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Acadiana, 901 New York Ave. N.W., (202) 408-8848 In the restaurant business, as in most of life really, there are times when all the careful planning in the world simply gets overtaken by unforeseen events. That was surely the case last month for D.C. chef Jeff Tunks — co-owner of D.C. Coast, TenPenh, and Ceiba — as he opened his latest venture, the New Orleans-inspired Acadiana. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, but with New Orleans still mostly underwater after Hurricane Katrina, Tunks and the rest of the Acadiana team had to be wondering whether District diners would be ready for reminders like turtle soup, barbecue shrimp, and andouille sausage jambalaya. We wondered ourselves as we made our first visit. For seven years, we have gone to New Orleans annually to feast on regional delicacies. Savoring Crescent City cuisine with the city in shambles seemed a bit irreverent. But by the end of that first dinner at Acadiana, we saw things differently. At the table next to us, two travelers from the Gulf Coast who had fled the ravages of hurricane season were looking for a comforting meal. Over fried green tomatoes and crawfish pies, they recalled the cooking of their childhoods. It didn’t feel disrespectful at all; it felt celebratory. We certainly can’t regret indulging in Acadiana’s pillowy buttermilk biscuits. Or for that matter, digging into a generous appetizer of rustic meat pies — two filled with a savory blend of pork and beef and two with thick crawfish stew. Good things at Acadiana often seem to come in clusters, like an elegant sampler of espresso-sized soups. The satiny oyster Rockefeller soup with whispers of spinach and pernod is a mellow counterpoint to smoky chicken gumbo and meaty turtle soup. Another winning combination is the trio of deviled eggs crowned with crab salad, tangy shrimp rémoulade, and salty caviar. The rémoulade reappears in another starter atop tart green tomatoes, battered and fried to a near greaseless crisp. To those purists who scoff at the unorthodox crossing of classic creole and Dixieland recipes, all we can say is “yum.” And while we’re on the subject of tasty vittles, allow us to offer a few words on behalf of the chef who invented fried pickles. At Acadiana, thin slices of dill pickle are dredged in creole-spiced cornmeal and thrown in the fryer until they are piping hot and the color of caramel — the perfect mate for a cold beer. Acadiana bills itself as a Louisiana fish house, and sure enough, the dishes that exceeded our expectations all starred seafood. Chef Christopher Clime, who manages Acadiana’s kitchen on a day-to-day basis, demonstrates a flair for inventive preparations that accentuate the delicate flavors of fish. In one sublime dish, crisp red snapper studded with slivers of toasted almonds nestles up to a sweet corn pudding. In another standout, grilled redfish doused in a smoky red pepper sauce perches on a bed of bold sausage jambalaya. Not that Acadiana gets everything right. A starter of broiled oysters topped with butter and bread crumbs lacks pizzazz. And Acadiana’s fried oysters could use an extra dash of seasoning. A few dishes leave the soul out of soul food. Acadiana’s shrimp po’ boy — a hollowed-out baguette brimming with grilled shrimp — may be authentic, but without any distinctive touches, any dressing, or even a lonely tomato slice, it’s also boring. Still, you can’t fault Acadiana for regional authenticity or attention to detail. Po’ boy sandwiches are made on bread from New Orleans’ famed Leidenheimer Bakery and served with local Zapps potato chips, while lemonade gets a kick from the juice of Louisiana sugar cane. Lunch entrees range from $13 to $26; dinner, $19 to $27. Acadiana’s wine selections give a nod to the Gallic influence on New Orleans cooking. The wine list looks beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy, however, and focuses on offerings from lesser-known regions such as Côtes du Rhône and Provence. On the dessert menu, trademark sweets like bananas foster and beignets take center stage. At $8, bananas foster gets an urbane makeover, tucked inside airy crepes. Acadiana’s beignets, accompanied by a decadent chicory crème, are a reasonable, though perhaps denser, facsimile of the doughnuts turned out three for $1.75 at the famous Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Now that Cafe Du Monde has reopened its doors, we’re hoping it’s a signal that New Orleans kitchens will soon be back in business. Until then, Acadiana will be carrying the torch a whole lot closer to home.
Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times . Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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