I recently had the opportunity to dine at Acadiana, a D.C. restaurant that prides itself in "capturing the true spirit of Louisiana, a serendipitous blend of Old World traditions and New World resources" with 5 other D.C. foodbloggers.
To me, D.C. is better known for its behind-the-scenes politics than its restaurant scene. (I'd frankly refer to the attitude at many D.C. restaurants as "brazenly half-assed.") Thankfully, Acadiana exuberantly breaks that mold by putting flavorful food, interesting cocktails, and plush ambiance center stage. The restaurant clearly began with passion and vision and grew to what it is today through near-perfect execution; as a result, our dining experience was elegantly decadent with touches of the brash pride and unique ingredients associated with Louisiana cooking.
Acadiana's dining room (pictured to the right) has a clean art nouveau style that is classic and modern all at once. The decorative, highly stylized chandeliers, furnishings, and fabrics are instantly attractive without overwhelming the space. It was beautiful, and so comfortable that we managed to dine for over 3 hours without noticing how much time had passed in the presence of new friends and good food.
And when compared with the modernized ambiance, Acadiana's Specialty Cocktail list--another standout of the night--was so traditional that you could almost see the hurricane shutters and smell the brackish, humid air as you sipped your Sazerac (prepared with absinthe liquor, bitters, and rye whiskey) or your Pimm's Cup (with Pimm's-a gin-based liquor, citrus soda, and a cucumber garnish).
I started with an Abita Strawberry beer, made with Louisiana strawberries just outside of New Orleans and available only through mid-June. As we contemplated dinner, our server brought us a basket of buttermilk biscuits with a creole cream cheese and pepper jelly spread. The creole cream cheese was light, and tangy with just the right touch of spicy sweetness from the pepper jelly. And my biscuit was dense and buttery, but not flaky. In the South, I expect my biscuits to be so flaky and messy that it's almost embarrassing to eat them in the midst of strangers. And though Acadiana offers a more refined approach to traditional Louisiana food and I understand the more general appeal of its dishes, I personally would choose a bad ole' sinful biscuit over a well-behaved one any day.
Because my biscuit left me craving more of the deep South, I ordered an entire meal of dark, rich soups made with fresh Louisiana ingredients. My guests and I enjoyed our cocktails and chatted about foodblogging in D.C. while the chef sent out an amuse bouche to pique our interest in our dinner to come. The small plate had a crispy fried, southern vegetable pie with black pepper buttermilk sauce, and a side of spicy shrimp remoulade on a bed of greens (and both are available on the menu). The two dishes combined some traditionally Southern ingredients in new ways without making the Louisiana "classics" too fussy, and I very much enjoyed our little palate jumpstart.
After our amuse bouche, a veritable army of servers, hostesses, and kitchen staff presented our entire table with our appetizers--every one of us ordered the Trio of Soups. This is not to say that the rest of the appetizers did not sound amazing--we each struggled through at least two cocktails apiece before coming to our final decision. It is just very difficult for anything to compete with: turtle soup au sherry, roasted sweet corn and blue crab bisque, AND smoked chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. The turtle soup was fresh and darkly flavored with just a kick of acid to round out the gravy-like broth. The bisque was very flavorful, with the perfect consistency (not too thick, perfectly creamy). And the gumbo was mildly spiced and flavored with a smoky roux that satisfied with every bite.
Between our appetizer and entrees, I ordered a hurricane made with fresh fruit juices and light and dark rum. It was sweet, and boozy, and would probably be best as an aperitif or a digestif. (which is, coincidentally, how I enjoyed it after being too mesmerized by my entree to think about things like...drinking). My entree, like the meal itself, was a finessed version of a "throw everything in the soup pot and let it simmer for days" Louisiana classic. I ordered the Louisiana seafood gumbo, with jumbo lump crab, crawfish, oysters, and redfish with Louisiana rice. Acadiana makes its seafood gumbo with a super dark roux that was almost coffee-like in color and aroma, and I suspect that they add file powder because I tasted some sassafras as well. The seafood was plump, and fresh, and abundant.
My only criticism is that I should have asked the chef add some spice to my gumbo, because the one thing it was really lacking was any distinction from one bite to the next. A super rich gumbo like Acadiana's often lacks any acid to make the flavors really dance, but the addition of spicy red, black, and white pepper can add some layers to the dish. My palate is still more attune to the Southern way of doing things, so I missed that "zing" that I'm used to, but it was still an enjoyable dish that I encourage you to try if you want a little bit of Louisiana in your life.
This can also be said of Acadiana's charms, in general--it's perfect for anyone who is craving a little bit of Summer vacation as they grind through the Washington D.C. 7-day work week. Or if you just want to try something new or impress some visitors, it is a wonderful place to enjoy friends and family, some exciting cocktails, and some flavorful Louisiana cooking. And if you are from Louisiana and you've found yourself in D.C., you'll also love Acadiana for satisfying that yearning you have for home--just don't forget to ask for the "extra spicy" preparation.