Designated Diner: Bettye Anding, author of the weekly NolaVie column Silver Threads.
Day job: Retired, former editor of the Living Section of the Times-Picayune
Restaurant chosen: Compère Lapin, 535 Tchoupitoulas St.
Its culinary MO: This new eatery by Top Chef season 11 fan favorite and runner-up Nina Compton fuses Caribbean, Italian and New Orleans flavors in playful from-scratch dishes using local produce. Meals, believes the chef, are about moments and memories – demonstrating that she understands something fundamental about her newly adopted city.
The name: French for “Brother Rabbit,” it refers to a mischievous folktale character from Compton’s native St. Lucia.
What Bettye is looking for: Comfort and attractiveness, possibly even elegance – and elegance can be high end or more mid-end, like this. Foodwise, I look for variety on the menu, because I’ve found that with so many places I frequent, I order the same thing all the time. So I want to find several dishes that I can enjoy. And I also like what I call ingredient integrity, or respect for what’s in the dish. Generous portions are always nice, too.
Worth shouting about: The biscuits, definitely. Flaky, buttery, golden, not even in need of the two fancy butters (one sweet, one savory). The pici, a sort of thicker version of linguini that’s rare to find in this country, is rolled by the chef every morning at 8:30 and, on this day, tossed with smoky wild mushrooms.
And: Twin openers, colorful, piquant: the gazpacho (spiced summer squash and lobster bits laced with a cold Creole tomato broth) and the marinated shrimp (crisp ceviche-style shrimp laced with a cold roasted jalapeno reduction that carries a subtle kick). I like crunchy gazpacho; too often you get something made in a processor.
And: The oyster roll, a local twist on a lobster roll that takes everything decadent about a classic New Orleans oyster loaf and ups the ante.
Drink tip: An obliging waiter scared up a small pitcher of simple syrup from the well-equipped (and hipster-heavy) bar to sweeten the iced tea. Nice touch.
Good looks: The industrial chic décor runs from retro (black and white subway tiles) to forward-thinking (mirrored LED bar lights). The adjacent Hotel 77 lobby merges smoothly with restaurant space, making this the most seamless hotel/restaurant combo in town. It’s a wonderful space. I love it.
Sweet tooth: We couldn’t, but I’m told to get the Horchata Panna Cotta.
The bottom line: It’s one of the most unique menus I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered curried goat here before.
Parking tip: The $5 valet parking is a nice offering, but cars are parked several blocks away at the Riverwalk. So those in a rush might consider the (higher-priced) lot across the street.
Lagniappe: Recipe postcards are bestowed with the check. Here’s Nina’s Daddy’s Famous Milk Punch: In a blender, combine 2 quarts milk, 1 bottle rum, 4 large eggs, 1 tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla (or scraped vanilla bean and a splash of Angostura bitters. Puree for about one minute. Serve over ice.