Review: L’Acadiane in Lafayette Square
Dave Bailey’s mini empire of restaurants weaves through the city of St. Louis like a golden thread, tying together diverse culinary experiences ranging from pizza and burgers (Hugo’s Pizzeria, Baileys’ Range) to beer and whiskey (Bridge Tap House, Small Batch). If that weren’t exhausting enough, there are also two locations of his eclectic breakfast eatery, Rooster, a full-service catering operation (The Fifth Wheel) and two events spaces (Willow and Slate).
It all started 14 years ago with a fun idea in a quaint Lafayette Square spot known as Baileys’ Chocolate Bar. Last summer, Bailey announced he was revamping the popular bar and moving it to the building’s upstairs lounge. In its place, Bailey introducedL’Acadiane, the now 9-month-old Cajun-inspired restaurant named for Louisiana’s Acadiana region settled by 18th century French-Canadian exiles. Technically, New Orleans isn’t part of the region, but the newly designed space feels like a NOLA hideaway, oozing with sophistication and romance.
An endless loop of Louis and Ella’s bouncy duets, Billie’s trenchant vocals, Coleman Hawkins’ sultry tenor and Miles’ evocative soundtrack from an old French film enhances the relaxed mood like a soothing salve. The front bar, bright and cheery with lots of greenery and natural light, provides an attractive spot to pop in for a drink or a full meal. The cocktails are boozy and well-made, with witty names like A Hurricane in Tornado Alley, made with aged rum and fresh juices, and the Sazerac Ménage à Trois that incorporates absinthe three ways: as a glass rinse, in ice cubes and as an ingredient in the rock candy sugar.
The wine list is small and French, the draft beer all local. There’s a cozy alcove for eight off to the side for semi-private dining. Around the corner, past the dramatic wall-sized map showcasing the inexorable Mississippi River link between the Gateway City and Big Easy, a narrow hall opens into the beautiful dining room, aglow with the warm light of stylish fixtures enhanced by a wall of framed mirrors.
L’Acadiane’s gorgeous design is decidedly more Garden District grace than Bourbon Street party, which is why over the course of several visits, I was surprised by how nonplussed I felt, not about the menu – a good lineup of po’boys, shareable plates and entrees – but its execution.
A po’boy called Blackened Acadian Redfish, for instance, was more sauteed than pan-fried to the characteristic brown-black crust. The hot link po’boy, topped with fontina, roasted red peppers and onion, had all the expected heat and flavor of the traditional Southern sausage (made off-premise in the company’s commissary), but was dry; the accompanying cup of French dip-style gumbo broth helped.
Larger plates were more Southern-inspired than Cajun or Creole, though that line blurred years ago. Missouri catfish stuffed with crabmeat looked promising atop poblano grits, but failed to impress. The fried fish, a tad too tough and under- seasoned, had a muddier-than-usual taste for catfish, overpowering the purpose of a crabmeat filling. The grits, while creamy, were clumpy in spots, the poblano slivers insignificant and the mustard-yellow squiggles of garlic dressing crosshatching the dish added little excitement.
Cubed, blanched and deep-fried to crispy fluffiness, the Brabant potatoes (aka Louisiana fries) served with L’Acadiane’s version of steak frites made sense, but missed the crucial step of what makes potatoes Brabant: a toss in garlic butter sauce just before serving. The flatiron steak was cooked perfectly medium-rare with a beautiful char, but lacked any hint of the citrus marinade listed on the menu.
With both meals, I was searching for flavor. What flavor I did find was vague – that is, until the chicken and waffle arrived. A breast, deep-fried and craggy atop a dense, savory cornbread waffle, was crowned with a dollop of honey butter and splashed with a pleasantly spicy cayenne pepper sauce. Maple syrup served on the side helped the dish achieve just the right hit of sweet heat.
A bowl of gumbo and plate of crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside hominy hushpuppies made a nice meal, even if the latter lacked savoriness. L’Acadiane’s gumbo is Creole style, meaning thick with okra, tomatoes and the holy trinity, loaded with shrimp, scallops and andouille sausage providing gentle heat.
There were two desserts available during my visits: beignets with raspberry sauce and whiskey caramel baked Alaska. Opting for the former, I found nothing light and fritter-like about these dense, bready balls of fried dough.
To be clear, as lackluster as some dishes were, nothing I ate was bad, nor was the kitchen incompetent. But with a place as handsome and well-conceived as L’Acadiane, what’s on the plate should be as inspiring as the decor. It’s what makes other Bailey ventures golden.
Michael Renner is a longtime contributor and critic for Sauce Magazine.
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