For Catholics, the practice of forgoing the consumption of meat during Lent (Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday) has its roots in the early days of the church and the Black Fast, when the righteous were expected to partake of no more than one meal each day throughout the season, that one repast being devoid of meat, dairy, oil, or wine. Over the ages, church law evolved to view the seasonal avoidance of meat on Fridays-only to be sufficient to fulfill the Lenten obligation for penance.
In Louisiana, the absence of meat is replaced by an abundance of seafood and fresh produce coming into season, which starts to hit its annual stride in early spring – fortuitously right about the time Lent hits. Crawfish season is underway, both brown and white shrimp are available, finfish are plentiful, crabs are just coming in, and oysters are still going strong. I saw the very first small specimens of what will surely be a bumper crop of Creole tomatoes in the grocery the other day and sweet, plump Louisiana strawberries are downright cheap, despite having yet hit their spring stride. Yes, truly, in a region so rich in delicious seafood and beautiful vegetables, this penance seems less a sacrifice and more an indulgence. Regardless of your religious affiliation, which would you rather have, another burger or a piece of trout Meuniere amandine? Perhaps a sandwich of white bread with tangy mayonnaise and a slabs of luscious ripe Creole tomatoes are more your thing? Another piece of chicken or some rich crawfish bisque with a piece of hot, buttered French bread on the side? Maybe some ripe strawberry shortcake? Thought so.
Whether you are kicking meat for Lent for religious reasons or you are simply using the penitent season as a touchstone to reset your diet because you overindulged in Mardi Gras excess, many area restaurants are rolling out special offerings featuring seafood or fresh vegetables to get you in the door. Here are a few of the top choices on my radar.
Every Monday through the end of March, chef Justin Koslowsky of Seaworthy (next to the Ace Hotel, 630 Carondelet St., 930-3071, seaworthynola.com) will host Lundi Craw, a boiled crawfish celebration, on the restaurant’s back patio during happy hour every Monday, starting at 4 p.m. A full tray of crawfish (around two pounds) is $18.
Long a dedicated fisherman, Chef Brian Landry, of Jack Rose (in the Pontchartrain Hotel, 2031 St Charles Ave., 323.1500, jackroserestaurant.com) is offering Fettuccine Nero with blue crab, chanterelles and vermouth cream; Royal Red Shrimp Muddy Waters with squid ink campanelle; Gulf Snapper Amandine with celery root, fregola and citrus; and king trumpet mushrooms with capers, garlic and bucatini. Who needs meat?
French Quarter cocktail hotspot, Jewel of the South (1026 Saint Louis St., 265-8816, jewelnola.com) recently opened a new upstairs restaurant. Throughout Lent some crave-worthy dishes will be on offer: crab salad with potato bread and crab roe butter; Tokyo Turnips with Granny Smith apples and hollandaise; and crisp red endive lettuce with white anchovy dressing.
Enter through the vine-draped courtyard at experience the first breath of new spring growth at Copper Vine (1001 Poydras St., 208-9535, coppervine.com) where chefs Amy Mehrtens and Mike Brewer have created special Lenten menus for lunch, brunch and dinner. Tasty selections include jumbo lump crab gnocchi; Gulf fish bouillabaisse; mushroom pasta; and blackened tuna Nicoise. Dynamic chefs Levi Raines and Nina Compton of Bywater American Bistro (2900 Chartres St., 605-3827, bywateramericanbistro.com) are offering fried Gulf oysters with oyster gravy and jasmine rice; spaghetti pomodoro; farro risotto with Maitake mushroom and minted bread crumbs; pickled shrimp with celery, buttermilk and trout roe; and steamed red snapper with broccoli rabe and Crystal hot sauce hollandaise.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love.