. Spread it on rounds of toasted French bread for the perfect bite. Cauliflower Rillets are simply brilliant, presenting the oft-boring vegetable with whipped Brie, fennel and raisin preserves and warm focaccia.
Every base from Lafayette to Gulf is beautifully covered in the Louisiana Rice Bowl – hunks of crabmeat, shrimp, pork belly, mirliton and tasso, topped off with a sunny yard egg.
Also thoughtful is the chefs’ attention to providing options for fine foods at all price points. The Tomahawk Pork Chop and Prime NY Strip, both priced in the mid- to high-$30s, are as sublime as expected. But a thin wallet won’t come between a diner and a fine meal. Cobble together Crab Boil Potato Hash ($6) and a Buttermilk Biscuit with Pimento Cheese ($6) for a fabulous brunch on the cheap or pick a couple of sides from the Lagniappe for an inexpensive and satisfying meal anytime.
Bywater American Bistro
2900 Chartres St. (in the Rice Mill Lofts), inquire for telephone and web address
8201 Oak St., 518-6899
Top Taco/Agave Week
For its second year the Top Taco competition, happening March 15, has been moved from Spanish Plaza to roomier Woldenberg Park. Producer Shane Finkelstein is also launching Agave Week, a six-day tequila and mescal bacchanal, taking place at various locations around town. The debauchery kicks off on March 11 at Superior Grill with the World’s Largest Bloody Maria Brunch. Additional events include a Spirited Soirée at Johnny Sanchez; a Pairing Dinner at Casa Borrega; a Tequila Launch Party at Baru; and a Margarita Mix-off competition for bartenders in the festival’s VIP lounge aboard the Paddle wheeler Creole Queen. Proceeds continue to benefit One Heart Nola, a charitable organization that raises funds and awareness for New Orleans’ foster children.
Try This, Too:
Badass chef Nina Compton and her charming, stylish husband and business partner Larry Miller (also her biggest fan) just opened Bywater American Bistro (BAB). Levi Raines, formerly Sous Chef at Compton’s Compère Lapin, is heading up the kitchen. The menu includes fresh pasta made in-house and French-inspired charcuterie. As a nod to the restaurant’s home in the Rice Mills Loft building, grains and legumes play a substantial role with dishes like Farro Risotto with Maitake mushrooms and minted breadcrumbs. Entrées include seared Yellowfin Tuna Steak with pepperonata, soft herb salad and almond cream.