Phew! Mardi Gras 2011 is officially over and to be unapologetically honest, I could not be happier to be rid of stinky beads, traffic, muddy shoes, parking tickets, and way too much fattening food. This carnival season was the longest one we’ve had in years and OMG was it intense. The blog suffered during the long-haul into Fat Tuesday since life didn’t allot any time to sit and write. But now that the stress is over, I am very happy to be back at the keyboard.
About a week before the Mardi Gras madness began, my fiancé and I headed out for a quiet dinner, just the two of us, to celebrate Valentine’s day a little late. We had been dying to go to Herbsaint for a long time, and after talking to a few friends who had recently visited, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. We arrived on time, opted for an outside table, since the air was cool and balmy, and proceeded to order whatever our hearts desired.
To start, we split the Mixed Greens with City Ham, Ryals Cheddar, and Buttermilk Dressing. A lovely salad of fresh, vibrant greens, pungent ham, and sharp-tasting cheddar, tossed in a creamy, peppery buttermilk dressing. Toasted croutons added a nice crunch.
Our first choice for a small plate was the Louisiana Shrimp and Grits with Tasso and Okra. The shrimp tasted fresh out the gulf, the grit cake had a nice crust but was still creamy on the inside, and the salty morsels of tasso danced beautifully with soft okra smothered in red eye gravy. After polishing off the plate, we looked at each other and said, “Now that’s what local food is all about”.
Curiosity led to us ordering the Mortadella, Cauliflower, and Cheddar Gratin. My fiancé could eat a big bowl of plain cauliflower, no problem. I, on the other hand, haven’t been a fan of the bland veggie since I was about two years old. But the idea of eating cauliflower baked in a cast iron gratin with creamy cheddar sounded like it could win me over. And a Donald Link cauliflower gratin fan I am. Like your mom’s best casserole, this gratin had all the comforts of a home-cooked meal. A crunchy, buttery seasoned bread crumb topping cracked open to display a creamy, steaming-hot medley of cauliflower florets, chunks of spiced mortadella, and piping hot cheddar cheese sauce. A dish guaranteed to win the heart of any self-proclaimed cauliflower hater.
I chose a wine flight of three different red wines to accompany my entree. All of them were lovely, but I was especially a fan of the Lignier-Michelot, which was bold enough to stand up to the rest of my flavorful meal.
After hearing one of my friends rant and rave about the Muscovy Duck Confit with Dirty Rice, Sauteed Broccoli, and Citrus Gastrique, I knew I had to taste it for myself. And sure enough, after just one bite I knew what all the raving was about. This slow-cooked Muscovy duck leg had perfectly crispy skin, giving way to succulent meat that pulled easily from the bone. The warmth of duck fat permeated the entire dish and combined wonderfully with the sweet and tangy citrus gastrique, made from orange juice. Dirty rice seasoned with liver and pork pieces, the holy trinity (onion, bell pepper, and celery), and Chef Link’s own combination of seasonings provided a soul-full backdrop to this dish. The steamed broccoli was kept simple with just some oil, salt, and pepper. I often think about what I’d want to eat if I could choose my last meal and friends, this one just might be it.
My fiancé went with the special of Cornmeal Dusted and Pan Seared Flounder with Poblano Chili Vinaigrette, Creamed Greens, and a Lemon Buerre Blanc. I took one bite but wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was with my duck confit. The greens were delicious but we both found the fish to be slightly under-seasoned. Kudos to the chefs for the chili vinaigrette, however, as it was flavorful, imaginative, and quite tasty.
After much deliberation, we finally settled on two desserts. The Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake with Salted Caramel, Cashew Ice Cream, and Cocoa Nib Caramel Corn and the Coconut Creme Pie with Macadamia Nut Crust, Caramel Drizzle, and Fresh Pineapple. Now normally, the extreme chocolate lava cake served a la mode desserts don’t appeal to me since just about every restaurant in the world has their own talked-up version. But fo’ reals, this chocolate pudding cake took the cake. I cannot describe to you what happened to my taste buds once the warm chocolate cake filled with salted caramel sauce hit my lips. Utter bliss. Cashew ice cream and crunchy bits of caramel corn made this dessert even more memorable. Best chocolate dessert I’ve ever had.
The coconut cream pie was exceptional as well, with a deep coconut flavor, buttery crust studded with macadamia nuts, and cubes of fresh pineapple. The salted caramel drizzled on the plate didn’t hurt, either.
Let’s face it, when it comes to Southern-style food dressed to impress, Chef Donald Link really knows what he’s doing. The Herbsaint experience was exactly what I’d hoped for, where the food is a distinct representation of a man’s life-long love affair with Louisiana-style cooking. Attention to ingredients is equal to that of technique, and the result is effortlessly simple, yet immensely flavorful food that’s as much of a joy to look at as it is to eat. I can’t wait to share this decade-old restaurant with those who, like me, have simply been waiting for the right time to give it a go.