Monday, April 25, 2011

“There’s Just One Problem,"

I said to Cody, “It's part of a chain.”

We were talking with Cody McCowan, the co-owner of LA Seafood House, about the Lafayette restaurant scene, and he asked if we had been to Zea Rotisserie & Grill. I had looked at the on-line menu a number of times, but was always put off by the fact that this was part of a chain—albeit a small and Louisiana-based one. While under-standing our reluctance, he said that he knew one of the Lafayette outlet’s owners and that we should give this place a try. So setting aside my “chain-o-phobia,” we set off to Zea for lunch one day.

“In 1990, three energetic and creative chefs, Hans Limburg, Greg Reggio, and Gary Darling joined together to form an experienced culinary and restaurant develop-ment team… The Taste Buds created Zea in 1997 with their first location in Harahan, Louisiana. It immediately gained popularity within the community and acclaim from restaurant associations… There are currently five locations in the New Orleans area. Zea Rotisserie & Grill also has locations in Lafayette, Covington, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mobile and Birming-ham, Alabama with franchise locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Pensacola, Florida; and Plano, Texas” (from the restaurant’s web site).

Zea’s is a fairly large restaurant but more intimate spaces are created through the use of draperies, dividers, glass, and plants. We were seated in a booth for two which was separated from the adjoining dining room by a five-foot wall topped with potted plants. (I think that the plants were Sansevieria Trifasciata or Mother-in-Law Tongue.) The walls, upholstery, and draperies were in shades of beige and brown. In the rear of our dining room was the open kitchen pass-through (photo above).

We were about ready to order either the BBQ Chicken & Rib Platter (1/2 rack of St. Louis style BBQ ribs,1/2 Backyard BBQ chicken) or the Mixed Rotisserie & Grill (1/2 Rack of ribs,1/2 chicken & 1/4 pound of the rotisserie meat of the day—that day it was rotisserie pork with rosemary roasted garlic glace). And, as a fall-back, I was eying the Asian Tuna Salad with rare sashimi tuna, crispy noodles, sesame seeds, almonds, and peanut vinaigrette.

But we kept going back to the list of appetizers and decided to select three to share and to follow-up with dessert. First up was the half order of Asian Almond Shrimp. The plate contained six battered shrimp with a coating so crisp that it crackled when bitten. The shrimp sat on a bed of shredded cabbage, were dressed with soy ginger sauce and Asian chili glaze, and then sprinkled with slivered almonds. The soy ginger sauce highlighted my favorite Asian flavors and the chili glaze added a bit of sweet and a bit of heat. This was perfection on a plate and the contents were quickly devoured—down to every shred of cabbage and sliver of almond.

The next batter at the plate was the Thai Rib Stack. These ultra-meaty and fat-free St. Louis ribs were served with a spicy (but milder than the sauce on the shrimp) soy and sweet chili glaze and were showered with sesame seeds and cilantro. The ribs had great grilled flavor with a nice exterior bark and were literally fall-of-the-bone tender. But an order of six meaty ribs as an appetizer was almost too much.

Our final choice was the Roasted Garlic Hummus, a blend of roasted garlic, garbanzo beans and Tahini hummus which came with pita wedges. The hummus was silky smooth and the touch of using roasted garlic rather than raw garlic toned down what can be an overpowering dish.

While we were eating the hummus, Chuck asked Joey (our server, and an excellent one at that) if the owner was “in the house.” He (Sorry, we didn’t get his name.) was and came out and talked with us for a bit. He saw that we had ordered the roasted garlic hummus and indicated that it was one of their most popular menu items—along with the Thai ribs and the Asian shrimp. We laughed and said that we had hit all of the high spots.

“But did you try our Roasted Corn Grits (from the list of sides)?”

“No. Chuck’s not a grits man.”

“Wait until you try ours.” And the owner went back to the kitchen and returned with a bowl of grits.

“Corn on the cob.” was Chuck’s initial impression. “A corn soufflé.” was mine. They were rich with a nutty flavor from roasted corn kernels. They were rich from what I assume was lots and lots of butter. And they seemed to have been made with long cooking rather than instant grits. These were simply the greatest grits ever.

Time for dessert. (Did you doubt that we’d have dessert?) Taking Joey’s suggestion, we ordered the sweet potato praline bread pudding. Of late, I have developed a new appreciation of bread pudding and this one ranks up there as one of the favorites. It tasted like a cross between sweet potato pie, cake, and bread pudding.
It was Thanks-giving on a plate. The top had a coating of toasted pecans and a praline sauce that was poured over the wedge. Some of the sauce had soaked into the pudding, and the remainder pooled around the dessert. Can one person ever eat a dessert this large by him/herself?

Well, I am glad that I set aside my “fear of chains” for an afternoon and am awarding the Lafayette Zea’s a 5.0 Addie rating.

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