Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Few Years Ago…

There was a market campaign for a Philadelphia college that contained the tag line “I could have gone anywhere, but I chose (University X).” Well, today is Chuck’s birthday, and for lunch he could have gone anywhere, but he chose Chef Roy’s Frog City Café in Rayne, LA.

We have been eating at Chef Roy’s since our first stay in Duson, LA, in November of 2008. And it has been on our list of “must returns” ever since.

Named for former owner and chef Roy Lyons (right), Chef Roy’s is now co-owned by two of his former employees—Chef Benoit Morel and Robert Credeur. Chef Morel is from the Champagne region of France and brings his knowledge of classic French techniques to the café’s menu. Robert is Cajun through and through. He is a native of Mire (pro-nounced “mere”), Louisiana, and currently lives in Rayne—The Frog Capitol of the World (or so they claim).

While Chef Morel rules in the kitchen, Robert rules in the front of the house. And there was Robert to greet us and welcome us back as we walked through the doors this noon. You enter the café through a large lobby area, which, since we are closing in on Mardi Gras, was decorated in gold, purple, and greens.

Even the large frog statue (right) that sits in one corner was decked out in a jester’s hat and beads.

The dining room is tastefully comfortable with dark beige walls, dark green draperies, tasteful prints, and the most comfortable restaurant chairs I have encountered. So we settled back in these comfortable chairs to contemplate the extensive menu. As we were debating—should we go with an appetizer mélange or a couple of entrees to share—Robert approached our table and asked if we had made a decision.

“Too many great choices” Chuck replied. And I explained that I always ordered the Crawfish Napoleon entrée but thought I wanted to try something different. It was at that point that Robert asked if we would like the kitchen to make an appetizer-sized portion for us to share. While it may be Chuck’s birthday, I left him no choice here. “We’d love that” I replied.

Chuck came to appreciate my decision. The dish contained two rounds of lightly breaded eggplant with a seasoned “stuffing” sandwiched between them. The whole is then covered with a rich cheesy sauce that contains numerous little plump crawfish tails. But what makes this dish outstanding is the use of curry in the cheese sauce which offsets some of the sauce’s richness. If the Asian Shrimp at Asian Noodle Bar in Albuquerque is one of Chuck’s all time favorite dishes, the Crawfish Napoleon at Chef Roy’s just might be mine.

Now to our entrees. (These came with a salad of iceberg, romaine, red cabbage, shredded carrot, and tomato, but who wants to look at photos of salad.) Chuck selected the jumbo shrimp platter which could be ordered as small (eight shrimp) or large (twelve shrimp). Guess which he chose. And from the list of sides he selected the onion rings which we knew from previous visits are a superior example of this restaurant essential.

Chuck took his first bite of shrimp and I could hear the crackling sound from across the table. Suddenly, a giant grin crossed his face. “These may be the best fried shrimp I have ever eaten” he proclaimed. And, since I was entitled to six of them, I had ample opportunity to concur. The beer batter coating was so thin as to be almost translucent and remained crisp to the last shrimp. (Although I must admit that they didn’t last that long.) And under this thin coating were crisp, juicy, and sweet shrimp that were cooked to perfection. When we later told Robert that we especially loved the beer batter, he responded “You don’t want so much crust that you don’t taste the shrimp.” He is absolutely right.

My choice of our meal to share was the crab cake platter which came with two cakes topped with what the café calls boutte sauce. The cakes were full of sweet crab pieces and had a nice peppery bite. And the not-overly-rich sauce contained more of the plump crawfish tails that graced the Crawfish Napoleon. I can’t find any reference online to boutte sauce, but I do find lots of sites about Boutte, LA (a city in St. Charles Parish). Is this sauce the café’s own creation named after that city? Whatever, it also made a great dipping sauce for my side—the eggplant fries.

Neither of our German Mothers ever cooked with eggplant so we didn’t grow up with an appreciation for this relative of the potato and tomato. My few attempts to explore eggplant—usually eggplant parmesan--were not real successful. But the cooks of Southern Louisiana have a knack with this vegetable. These too were lightly coated, and I enjoyed the contrast between the crisp outside and the soft and almost creamy inside. And the boutte sauce also made a great condiment for the eggplant fries.

Our usual Chef Roy’s dessert is the Turtle—chocolate genoise cake wrapped around vanilla ice cream, rolled in caramel and roasted pecans and served over a pool of caramel sauce. But this time we chose the Peach Bread Pudding sitting in a pool of light rum sauce. This was one of the lightest bread puddings ever—none of this heavy brick-like stuff—and was flavored with cinnamon and just a hint of nutmeg. And it, along with the rum sauce, wasn’t overly sweet.

As we were leaving, two women diners stopped us and asked if we were from around there. When we responded “No,” one smiled and answered: “I didn’t think so. Here we don’t take pictures of our food. We eat it.”

This 5.0 Addie meal won’t be our only Chef Roy’s stop on this trip. Next time it will be the appetizer assortment. The seafood martini, pepper jelly oysters, corn and crab soup, and catfish bites are beckoning me back.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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