By Brett Anderson
IN 2016, the New Orleans Restaurant of the Year is Compere Lapin. Why?
Because chef-owner Nina Compton’s big idea — to marry the cooking of her native St. Lucia with that of her adopted New Orleans home — is a delicious case study in the hard art of belonging. Because she translates that big idea to the plate with finely tuned, you-can’t-do-this-at-home skills.
Because while the balance of Caribbean-New Orleans influences vary from dish to dish (carrots amandine on one hand, conch croquettes on the other), the impression one is left with after several meals is that the private and public forces that give rise to this food are getting equal attention. Because that in itself is an interesting exercise in compromise.
Because the fruits of all this are things like dirty rice arancini, hamachi-pickled mango crudo and marinated shrimp enveloped in cool roasted jalapeno jus. Because the raw bar and cocktail bar are well-integrated into the restaurant but also worth visiting themselves.
Because Compton, together with husband-partner Larry Miller, could have leveraged her television success on “Top Chef” with a publicity stunt disguised as a restaurant and probably made some easy money — but didn’t. Because instead they moved from Miami to New Orleans to create a restaurant that clearly means something to them and that has grown stronger with each passing month since its mid-2015 opening.
Because Leah Chase was in not long ago and had really good things to say about the black drum.Because my mouth waters when I think about eating here.
Because in a year when the concept of change — what it is, whether it’s needed, whether it’s a positive or negative force — monopolized civic discourse, a new restaurant made itself at home serving curried goat to adoring crowds in New Orleans.