The first night of my Tabasco press trip to Avery Island was spent in Lafayette, LA. This small town in Southern Louisiana is known for its drive-through daiquiri restaurants (oh yes, drive-through restaurants that serve alcohol), and its classic Louisiana fare.
One such place offering that fare is The French Press; the chef, Justin Girouard, was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the South this year. His restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch, and some dinners, is housed in a large, industrial space with high ceilings and large windows. The feel is casual but the minute you start eating, the food is serious business.
*note: though not all of the items at this dinner are featured on the regular menu, they are all worthy of description*
Escargot and Louisiana Crawfish Ragout with Garlic and Herbs on Grilled French Bread
I have never had crawfish before this meal. I was expecting something that tasted like a lobster with the snappy texture of shrimp, but to me they tend to have a rather muddy taste. This has nothing to do with the preparation, it is just that crawfish ain’t for me. Luckily, the rest of this dish was quite to my liking. The escargot are tender and mild, a perfect sponge for the garlicky, slightly spicy sauce. The sauce is thick and glossy, coating the French bread and highlighting the grassy quality of the herbs.
Blue Crab, Shrimp, Avocado, and Cherry Tomatoes, with Remoulade and Baby Greens
Absolutely the best crab I have eaten since my time in Singapore. Huge hunks of blue crab that are sweet and buttery. The shrimp, perfectly cleaned and diced, are refreshing and slightly salty next to the rich crab. The avocado mimics the seafood’s creaminess, and the tomatoes provide bursts of acidity. The remoulade, a tangy aioli dressing, adds a bit of cayenne heat to make this an absolutely perfect salad.
Spinach and Artichoke Bisque with Fried Louisiana Oysters and Tarragon-Tabasco Creme Fraiche
My favorite course, without a doubt. The bisque is incredibly light, as if the spinach and artichokes were creamy on their own with no need to add dairy or a roux. The taste is of pure, iron-y spinach, and the vegetal taste that can really only be described as artichoke-y. The oysters are plump and crisply fried, revealing juicy salinity within. The hint of heat from the Tabasco creme fraiche was the perfect way to complete the flavor.
Pan Seared Sea Bass with Curried Roasted Cauliflower, Grilled Endive, and Chili-Garlic Beurre Blanc
This flaky, mild fish is good but is outshined by its excellent accompaniments. There is endive, tender and smoky. There is beurre blanc that is spicy, savory, and extremely rich. And there is the best cauliflower I have ever had – soft but not mushy, crisp but not burned. Salty, zesty, earthy with cumin and curry. I could have eaten an entire trough of this cauliflower.
Szechuan Shortbread with Berry Compote and Lemon Ice Cream
This is on the regular menu, and it is a must order. Lemon ice cream so smooth that it is almost like a cold custard, tart but not sour, melds with the warm, sweet berries. The shortbread is buttery, crumbly, and has the slightest prickle of the peppercorns. An interesting and invigorating way to end the meal.
The French Press does classic Louisiana fare with an upscale twist. The portions are ample, the service is as polite as you could like, and the prices are very commensurate with the experience. I would head back here without hesitation.
*Disclaimer: My meal and travel expenses were paid for me. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, unbiased.*