Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our First Ever Meal in New Orleans. . .

was lunch at the Bon Ton Café*, the only one authentic Cajun restaurant of any real renown in New Orleans with roots going back to the early 1900s.

Then, in 1979, Paul Prudhomme opened K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and introduced the world to blackened redfish. Soon, every restaurant everywhere was blackening everything—often with less than satisfactory results.

When K-Paul’s first opened, it didn’t take reservations and seating was “community” style meaning that you could expect to be seated with complete strangers. Given the price of a dinner at K-Paul’s, many local residents balked at the no-reservations-community-seating approach and viewed the restaurant as a Mecca for tourists.

“1979, when Chef Paul Prudhomme and his late wife, K, opened their ‘modest,’ 62-seat K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen on Chartres Street in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, they had no idea the restaurant was soon to become a sensation, with nightly lines of eager diners waiting sometimes hours to be seated…. Based on the designs of the original 1834 structure, K-Paul's was extensively refurbished and expanded in 1996 and now offers seating for more than 200 dining guests” (from the restaurant’s web site).

“Prudhomme, the caboose of thirteen children from a Cajun farming family in Opelousas, spent a great part of his childhood cooking with his mother to feed the rest of the family…. He opened and closed a pair of restaurants before he was thirty and worked in kitchens across America before landing a job, at age 35, as the executive chef at Commander’s Palace…. It was at Commander’s where Prudhomme’s star shot skyward. By integrating Cajun ingredients and techniques into the Creole cuisine through which the restaurant had built its reputation, Prudhomme created the new fusion cuisine that came to be generally known as “Louisiana” or “South Louisiana” cooking…”

In our previous six visits to New Orleans, we never managed to dine at K-Paul’s. And we didn’t plan to do so on this trip. But our first choice for lunch was closed due to a family emergency and our second was so crowded that you couldn’t get through to the hostess to leave your name. But we had passed K-Paul’s and noticed a sign that indicated that they now serve “deli lunch” Thursday – Saturday. This may be a chance to eat at K-Paul’s on the cheap.

Deli lunch means that you find a seat, peruse the menu, order at the bar, and then retrieve your food when your name is called. The menu changes weekly and usually includes two soups, three salads, a variety of sides, and a couple of desserts.

Entrees on the day of our visit were: the fried shrimp po-boy, the fried oyster po-boy, and the beef fajita po-boy; K-Paul’s Muffuletta Panini; chicken etouffée (a spicy Cajun stew traditionally made with crawfish, vegetables and a dark roux unusually served over rice. The word comes from the French étouffer, which means to smother.); red beans and rice with a fried pork chop; roasted pork loin; and shrimp and andouille Creole. All entrees came with the choice of one side.

We made our choices: for Chuck it would be the shrimp po-boy with a side of the crispy fried potato skin chips; I would have the shrimp and andouille Creole with potato salad. (Potato salad is a popular Cajun side, and in some places is served to be spooned into gumbo instead of rice.) He goes off to the bar and orders. I sit at the table and wait…and wait…and wait. Yikes! The line was long and most of the diners had a multitude of questions to ask the single order taker.

Once the order was placed, the food exited the kitchen fairly quickly. Chuck’s po-boy was good once he got through the mound of tomato and lettuce and got to the fried shrimp. But we have had bigger, better, and less expensive. With the po-boy came a small cup of shrimp mayo that was light on the shrimp flavor. But the crispy potato skins were wonderful. These were thicker than a kettle chip but thinner than an appetizer-style potato skin.

The menu described my entrée as being “fresh Louisiana shrimp and andouille sausage in a Creole sauce made with the ‘Holy Trinity” (onions, bell peppers, celery), stock, tomatoes and seasonings.” The Creole came served over rice which captured every bit of the thick, rich, and savory tomato sauce. While I am not usually a big fan of long-cooked tomato sauces, the seasonings offset the sweet flavor that sometimes results from long cooking tomatoes. The dish included at least a half dozen large shrimp and a good number of andouille sausage disks.

The side of potato salad was very good—perhaps the best element of the lunch—and was made with plenty of mayo (I dislike a dry potato salad) with bits of green onion and bell pepper.

We enjoyed lunch, but with no entrée less than $25.00, not enough to go back for dinner. Still, K-Paul’s deserves 4.0 Addies, and I am glad that Chef Prudhomme has provided us with a less costly option.
*Twenty plus years later I remember this meal well. I had ordered the fried catfish strips and, when my meal arrived, encouraged Chuck to taste the fish. (He didn’t like catfish--or so he thought.) Big mistake. I spent the duration of the meal hunched in a protective position over my plate to keep him away from my catfish.

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