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.
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.
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.
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.