Cafe Des Amis, New Iberia

If you look up where to eat tradition Southern Louisiana fare near Avery Island, chances are that Cafe Des Amis will turn up in your Google search. This restaurant, famous in Breaux Bridge for its home cooking, has just opened up a branch in New Iberia.

The restaurant is small and casual – you get the feeling that you could walk in wearing paint splattered overalls and flip-flop,s and the waitress would still call you “ma’am” and offer to refill your drink several times.

You also get the feeling that you are going to be eating very well.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo with Rice and Potato Salad

Any place that serves not one, but two types of carbohydrates alongside its spicy stew is a winner in my book. This was my first gumbo and I am an official convert. Reminiscent of the complexity of mole and the comfort of chili, it is really something unto itself. The creamy potato salad, laced with hot Creole mustard, is delicious on the side. Adding a few dashes of Garlic Tabasco really puts this over the top for those who need some extra heat.

Oven Roasted Duck Glazed with Pepper Jelly and served with Sausage Dressing and Corn Maque Choux

Look at that slab of duck. Slow roasted until very tender, with a crispy, crackling skin loaded with sweet and slightly hot glaze. The duck taste is mild, not too gamy or intimidating to those who are shy around such birds. The corn maque choux is forgettable, but the sausage dressing is the stuff my dreams are made of. Moist and salty, with sweet crumbles of pork sausage mingled in the cornbread stuffing. It is porky, bready gluttony at its finest.

Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

This tastes incredibly like tres leches cake. It is basically the interior of a croissant – warm, airy, buttery – drenched in a sweet, milky sauce that is scented with vanilla and sugar. It is so comforting that it is sort of the Snuggie of desserts…yeah I said that.

What of it?

This is just about the most down home place I have ever been. Nothing new, nothing out there, just really well executed home cooking that, unless you were raised in Louisiana, you would probably never get to try. Just be sure that you order that Snuggie for dessert.

*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.*

Cafe Des Amis on Urbanspoon

The French Press in Lafayette, LA

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.*

The French Press on Urbanspoon