Ruffino’s takes its Italian-Creole flavors to Lafayette location

With renovations still ongoing, Ruffino’s on the River has opened in the upscale space formerly occupied by Cochon Lafayette.

The restaurant serves the same Italian-Creole fusion menu as Ruffino’s Baton Rouge location — steaks, seafood and Italian dishes — “but more concentrated” and with a few specialties unique to Ruffino’s on the River, said Kyle Waters III, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine.

Ruffino’s co-owners, Ruffin Rodrigue and Peter Sclafani III, hoped to open the Lafayette location in mid-April, two months after Cochon Lafayette closed, but the opening didn’t occur until May 20. Ruffino’s on the River is located at 921 Camellia Boulevard in the River Ranch development.

Rodrigue, a former All-American guard for the LSU football team, manages the restaurant’s operations while his business partner, a third-generation chef from New Orleans, is executive chef. The 7,600-square-foot restaurant’s decor is dominated by expansive windows overlooking the Vermilion River and a massive wood-fired oven wrapped with stainless steel and copper.

The oven is used for cooking such dishes as pizzas, roasting fresh Gulf oysters on the half shell and baking redfish on a cedar plank. The fish, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, is covered with slices of tomatoes to protect its flesh from the heat, Waters said.

“The oven probably can get up to 750 degrees,” Waters said. It’s about 5 feet around, one of the largest ovens EarthStone makes. They needed a forklift to put it in and then they put up the walls.”

“For kids, we’ll let them make their own pizzas at the pizza bar,” Sclafani said. “We’ll give them parboiled crusts to top the way they want and then they can sit at the bar to watch their pizzas cook and to eat.”

The restaurant seats about 150 customers but once renovations are completed, it will seat 200 to 230 patrons, Rodrigue said. Still to come are Hollywood-style, semicircular, six-person booths for the bar area and a new entry with a large glass front door. A storeroom is being converted to a private dining room with drop-down screen and built-in projector.

Eventually there might be outdoor dining, but for now the riverside patio is used for river viewing and for the large containers recently added for Waters to grow fresh herbs, seasonings, avocado, strawberries, satsumas, kumquats, green onions, Meyer lemon and heirloom tomatoes.

Sclafani and Rodrigue said they are dividing their time between Baton Rouge and Lafayette until the new restaurant’s 60-member staff is comfortable with the menu and service they expect for their customers.

Cochon Lafayette was founded by Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski, both James Beard-award winning chefs. Waters, 34, who grew up in Baton Rouge, had worked at the Link Restaurant Group’s Cochon and Herbsaint restaurants in New Orleans before moving to Lafayette to open Cochon Lafayette. He said he decided to join Ruffino’s because “I didn’t want to move back to New Orleans” since he and his pastry chef wife now have two young daughters.

Among menu items exclusive to the Ruffino’s on the River location are a shrimp corn dogs appetizer which Sclafani cooked at the James Beard House in New York City on April 6, an heirloom tomato salad and a seasonal seafood-stuffed pasta, which for now is Louisiana crawfish ravioli with house-made pasta and crawfish butter.

Sclafani likes to showcase molecular gastronomy techniques and other cooking trends to produce new flavors and textures in his dishes. For example, his modern take of caprese salad features slices of heirloom tomato topped with burrata cheese instead of mozzarella and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar caviar pearls. A seared yellowfin tuna appetizer is served on a Himalayan salt plate with soy “caviar.”

“We want some wow presentations,” he said.

“Our most popular appetizer is the crab meat cheesecake with Creole meunière sauce,” Waters said. “Also popular are Louisiana barbecued shrimp which we serve with soft polenta and the cedar-planked redfish. We also have great steaks, and Veal Michael is popular. That’s sautéed veal with jumbo lump crab meat and our sauce imperial.”

Ruffino’s opened on Highland Road in Baton Rouge 15 years ago as DiNardo’s, a venture between then LSU football coach Gerry DiNardo and restaurant owner T.J. Moran. The name changed to Ruffino’s in 2001 and in 2010, Rodrigue and Sclafani bought out Moran. Gino Sclafani, Peter Sclafani’s younger brother, is the Baton Rouge location’s corporate chef.

Ruffino’s on the River is open for dinner seven days a week. Its hours are 4:30 p.. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. There are no plans now to serve lunch, Rodrigue said, adding, “Eventually we will at least be open for Friday lunch and Sunday brunch like Baton Rouge and then we’ll see where we go.”

For more information about Ruffino’s on the River’s, visit http://www.ruffinoslafayette.com or call (337) 706-7333.