Sac-A-Lait, the sprawling Warehouse District restaurant from husband-and-wife team Cody and Samantha Carroll, pays homage to the duo's rural Louisiana upbringing and the abundance that the land and sea of their home state brings to the plate.
But the restaurant is a far cry from a downhome country concept, and when the spot made its debut, modern techniques, flashy presentations and creative and sometimes questionable combinations were prevalent.
Things have shifted in the three years since it opened, and though the chefs' approach is still very ambitious, some things feel toned down. Dishes are more fine-tuned and relaxed. The menu no longer comes off as constantly trying to push the envelope, which may be a nod to the changing dining scene, or acknowledgment that the city never really fully embraced modernist cuisine.
The chefs follow a farm-to-table concept and go beyond the farm to include the bounty of southeast Louisiana hunting and fishing camps.
Many of the plates are designed for the more adventurous eater and can be fun culinary excursions. Veal brains, or cerveau de veau, were delicious. Coated in black garlic breadcrumbs, they're fried golden brown and served with a light and tangy tartar sauce. Bright citrus segments provide a nice pop of acidity to balance the rich dish.
Uncommon ingredients often appear in otherwise familiar dishes. Duck hearts are showered in a dust of dehydrated pig's blood, but the dish looks like a type of hunter's grillades and grits. The purple hearts were smothered in dark, swampy gravy and served atop crispy goat cheese grit cakes with razor-thin slices of pickled turnips providing necessary tang and acid. Fried alligator is perched atop a creamy bed of mirliton puree, a buttery and sweet mass topped with a big dollop of remoulade and pickled mustard seeds. It's a hearty and comforting dish.
The menu has just one vegetarian option, but there is plenty for diners who aren't ready to tackle dishes featuring offal or other exotic ingredients.
An excellent venison backstrap is pan-seared until medium-rare and has a flavorful crust. It's served with duck fat potatoes and chimichurri oil. Deviled crab is an exercise in indulgence. The striking presentation features a creamy mix of sweet crabmeat and a whipped egg yolk and sabayon medley peeking out from underneath a crab shell, framed by salty crackers dyed charcoal-black with squid ink.
Bluefin tuna tartare is served atop fried venison sweetbreads, a surprising combination. An underlying pool of lemon-olive oil was so addicting I wish it were available by the bottle. Unfortunately, I didn't taste much of the fermented pepper mentioned in the dish description, and the fish needed seasoning.
The Warehouse District restaurant's decor balances modern and rustic country styles. The yawning space is outfitted with reclaimed pinewood and iron accents, and there is an oyster bar fashioned from crushed shells.
Many restaurants thrive on the bounty of Louisiana produce. Sac-a-lait's approach takes a modern and creative route to show off these indigenous ingredients and approaches longstanding culinary traditions with bold strokes.