Several years ago, I ran out of money in New Orleans. The culinary carnival that is the Big Easy is the last place you want to be forced to subsist on the McDonald's dollar menu. Fortunately, before that happened, I met a stranger who treated me to a five-course chef's choice meal at a subdued bistro where we dined on everything from crispy boudin-stuffed quail to frog legs to duck breast. The closest I can get to reliving that potent evening punctuated with Cajun flavors and hole-in-the-wall French Quarter vibes is at Acadia.
The Northeast Fremont restaurant demonstrates the brilliance of food from the bayou. Modest ingredients, like kidney beans, ham hocks and crawdads, can be transformed into indulgent dishes. The hush puppies ($5) are a strong example. The deep-fried balls arrive stacked in a pyramid on an orange horseradish glaze. Cut down the center to reveal a grainy yet soft middle flecked with green onions. Use the jazzed-up cornbread to soak in the sweet-hot sauce, giving the snack an almost Asian flair.
In the South, fish fries are for summer, but you can taste the fellowship of that culinary tradition all year long at Acadia. Though often derided as an inferior species, I've always been drawn to the slight earthy musk of catfish. Caught wild in Louisiana, Acadia's flaky fillets ($18) are coated in cornmeal and come lounging in a corn maque choux so colorful, it looks as though strands of Mardi Gras beads have exploded on the plate. But the star on the menu is the crawfish étouffée with soft-shell blue crab ($28). The chocolate dark roux is as bold and creamy as any meaty pan-drippings gravy while the fried crustacean, belly up with legs dangling wide, has delicate flesh best dipped in a zippy jalapeño tartar.
For a moment, I'm back in that bistro on Dauphine Street in pretty much the only city where two people who just met could be so inclined to share a five-course feast together.
Pro tip: On Monday nights there's a special cheap-eats menu on which certain entrees are $14 or you can opt for the three-course dinner with salad and bread pudding for $25.