ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Everybody scratches a few restaurants off his preferred list for nutty reasons. One of my peccadillos is that I seldom dine in restaurants very close to where I live or work. It’s not because I’m sick of the proximate eateries–I never did dine in nearby places much.
I’m not the only one, I learned a couple of days ago, when the market manager of our radio stations–a serious gourmet–stops me in the hallway to update each other on our dining experience lately. It comes out that he has never dined in the main restaurant in the adjacent building.
Compere Lapin is the main eatery in the recently rebuilt hotel now called Old No. 77. The restaurant is operated by the chef who came in second in the Top Chef series last year. She runs the kitchen, and her husband oversees the dining room. There’s been a bit of a buzz about Compere, and every time I passed in front of it (which I do every day) I see a full house. And I finally made it there to eat. I wish I had gone there sooner.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Will there ever be enough great restaurants in the Tchoupitoulas Corridor of the Warehouse District? (Already there: Emeril’s, Tommy’s, Tomas Bistro, Cafe Adelaide, Cochon, Butcher, Annunciation, Sac-A-Lait, La Boca, and Legacy Kitchen, to name not quite all of them.) Compere Lapin is in quick walking distance of all the hotels and office buildings in the Lower CBD, and is targeted at the youthful clientele that fill the sidewalks along that stretch. They are attracted by a large, well-managed bar and a menu addressing an underserved cuisine.
In its early months, Compere Lapin’s menu struck me as insubstantial. You’d read through the whole thing and get the impression that there wasn’t enough to properly appetize a person in for dinner. The statements of philosophy on the place’s website were pretty gaseous. (“We don’t make food for everyone else,” it says, “we make food for you.” What happens when more than one person shows up for dinner?) But they seem to have gotten past this sort of thing and started cooking. Everything I’ve had since has been brilliant and thoroughly satisfying.
Compére Lapin (“brother rabbit”) serves the food of Chef Nina Compton, who made a big splash in her likeable personality and delicious-seeming cookery. She hails from the Caribbean islands, growing up in Santa Lucia. But the menu seems to me an amalgam of American Southern, Creole, and Cajun flavors, as well as those of the islands. The restaurant opened in early summer 2015, taking over a space that hosted at least five mostly forgettable restaurants over the past ten years.
The L-shaped dining room has a long stretch of windows looking out onto Tchoup, with the large bar opposite to them. At the corner of the two sections is a different kind of bar, one doling out crudo, raw oysters, and Japanese-style essays in raw fish. The traffic turns right at that point and enters the rest of the dining room, with the same less-than-handsome flooring that has made do for the previous restaurants in this space. (It is a former warehouse, after all.) The tables are small and unclothed, and when the place is full it can be loud.
More ruminations appear in our Dining Diary. Click on any of the dates below for those reports, each written a few days after a meal at Compere Lapin.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Numerous daily specials expand the range of the menu quite a bit. »=Best dishes.
Conch croquette, pickled pineapple tartar sauce
Spiced pig ears, smoked aioli
»Steak tartar, potato chips
Crispy dirty rice
»Arancini, sour orange mojo
Daily selection of chilled oysters
Hamachi (raw yellowtail), melon, nasturimus
»Caribbean seafood pepper pot
Marinated shrimp, roasted jalapeno jus
Cold smoked tuna tartare, avocado, crispy bananas
»Roasted beet salad, kale pesto, pistachios
Broiled, shrimp, calabrian chili butter
»Brussels sprouts, buttermilk, crispy chicken skin
Pici pasta, lobster, squash
Local grouper, beurre blanc, potato pearls, caviar
»Curried goat, sweet potato
»Duo of beef, broccoli, foie gras
»Half chicken, turnips, leeks
Roasted potatoes, herbs
»Roasted carrots almondine, salsa verde
»Blackeye peas, bacon, crispy shallots
Spinach cavatelli, fontina fondue
Granola with fresh berries
»Vanilla bruléed grapefruit
»Beignets/spiced chocolate sauce
»Chia seed and coconut pudding/fresh berries
FOR BEST RESULTS
Many specials add to the menu. Be sure you know what they are. Make a reservation, and ask to be seated in the corner of the dining room. Ask many questions. Almost everything here is a departure from standard bistro fare.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The route to the rest rooms is truly byzantine.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Oyster bar
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended