Designated Diner: Stewart Peck, occasional NolaVie contributor and, okay, my spouse for 40 years come August. How else can I get him to take me to a new restaurant?
Day job: Lawyer.
Restaurant chosen: Sac-A-Lait, 1051 Annunciation St.
Its culinary MO: Innovative, sometimes boundary-pushing dishes that pay homage to south Louisiana’s legacy of hunting and fishing. Young chef/couple Samantha and Cody Carroll, who have made waves with their 5-year-old Hot Tails restaurant in New Roads and were crowned “kings of Louisiana seafood” at the 2013 Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, opened the restaurant earlier this year in the Cotton Mill space formerly occupied by Sun Ray Grill.
The name: It’s a freshwater fish, also known as a white crappie (which actually looks a lot like a black crappie).
What Stewart is looking for: The one thing that’s paramount is great-tasting food. Quality of food outweighs atmosphere, service, menu, whatever. There are plenty of places that are beautiful and have great service, but the food doesn’t hold up. And we have many dives with great food here. Next up in importance is presentation; looks matter. And then ambiance; I want to be comfortable and I hate having the diner next to me virtually in my lap. I’m a table snob.
Worth shouting about: The chargrilled oysters aren’t what you might expect in New Orleans: This version arrives flavored with green garlic, swathed in house-pickled jalapeno and bacon butter, then lathered with pecorino romano. Traditional, no, but wonderful, yes. See note about great-tasting food, above.
And: The slate-blackened redfish, served atop shrimp dirty rice and laced with sweet pea cream. Light and lovely.
For adventuresome palates: The fire-grilled okra is served in the pods, making it a bit challenging to dig for the bacon-tempered hearts. The rabbit is popular, and cast-iron fried to a perfect turn, but be aware that these are legs (or “wings” as the menu specifies) and therefore bone-laden.
Drink matters: The enticing bar is worth a trip in itself. It’s spacious and inviting, with double bar stools and an inspirational roster of Louisiana-themed craft cocktails.
Sweet tooth: Save room for one of the outstanding desserts. I’d have to vote for the Chicory Tiramisu, served in a glass. A close runner-up is the White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding, floating in little lake of crème anglaise.
Ambiance: The 1882 warehouse has gotten a sharp redo, with an eye toward authenticity – as in the 140-year-old reclaimed pine from a nearby broom factory and crushed oyster shells in the bar counter. It’s light, airy, upscale and urban.
Bottom line: This isn’t a place for timid diners, says Stewart: As someone who loves a good steak, I had to ponder a menu that runs to frog legs, alligator, rabbit, quail and venison rather than beef, and fish that is likely to be smoked or paired with pork jowl. But for New Orleans diners who know good food when confronted by it, and who tend to be adventuresome in their choices, it offers an intriguing new experience. Not your typical downtown eatery.