A pioneer in the culinary evolution of Covington since opening in 1990, Dakota offers an elegant dining experience enhanced by rich mahogany millwork, grand floral arrangements, fine wines, and contemporary Louisiana cuisine with Southwest, Mediterranean, and Asian influences.
The 175-seat restaurant with four dining areas is run by proprietors Ken LaCour and Chef Kim Kringlie. The two met while working at Juban’s restaurant in Baton Rouge. LaCour was Juban’s general manager for five years and also its pastry chef, garnering the American Culinary Federation’s Gold Medal for desserts in a statewide competition in 1988. He is an ardent connoisseur of fine wines.
LaCour and Kringlie also own Cuvée restaurant in New Orleans, which is devoted to its astute wine collection. LaCour’s passion for wine is focused in Dakota’s bar; in the center of the room is a display of multi magnum-sized bottles of rare wines from California and Europe. Dakota has earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.
Chef Kringlie was born in North Dakota (hence the restaurant’s name) and came south to Baton Rouge to become the executive chef of Juban’s. He later became the corporate executive chef for Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldsonville, owned by acclaimed Chef John Folse. As culinary director for Dakota and Cuvée, he has garnered numerous awards for cooking competitions, including two Gold Medals from the American Culinary Federation.
“I just kind of migrated south,” Chef Kringlie says. “I was in Wyoming, then Dallas for a while, then made my way to Baton Rouge, and eventually Covington, where we opened Dakota in 1990.” The restaurant sustained little damage during hurricane Katrina and was up and running long before others could turn on their lights. “We shut down for almost two weeks after Katrina,” says Chef Kringlie,” but we didn’t have any structural damage to the restaurant. We were probably one of the first to reopen in the area. When people realized that we were open and had electricity, it was great for them to discover a spot to go for relief.”
The wine selection is impressive at Dakota, with extensive domestic offerings featuring current and older vintages in excess of 450 wines, plus a small selection of imported wines; but the food is the star of the show.
“We always like to use indigenous Louisiana seafood fresh from the Gulf,” Chef Kringlie explains. “We throw in a little Southwestern, Spanish, and Asian. We feel that we have a strong understanding of what the customers are looking for.”
During Carnival season, Chef Kringlie was invited to Washington DC to participate in providing the food for 4,000 people with five other Louisiana chefs for the Mardi Gras ball held there each year. “I cooked shrimp and grits for them.” This is one of the restaurant’s most popular appetizers. Jumbo shrimp are served with garlic cheese grits with pancetta and scallion butter. “I put shrimp and grits on the menu two years ago and people kept on requesting them. We get our grits from Papa Tom’s Grit Company out of Baton Rouge. He picks out his own corn and has a 100-year-old grinder. He makes the grits himself.”
The most popular starter is the sinfully rich and creamy lump crabmeat and brie soup, a Dakota signature. Another good starter: seafood beignets designed with shrimp, crabmeat, and crawfish finished with a luscious lobster cream.
The most popular salad is the rare Ahi tuna, seared and served with pickled ginger, Asian vinaigrette and wasabi aioli. The grilled sea scallops are also recommended, served on a bed of spring greens with andouille grapefruit vinaigrette and sweet corn croutons.
You can get excellent lamb at Dakota, in addition to great steaks and chops. Recommended are the chorizo-crusted lamb rack, the tender filet mignon with Cabernet-roasted shallots, and the hearty double cut pork chops with a leek-butternut fondue and buttermilk onion rings. The Cornish game hen is also exceptional, served with a side of potatoes tinged with truffles.
“Soft shell crabs will be back and available in March,” Chef Kringlie says. “We only run them when they are fresh and in season. We make sure it is always a fresh, live product coming in the back door.” The soft shells Kringlie prepares have a delicious shrimp, crabmeat, and crawfish stuffing, served on a bed of seasoned pecan wild grains with their little legs standing up, topped with a Creolaise sauce (hollandaise seasoned with Creole mustard).
For dessert, don’t pass up the white chocolate brownie with bittersweet chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. There is a $25 corkage fee with a two bottle maximum.