- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Who would have thought this would be an auspicious moment to open a Louisiana restaurant? But Acadiana, the newest sibling of D.C. Coast, TenPenh and Ceiba, is a success.

Acadiana assigned its Sept. 12 opening-day profits to hurricane relief, raising $27,000 by serving the ubiquitous po’ boy sandwiches, ordinarily $12, for $25 each, and it has been buzzing since.

Just about everybody in Washington with a connection to the Big Easy, or who would like to have one, has hastened to the new restaurant in a show of solidarity, nostalgia and affection. Acadiana has not disappointed them.

Executive Chef Jeff Tunks’ three-year stint at New Orleans’ Windsor Court Hotel and his foray earlier this year through southern Louisiana, and pastry chef David Guas’ New Orleans roots, are paying off. Acadiana is not a New Orleans restaurant, but a restaurant inspired by New Orleans, preparing first-rate contemporary versions of many traditional Louisiana dishes. Not everything is perfect, but a lot of it is very good.

Meals begin with a serving of warm biscuits (“take two, butter ‘em while they’re hot,” as they say down South) with housemade cream cheese topped with pepper jelly. Very New Orleans, very good.

An appetizer of fried green tomatoes topped with shrimp remoulade is a highlight of the menu. Small rounds of tomato are breaded and fried. They’re light and not greasy; they’re hot and delicious, and a perfect companion to the cool sliced shrimp in a light pink dressing.

Charbroiled oysters in garlic butter, sprinkled with Romano cheese, are another winner. Five large oysters are broiled just long enough to melt the cheese, but not too long; the oysters arrive plump and juicy. Warm bread accompanies the oysters for sopping the garlic butter.

A trio of deviled egg halves is pleasant but nothing special. The eggs are nicely creamy; the three fillings are not incorporated into the yolks, but small spoonfuls of salty choupique (the Louisiana name for bowfin) caviar, a dollop of crabmeat ravigote, and of shrimp remoulade are served on top of the yolks. The crab-egg combination was the best of the three.

The soups, which can be ordered as a trio served in demitasses as well as individually, can disappoint. The turtle soup is salty and not up to the expected standard; the oyster Rockefeller soup tastes like a creamy spinach bisque, and the gumbo, the best of the three, a nice rich broth with rice and all sorts of good things swimming in it, cries out for okra.

Baked oyster and artichoke gratin is another typical New Orleans dish, available at Acadiana as an appetizer, as are oysters on the half shell. The oysters are from the mid-Atlantic at the moment, but Louisiana’s oyster beds, roiled by Katrina, are expected to yield a harvest soon. A duo of meat pie and crayfish pie is a treat from the town of Natchitoches (pronounced NAK-ka-tosh with the accent on the first syllable).

Since Acadiana is a seafood house, most of the entrees are fish: crayfish bisque with hush puppies; grilled redfish with seafood and andouille jambalaya risotto; crabcakes with pickled okra and roasted corn relish; red snapper with corn pudding; andouille-crusted grouper with sweet-potato hash; and blackened tuna with cheddar spoonbread, creamed spinach and shrimp etouffee. Catfish and tilapia substitute for some of the dinner fish at lunch.

The barbecued shrimp are served in a garlicky butter sauce, spiced with black pepper and Worcestershire sauce. The shrimp are not actually barbecued over hickory, but baked — barbecue is not a New Orleans gift. The shrimp are excellent, big and abundant. The sauce could be a bit more peppery, but it’s a fine dish and recalls Pascal’s Manale, the Napoleon Avenue restaurant made famous by New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp.

Meat is not neglected, be it beef tenderloin, veal medallions served with creamy cheese grits, or roast duck. The duck is another fine local specialty with sides of dirty rice (colored by the spices), collard greens and a cane-syrup pepper jelly glaze. The duck is tender, with just the suggestion of game, and the dirty rice and greens are the taste of home.

Of course, there are the po’ boys at lunch, as well as muffalettas, the New Orleans version of a hero sandwich. There’s nothing poor about a po’ boy, named for the urchins who once hung out at the doors of certain restaurants in New Orleans with a plaintive “Hey, mister, got a sandwich for a po’ boy?”

There are three types of po’ boys at Acadiana: shrimp (a disappointment — just undressed barbecued shrimp on a roll); a fried oyster po’ boy, dressed properly on Leidenheimer French bread from New Orleans; and the king of po’ boys, the 12-napkin roast beef. The napkins are necessary for a properly dressed roast beef po’ boy drenched in brown gravy. Acadiana’s is a well-done slice of roast beef with fresh tomatoes, lettuce mixed with a little cabbage, a few house-made pickles, and the gravy on the side.

A prudent diner will save room for pastry chef Guas’ sensational desserts. The rich, lemony doberge cake is terrific; the beignets are reminiscent of the Cafe du Monde and Morning Call coffee stands. The coffee pot-de-creme served with the beignets is delicious, but not necessary. The small individual pecan tart with a scoop of bourbon-laced chocolate ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce is splendid. And there’s a vanilla ice cream float, bananas Foster crepes and a white chocolate bread pudding. A tiny square of heavenly hash comes as a lagniappe with coffee, the traditional blend with chicory, from Community Coffee (originally from Baton Rouge).

The wine list is extensive and well chosen. The restaurant is spacious, although not particularly reminiscent of New Orleans despite the genuine chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling bayou paintings and a long bar reminiscent of the Vieux Carre. The tables on the K Street side above the bar can be very noisy in the evening, but the lower level is not.

Acadiana will put you in the mood to let the good times roll — or as they say on the bayou, “laissez les bons temps rouler.”

RESTAURANT: Acadiana, 901 New York Ave. NW; 202/408-8848

HOURS: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Appetizers, $7 to $11 (lunch), $7 to $14 (dinner); entrees, $12 to $26 (lunch), $19 to $27 (dinner); desserts, $8.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Metered street parking; dinner valet parking on the K Street side, $6.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible.

METRO: Mt. Vernon Square

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