Sunday, April 13, 2014

Acadiana Food Review

Braised Boneless Short Rib

When it comes to the Big Easy (New Orleans) I find myself in the clear minority who asks, "What's all the fuss about?" That is, until we start talking about food. Cajun cooking has few equals; but it's particularly hard to find outside of Louisiana. Chef Jeff Tunks opened Acadiana almost a decade ago, ideally situated across the street from the Washington Convention Center. Conventioneers regularly fill the place up, feasting on Blackened Redfish, Gumbo, Oysters, Roasted Grouper... even Po'Boys, inside a gorgeous dining area with sweeping views of downtown DC. Given that I attend way more conventions than most, not dining at Acadiana was becoming more than just a glaring omission from my culinary resume... It was time to rectify the situation. Time for a lunch reservation.

I stopped by for a late (2:00 PM) lunch, specifically to avoid the noon rush (I prefer quiet, what can I say?) After receiving a warm welcome from Acadiana's hostess, I was escorted to a lovely table by a window. When you review as many restaurants as I do, you rarely get excited over what's to come; but this was my first visit to a legitimate cajun dining spot, and I couldn't wait to try it. All that anticipation led me to order both a Cochon d'Lait Po'Boy (marinated roasted pork on Leidenheimer bread) and a Braised Boneless Short Rib entree (baby carrots, mashed potatoes, bourbon glaze, tobacco onions) for one. Excessive to some, I'm sure; but don't argue with a man who likes Cajun cookin'. That said, two dishes (especially for lunch) borders on overdoing it: Why not settle for Fried Green Tomatoes or Gumbo, and either one of six Po'Boys or 10 breathtaking entrees?

Cochon d’Lait Po’Boy

To her credit, my server Rebecca was only too happy to oblige my request (I never understood why other servers try to dissuade me from ordering what they consider to be too much... thanks for keeping 'mum Rebecca!) She also knew to bring me Acadiana's trademark biscuits with pepper jelly, atop creole cream cheese. These delectable bites are insanely good... even better, with the added zip from the pepper jelly. Any true southerner would be proud to devour them.

I must admit; I thought twice before launching into my Po'Boy... Acadiana is more luxurious than most, and chowing down on a messy sandwich inside their grand dining room seemed like a faux pas of sorts. That's where a late lunch comes in handy... Not so many eyes flashing my way: I confidently ripped open my bag of Zapp's New Orleans Kettle Style Chips, and began to feast.

The pork was incredibly tender, perfectly paired with a firm crunch from the pickles and slaw. Acadiana uses authentic Leidenheimer bread, which is nice; but I prefer a harder bread for such a stuffed sandwich. It's a matter of preference of course; but kudos for "keeping it real." Hands down, this is the closest I've found to the Po'Boys I remember so fondly at Johnny's Po-Boys in the French Quarter. Before you scoff at the $14 price, keep in mind that most folks will only be able to eat half (can you say lunch tomorrow?)

Biscuits with Pepper Jelly & Creole Cream Cheese

At this point, I could have easily walked away happy as a clam; but the best was yet to come. My Braised Boneless Short Rib entree was the kind of dish you tell folks about years later. This is what you order when you want to truly celebrate or impress. Not only is is beautiful to look at, but every component hits its own distinctive note of goodness. Start with the carrots, which were impossibly tender (no doubt, thanks to the luscious bourbon glaze.) Onion straws provide a touch of crunch, but this is one dish that's at its best while melting in your mouth. That goes specifically for the incredible mash, which had me cooing with delight. And to think I was self-conscious about eating a sandwich here... Now I'm cooing! All jokes aside, the mash was divine.

You could hear the O'Jay's hit song "Love Train" playing in the background; but I was tempted to rename it the "Tender Train," thanks to the succulent short ribs which topped the mash. Short ribs shouldn't taste this good, should they? And without the added saltiness, one expects to find in such a rich dish. Impressive. And just $16.

As far as enticing lunches go, Acadiana comes darn close to the top of the list. You can go casual, decadent or both; and it won't break the bank. Wouldn't you rather have this, than two days of Subway? Of course you would. Me? I'm already fawning over Acadiana's dinner menu. Cue even more anticipation.