Big Easy, DC
[from October 2005 issue]

A few weeks ago, when Katrina fundraising came to DC, the just-opened restaurant Acadiana -- Executive Chef Jeff Tunks’s newest venture, a Louisiana-style fish house -- sold about 1,000 Po’ Boy sandwiches to raise money. Tunks, joined by a stellar list of other DC chefs, including Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s), Michel Richard (Citronelle), Roberto Donna (Galileo), Ris Lacoste (1789), Jeff Buben (Vidalia and Bistro Bis), Kevin Scott (New Orleans Bistro), and John Wabeck (Firefly), and others, wrapped up the event in about three hours, leaving some DCers without the critical sandwich fixings: oysters or roast beef.

Not only did the chefs raise about $27K, the event introduced the city to Tunks’ visionary, ship-shape, larger-than-life, Louisiana-inspired restaurant with its cool colors (beige-greys), impressive, crystal-beaded chandeliers, and one-foot-high alligators holding match cases at the bar. It’s those little whimsical touches that win hearts.

That, and when you find that you need reservations for lunch, you are happy to eat solo at the marble-topped bar to stare dreamily at the alligator and his crooked grin. Lots of people here, I observed to the waiter, who chatted about how busy the restaurant has been since it had opened. One plus for Tunks: Acadiana is only about one block away from the new Convention Center.

But judging by his overstuffed oyster Po’ Boy sandwich, he won’t need conventions to keep this place mobbed. First, the whole area is getting a much-needed overhauling, attracting crowds to MCI Center and surroundings. Then, the restaurant’s décor and the kitchen’s food will help set the pace. For starters, the lunch and dinner menus lean heavily on seafood dishes to make Tunks’ point about the joys of Southern flavors. So if you are looking for something beefy, you’ll only find two red meat entries at dinner: beef tenderloin and veal medallions.

You won’t be disappointed, however, in Acadiana’s other offerings. Tunks keeps reaffirming the southernness of Acadiana by taking you on a tour of the Big Easy’s famous fare: crab cakes, jambalaya, fried catfish, crawfish étouffée, gumbo, turtle soup, shrimp & grits, and that ever-popular favorite, fried green tomatoes. And there’s no getting around it: If you lunch here, you simply must indulge in the “the peacemaker,” Tunks’ version of the famous Po’ Boy with nearly a dozen battered and crispy oysters jammed into Leidenheimer French bread and moistened with dressing and frilled out with lettuce. Faltering through the second half of the roll, I wondered how tacky it would be to carry home the balance -- nope, hot, crispy oysters need to be hot and crispy.

The waiter stopped by. Dessert? he asked. The kitchen makes the very, very, very best pecan pie I’ve eaten in decades, he said. Explaining more, he told me it’s actually a tart just -- so big -- he demonstrated, and it’s topped with bourbon-infused ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. Groan. Too many oysters! To add insult to injury, the kitchen also offers a praline crème brûlée, a warm white chocolate bread pudding (that’s great, too, he said), and beignets.

Saying “no” wasn’t easy, but if you are in the same waistline quandary, then just consider the warm country biscuit that comes with drinks as your dessert. Hot, tangy, and accompanied by a daub of cream cheese covered with a sheen of pepper jelly, the biscuit is sinfully delicious.

Chances are that much of Tunks’s menu is season driven, and one wonders how his Louisiana purveyors have weathered the storm. I read somewhere that he had spent ages gathering together his resources, so for everyone’s sake, let’s hope that it will be business as usual in the days to come.

Acadiana, 901 New York Ave., NW; tel., 408-8848. Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu., 5:30pm-10:30pm; Fri. & Sat., to 11pm. Entrée prices: $19.00-$27.00.

Copyright (c) 2005 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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