Generally we're not big Mardi Gras celebrators around our house. Growing up in New Jersey doesn't exactly leave you with a deep feeling of tradition for the MG parade. I admire it in a very distant and longing sort of way, but not in a way that I can say that I've experienced the intense fun and debauchery of New Orleans. But this past Wednesday my husband I took the opportunity for a night out and joined Ari and the gang at Zingerman's roadhouse for their Mardi Gras dinner. Do I even need to say how great it was? I can't seem to get enough of the food genius that inhabits that building.
Chef Julio, who apparently used to cook at NOLA in New Orleans, told us that this was his third annual Mardi Gras dinner working at Zingerman's. He had such a passion for the Cajun cooking and history; it was really intriguing to hear him speak about his first hand knowledge of the cuisine.
The menu was a wonderful journey of the flavors of Cajun (NOT CREOLE) cooking. We started off with two apps: a roasted pepper stuffed with rice, andouille, and I believe there were even some currents in there, and an "Erster" stuffed and baked with a garlicky bread crumb topping (I'm pretty sure this had some kind of sausage in there too). These were wonderful, especially the oyster, of which I'm not usually the biggest fan. However, the flavors were top notch, really complimenting the smooth texture of the shellfish.
Next we had a cup of the best gumbo that I have ever had in my entire life. I've surely not tried as many as a real southerner, however, the rue that was the base of this gumbo must have been slow cooked for a very very long time because there was such amazing depth of flavor - the base of the soup was nearly black. It was so well seasoned, with shredded chicken, andouille, oysters, topped with a scoop of rice, and a steamed shrimp. There was just enough kick in here to make you sputter a little bit, but not too much that it overwhelmed the balance of the other flavors.
Our entree choices were suckling pig, crawfish pie, and blackened catfish in a tomato broth. All to be served with tastings of three sides; field peas (a delicious broad bean), mac choux, and chow chow. Once again these were classic Lousiana tastes done up Zingerman's style, with great ingredients and attention to detail. My husband chose the pig, and I had the crawfish pie. Both were excellent, but what surprised me was the exceptional quality of the crust for the crawfish pie. I had been expecting the crawfish to be baked in the shell, but instead it came as sort of an ettouffe dished into the flakiest perfectly seasoned savory pate brisee I have ever tasted. The texture was heavenly.
By now we were beginning to be uncomfortably full, but dessert was still to come so we had to make room. There were two sweets to try, a banana beignet served with a chocolate praline mousse, and a rum raisin rice pudding. These were also superb, but the only thing I wish about these desserts was that they had come first when I could totally appreciate them.
As always the best part of this experience was the ambiance, the service, the evening as a whole. I suppose others could recreate the perfect cajun tasting dinner (in the middle of a frozen Michigan winter) but Zingerman's staff manages to do it with an attention to detail and service that in my opinion is unequaled around here.
I have done many other Zingerman's tastings and would definitely suggest if you live in the area that you take the opportunity to go to one yourself. You will not be sorry.