When we think of what classifies as Cajun cuisine, we often think in terms of tradition: smoked andouille, catfish courtbouillon, boudin links, items smothered and stewed. Tradition and the idea of a cuisine's authenticity don't always leave much room for interpretation or tweaking.
That assumption is turned on its head at DTB (which stands for Down the Bayou), chef Carl Schaubhut's new Cajun-inspired restaurant, where "down the bayou" serves as a loose roadmap for a modern kitchen with few restrictions.
Schaubhut and chef de cuisine Jacob Hammel approach dishes with creative whimsy. Modern techniques are met with an Acadian twist here and a hint of the bayou there.
Mushroom boudin balls taste and look so much like the real thing that it's hard to believe they're not packed with pork or organ bits. The vegetarian version is just as earthy and delicious, carrying subtle heat. It is served with smoky mayonnaise and strips of vinegary pickled collard greens.
In a smart twist on the local dish, crab-boiled potato wedges taste as if they were dunked straight into a spicy Zatarain's rub and get a cooling nudge from a creamy popcorn creme fraiche and pickled lemon.
A large portion of the menu falls into a shared appetizer section called "Sociables." The restaurant features communal high tables and a bar that stretches throughout the space.
A charcuterie plate features spicy, creamy andouillle sausage pate, toasted French bread slices topped with black garlic, pickled quail eggs, Creole mustard, cucumber slices and radish spears.
Fried dollops of cornbread batter are served with plump nibs of goat cheese and ham hock marmalade. Slivers of jalapeno add necessary crunch and pucker to the dish, which tastes like an odd yet successful festival food mashup.
The kitchen is skilled at delicately playing the nuances of sweet and
savory against each other, and bursts of acid help balance some of the heft in fried items, of which there are many in the appetizer section. One of the best dishes, cornmeal gnocchi, is a rich, sweet, sour and spicy combination where hot sausage nibs and bits of bitter broccoli rabe are folded into pasta. The cornmeal makes the gnocchi more chewy and substantial than versions made with potato. The dish is showered with sharp, nutty Pecorino Romano, which adds a layer of umami, while a burst of lime provides a bright finish.
DTB has been crowded on my visits. At times it seems the kitchen is trying to catch up with demand, and a few dishes seemed rushed. A char-broiled oyster gratin was missing promised smokiness and needed seasoning. A hearty plate of short ribs that came perched on a bed of baked grits had dry meat.
A short selection of desserts includes an excellent banana toffee cake, where puddinglike hunks are surrounded by tiny torched meringues and sprinkled with a crumbly peanut topping.
Dining here is a fun break from tradition, and while the kitchen takes a liberal approach to interpreting dishes, the creative plates serve as a modern homage to Louisiana's rich cuisine.