Softshell crabs are in peak season, meaty and clean, and I've had them in two remarkable dishes over recent weeks. The first, at Lulu's in the Garden (2203 St. Charles Ave., 586-9956) during Sunday brunch, was pan-fried and set over Golden Velvet (creamed sweet corn and other spring vegetables). The second, at Dick and Jenny's (4501 Tchoupitoulas St., 894-9880), was also golden fried, then set upon an herbaceous crabcake, which rested on a sort of black bean salad, all on a bed of greens; a tropical, coconutty mango sauce forged these unlikely ingredients into a fantastic whole.
Oysters are no longer free on Fridays at La Cote Brasserie (700 Tchoupitoulas St., 613-2350), but Chef Chuck Subra's seafood gumbo is. Drop by the bar between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. for drink specials as well as the gumbo, which won a medal at the Wendell Gautier Gumbo cook-off in July 2002. In other good news from La Cote, the seafood Cataplana (a rich, fiery Portuguese fish stew) is back on the menu, and this time it doesn't take two people to order it.
La Louisiane (725 Iberville St., 200-3100) re-opened earlier this spring as The Bar and Bistro at La Louisiane with a contemporary, regionally inspired menu -- think bourbon-marinated hanger steak and Mississippi rabbit braised in red wine and served over pasta. The well-thought-out, quirky wine list spans the globe. First opened in 1881, the restaurant is now under the direction of Brett Smith, who also owns the adjacent Louis XVI restaurant and St. Louis Hotel, and his mother, Jaye Berard Smith. Agnes Bellet, the executive chef at Louis XVI, oversees La Louisiane's kitchen. John 'Chip' Flannagan is chef de cuisine, and Christopher DeBarr is sous-chef. La Louisiane serves lunch on Fridays and dinner nightly.
In the House
Mr. John's Steak & Seafood (2111 St. Charles Ave., 679-7697), now open for dinner on Mondays, welcomes Venice-born Chef Christian Rossit to the stove. Most recently at the helm of the kitchen at La Riviera (4506 Shores Drive, Metairie, 888-6238), Rossit has added some Italian flair to Mr. John's menu, including lasagna Bolognese and lunch sandwiches on housemade focaccia.