A trip to Le Creole is a culinary adventure that any visitor to Baton Rouge should enjoy at least once. I was recently lucky enough to have savored the experience due to a friend who led us there not long after it opened. We were treated to Chef Ryan Andre’s wonderful cooking at Le Creole, the hottest new restaurant in town. We ate like kings for lunch. From the basket of warm French bread loaves served with ramekins of herb butter to the last crumb of banana cake and the liqueur-infused strawberries served in martini glasses, we were pampered and delighted with each course.
“I’d like to bring Commander’s Palace to Baton Rouge,” says Chef Andre, who left the Brennan family’s fabled Garden District restaurant in September 2010 after working under Commander’s nationally acclaimed executive chef Tory McPhail. “Wayne called me at Commander’s and had me come and look at his restaurant before he signed the papers.”
Wayne and Luci Stabiler, owners of Le Creole, opened the handsome restaurant in October to the delight of Baton Rouge foodies. The husband and wife team are also the proprietors of Little Village restaurants. Like the management team at Commander’s Palace, the owners at Le Creole adhere to a tradition of excellence, from the gracious and attentive service provided by knowledgeable white-jacketed waiters to serving visually alluring dishes that utilize only the freshest local, farm-raised and seasonal ingredients.
Just as Chef Andre suggested, I found various elements of the dining experience similar to that of Commander’s as well as the Palace Café (also owned by members of the famed Brennan clan in New Orleans). For instance, at Commander’s, several waiters usually present the dishes in a coordinated fashion at each table; the service is similar at Le Creole. Also, Chef Andre’s style is very much in the spirit of Tory McPhail’s culinary standards. Chef Andre has brought his enticing blend of New Orleans-style cuisine to Baton Rouge, and diners are lining up for the experience.
Chef Andre first worked as a chef at Commander’s Palace right after hurricane Katrina. “I helped them reopen,” he says. After seven months, he returned to Baton Rouge to become executive chef of Mandina’s. Other cooking stints in the state capital have included working at Little Village downtown, opening the elegant Stroubes Chophouse, and working as executive chef of Capital City Grill in Baton Rouge. “I went back to Commander’s Palace in January and then I decided to return to Baton Rouge to open Le Creole,” he says.
A family-run restaurant, Le Creole captures the glories of New Orleans-style dining with such dinner appetizers as turtle soup, Gulf shrimp and andouille cornbread with roasted red pepper butter, cornmeal-dusted green tomatoes with caramelized onions and champagne butter, and Gulf shrimp and tasso cheesecake, a dish that is reminiscent of the crabmeat cheesecake appetizer served at Palace Café (although Le Creole’s version is finished with smoked tomato coulis). Another appetizer similar to one found at Palace Café is Le Creole’s delicious cast iron oysters made with compound garlic butter and hot sauce, accented with rosemary, topped with breadcrumbs and Romano cheese, and served with grilled Leidenheimer’s bread in a sizzling skillet (the oysters pan roast at Palace Café are poached in rosemary cream with herb breadcrumbs, also served in a hot skillet).
I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new way to enjoy boudin at Le Creole. The Cajun boudin spring rolls turned out to be one of my favorite appetizers. The phyllo was crisp on the exterior and delightfully spicy on the inside with Jerry Lee’s boudin, served with ponzu sauce tinged with Creole mustard. It awakened my taste buds for the dishes that would follow. Although the turtle soup wasn’t as deeply flavored as others I have enjoyed with a dark roux, the fried oyster po-boy salad was tops. A dozen plump, salty oysters fried to a golden brown were presented atop crisp hearts of Romaine, grilled toast, and crumbled bacon, glossed with a sweet Vidalia vinaigrette with a slight horseradish kick.
Other salads on the lunch menu worth sampling include New Orleans-style shrimp remoulade, and a warm duck salad with roasted pecan brittle and raspberry balsamic dressing. Daily lunch specials, which change weekly, have included alligator sauce piquant (served with a strip of alligator on top), blackened stuffed catfish, and stewed rabbit from Alabama.
Chef Andre’s seasonal entrée creations are usually quite intriguing, including his black skillet bob white quail with smoked ham hock and braised butter beans; stone ground grits and shrimp grillades with pepper jack cheese; and the melt-in-the-mouth grilled Angus tenderloin filet with potatoes and brandy-roasted shallots that reminded me of Commander’s char-grilled Angus tenderloin filet with potatoes and whiskey-sautéed shallots.
“Our dinner specials change with the seasons,” Chef Andre points out. “Last night, we had venison chops with brown butter smashed potatoes and a local fig demiglace. I felt I had to bring a little bit of New Orleans to Baton Rouge.” The chef’s delicious whole marinated Gulf fish changes according to what is fresh. “Right now, we’re using speckled trout,” says Chef Andre. The fish is marinated in orange juice and soy sauce, lightly breaded in rice and cornflour, and served with an herbal sauce flecked with jalapeño and green onion. “For our rabbit tenderloin dish, we’re using roasted corn polenta from Papa Tom in Baton Rouge. Papa Tom has a corn grinder at his house; he has just gotten in the door at Commander’s Palace.”
There is no dessert menu. The waiters recite the daily list of specials, but you can usually count on hearing bananas Foster and bread pudding on the list, among other sweet endings. For reservations to the stylish Le Creole restaurant, call 225-752-7135; located in the Highland Market strip center at Highland Road and 18135 E. Petroleum Drive.