TOPS IN TASTE: Our favorite meals of 2013

Photo by RANDY BERGERON -- Filet medallions topped with grilled shrimp and lump crabmeat and a dish of stuffed potatoes Show caption
Photo by RANDY BERGERON -- Filet medallions topped with grilled shrimp and lump crabmeat and a dish of stuffed potatoes

We came. We saw. We dined.

Fifty-two restaurants later, Red looks back on 10 of our favorite meals of 2013. Some fell in the white linen tablecloth category, others the more paper towel variety. We sampled sushi and seafood, steak and shawarma. And oh, the desserts — creme brulee, chocolate pecan pie — need we say more?

Reviewer Judy Bergeron found flavorful steaks at The Steakhouse in Hammond and Dutch’s Seafood & Steaks in Port Vincent.

Of the Hammond eatery, she said, “Steaks are one of the specialties of chef/owner Blake Kinchen and sous chef Jacob Dufreche. Diners order their beef by the ounce and by the cut — rib-eye, New York strip or filet mignon. A guest chose the 12-ounce filet ($33), adding a topping of sauteed mushrooms for $4.50 more. The filet was cooked to a perfect medium rare, seared to a pleasing crispiness on the outside, and very tender and juicy on its interior. No steak sauce was needed here, nor were the mushrooms, which served instead as a generous, flavorful side dish, the mushrooms being sauteed in a subtle wine and butter mixture. The steaks are accompanied by a soup or side salad, and on this cold and rainy night, we picked the soup of the day, a steaming crab and corn bisque. The soup was accented with bits of green onion and filled with tender crab in a creamy, flavorful base.”

At the more down-home Dutch’s, Bergeron found the steaks just as pleasing.

“Dutch’s menu states that its steaks are certified angus beef that is aged for a minimum of 21 days. From several choices, a guest chose the surf and turf supreme ($29.99) and was very impressed. Several filet medallions came topped with jumbo lump crab meat and several nice-sized grilled shrimp. The medallions were so tender they could be cut with a butter knife and so flavorful the steak sauce bottle went untouched. The delicate flavor of the crab and shrimp only made the beef more delectable. Accompanying it were a house salad and stuffed potato. The potato had everything found in a usual fully-loaded potato, but was served in a ramekin sans skin. The salad featured mixed greens, slices of purple onion, tomato and cheddar cheese with a pleasing, homemade-tasting blue cheese dressing.”

Reviewer Beth Colvin found Rocco’s PoBoys & Grill hits all the high points when it comes to that Louisiana staple, the po-boy.

“The bread is the right bread, perfect proportions of crusty and chewy and slathered with a thin layer of mayo to keep it from getting soggy, with just enough lettuce, tomato and pickle to provide a cool foil for warm roast beef smothered in gravy ($6.50), crispy fried shrimp or oysters ($8.25 and $8.50, respectively) or hot Italian sausage ($6.50). The roast beef, in particular, was the right kind of roast beef. Chunks of someone’s Sunday roast — not limp slices of deli roast beef — adorned the sandwich, along with a messy helping of oniony gravy. Get extra napkins, or maybe bring a clean shirt.”

Colvin also discovered that at Omi, part hibachi, part sushi bar and part Chinese restaurant, the menu is, at first glance, overwhelming.

“The first time, familiar seemed safer. A vegetable tempura appetizer ($5.95) was most generous and included the usual lineup of squash, onions and veggies lightly fried in a tempura batter. A fried ring of bell pepper added a pop of color and was unexpectedly refreshing. The beef teriyaki ($13.95) was a perfectly cooked, generous portion served with a savory sauce, crisp-tender vegetables and rice with just the right degree of stickiness.”

On a second visit to Omi, Colvin opted for sushi and seafood.

“The sushi was served in quite large portions — the tuna lover roll ($13.95) included a spicy tuna and blue crab filling and came topped with slabs of fresh raw tuna. Orders of sashimi — expertly cut pieces of raw fish — were equally large. Delicious, but a mouthful. The waitress recommended the garlic shrimp ($14.95) and it was outstanding. Spicy, savory and slightly sweet sauce smothered the tender shrimp and lightly sauteéd crescents of zucchini. Not a single piece remained on the plate.”

Reviewer George Morris revisited Serop’s and was reminded why, at different locations, Serop’s Cafe has been one of the area’s longtime shawarma depots.

“With the combination chicken and gyros platter ($11.95), both of the meats derive their flavor from being roasted on a rotisserie. The gyros, made of spiced and ground lamb, was moist and tender, a key consideration for any meat roasted on a spit. The chicken was moist as well, and both of the meats on Serop’s chicken and gyros platter were well-seasoned, but not excessively so by what is typical of Mediterranean food, which tends to be salty and with a robust amount of garlic.”

But what about the hummus?

“Not all hummus is created equal, which is good, because not everyone agrees on the exact ratio between the zing of lemon juice, the punch of garlic and the subtle, nutty flavor of tahini (sesame seed paste). Serop’s formula is good, but we were especially enamored of the creamy, silky texture, which makes this chickpea concoction seem almost decadent, whether to accent any of the meats, or for dipping with the complimentary basket of pita bread.”

Morris’ trip to New Roads proved to offer a satisfying meal in a picturesque setting looking over False River at Morel’s Restaurant.

“The grilled eight-ounce pork chop ($17.95) was a thick, juicy, bone-in slab of pork accented wonderfully with bordelaise sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes topped with onion rings. The meat was most satisfying, and the mashed potatoes were the real thing and not some powdered concoction. We never thought about combining garlic mashed potatoes and onion rings, but this was a good melding of flavors. The shrimp and eggplant Napoleon ($19.95) combined the two signature items with onions, Swiss cheese and bacon, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of those, particularly bacon. The eggplant was fried with a crisp batter, and the other ingredients gave it a bold flavor. The four-ounce filet mignon ($21.95) was a scrumptious, tender slab of beef served over creamed spinach and roasted potatoes and topped with fried oysters and béarnaise sauce.”

Reviewer Cynthia Campbell checked out the new Galatoire’s Bistro in Baton Rouge to see how it compared to the time-honored traditions of the New Orleans icon.

“We started with the oysters en brochette ($11) featuring a half-dozen of the mollusks wrapped in bacon and fried to doneness. Moist and flavorful, a dip in the simple but pleasing meuniere sauce added to the deliciousness of this dish, easily enough for three.”

Meanwhile, “the Gulf Crabmeat Yvonne ($27), one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, came with a lightly sautéed drum along with the same topping as mentioned in the steak dish. Very fresh and moist, both the fish and the crab were exceptional.”

Campbell topped the meal off with “an interesting chocolate pecan pie ($6), dominated by a dark-chocolate flavor with a sprinkling of pecans.”

Campbell also visited Zorba’s Greek Bistro when the Cypriot-Greek Economedes family, which operated a restaurant in Baton Rouge during the 1980s and ’90s, opened its newest venture.

“A wonderful beginning for dinner, the Piperies dip ($7) blends slightly smoky roasted red sweet peppers with roasted walnuts, garlic and olive oil. Spread the smooth dip on soft, warm toasted pita triangles for a quick bite. The fried calamari appetizer ($12) can easily satisfy four. Tender pieces of squid are fried in an extra crunchy batter with a hint of cayenne pepper. The calamari comes with a creamy tzatziki sauce, made with Greek yogurt, and lightly seasoned with dill.”

And on to the entrees, “the mousaka ($14), baked in an individual casserole, featured layers of lean ground beef, eggplant and potatoes topped with a buttery bechamel sauce. We especially liked the subtle blending of flavors in this not too peppery dish. The fresh fish of the day ($19) was a grilled speckled trout. It was topped with a pungent mustard sauce blended with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Although sharp tasting, the sauce balanced out the flavor of the fish, especially when eaten with the mild orzo pasta and green beans side dishes.”

It was worth the trips for reviewer Jill Arnold, who enjoyed two wonderful meals at Cafe Vermilionville and Ruffino’s on the River.

“From the appetizers to the desserts the food was incredible,” Arnold said of Cafe Vermilionville. “We really liked the cafe sampler for two ($14), a bite-sized combination of crawfish beignets sitting on a wonderful mustard aioli, bacon wrapped garlic shrimp, fried alligator tenderloin, battered and fried pickles, and sliced grilled Cajun sausage. Everything was delicious and presented in a pleasing minimalist fashion.

“We also loved the gulf fish Acadien ($30). A wonderful plate of pan-seared black drum, fresh lump crab meat, roasted corn and peppers, parmesan risotto and a lemon dill beurre blanc. Mixing these layers of tastes together in one bite was a wonderful combination of just-right flavors and textures.”

At Ruffino’s on the River (overlooking the Vermillion River), Arnold suggested the crabmeat cheesecake appetizer ($12.95).

“The large slice of savory, rich, baked crabmeat with creamy cheeses and a creole meuniere sauce was topped with hollandaise and chopped scallions and was just dense enough, with a light crust. This and a salad would make a nice meal.”

And “the cedar plank baked redfish ($25.95), as beautiful as it was tasty, with tomatoes and pesto artfully drizzled on top of the tender fish.”

Topping everything off was the vanilla creme brulee ($8.95).

“Also quite good and the delicious custard was prepared just right.”