Creole Farm-to-Table Excels at New Orleans' Sac-a-Lait
New Orleans is booming. In the formerly overlooked Warehouse District, for example, conversions to loft accommodations and new builds are everywhere. That is a good omen for the burgeoning number of chef-driven restaurants that have taken root in the neighborhood. One example is Sac-a-Lait, a gem on the ground floor of a warehouse condominium conversion that bends, squeezes, and mashes the definition of farm-to-table to apply it to Creole cuisine, with exciting results.
At our media lunch, the one-page menu embodies more creative juice than a whole block of Bourbon Street. Selections are divided into “Fish,” “Hunt,” and “Farm.” Helpings are large-appetizer-sized (two can share one dish and get an appetizer portion each). I would select one item from each section for most pairs dining.
One potential volte-face awaiting hungry diners is the protean menu. It is laser-printed on a standard background image, allowing for rapid modification. So be ready for what you receive to only loosely resemble what I describe here.
Fish has the obligatory raw oysters — St. Bernard Area 3 caught locally and, in the absence of other available Gulf oysters, Beau Soleil oysters from Canada. The contrast between the large, mealy St. Bernards and the saline, pert little Beau Soleils is so palpable that even a fast-food junkie with a blindfold could tell that the different oysters are as distinct as different meats.
Octopus court-bouillon used a near inch-thick section of tentacle, softened to a comfortable al dente texture. I find these thick pieces of octopus to be more tasty than the emaciated tentacle ends served more often. With the bright, acidic base to the bouillon and crispness of an added rice patty, the dish was a tasty lunchtime starter.
Blue Crab Gnudi (goat cheese gnudi, crab meat, and peas all bathed in a mushroom cream sauce) reminded me of the magic that Italian cuisine does with cream sauces and some variation of an elevated starch like pasta, gnocchi, or gnudi. Divine, especially with a glass of Chablis from producer William Fevre, in which the forward high notes of acid succumbed to the embrace of the cream.
The dish of the meal, in my book, was the alligator and chayote from the Hunt section. It twirled the mashed chayote, like a mashed potato, into a base for the honey-powder-coated sauteed alligator. A Creole touch, white remoulade, topped the ‘gator, upon which sat a dollop of pickled mustard seeds. Savagely striking through with a knife in an unbroken swathe from top to bottom was the best way to eat this for a healthily sized segment of every component.
From the Farm section, the Crawfish tourtière, a pie of inviting earth-colored pastry, stuffed full of crawfish and chayote, could have been a meal in its own right. It reminded me how much I would like savory pies to return to menus. In my town, Dallas/Fort Worth, they are missing from 99 percent of “nice” restaurants.
You would think that with so much savory variety, desserts would take a back seat, but nothing could be further from the truth. We enjoyed Trés Leches Corn Cake (sweet corn ice cream, blueberry jalapeno jam) and Hummingbird Cake (spiced banana ice cream, smoked pecans, pineapple syrup) before resolving to take a long afternoon nap.
The beverages list boasts around a dozen Southern beers, most on draft, and a creditable disdain for the “as seen on TV” variety. Bar manager Norton Christopher is serious about his work to the point of maintaining a “solera” of whiskey. Unfinished bottles are poured into a cask so that they eventual blend to a hierarchy of the ages. Glasses of this witch’s brew are on the list as the “Infinity Bottle Pour.” He did a celery-infused gin cocktail to accompany the oysters just to show us his stuff. The wine list is impressive, too, with a concise selection that includes goodies like William Fevre Chablis and Remy Pannier “Melon de Bourgogne” by the glass, as well as New World selections (including many small West Coast wineries).
Sac-a-Lait opened in March 2015 as the brainchild of Cody and Samantha Carroll. He runs the back-of-house, she the front. Cody names Eric Ripert as the chef who he most admires but his wife as the person who has most impacted his career. After pacing your way through the inspired menu, it’s no surprise to read the list of awards that the restaurant has already acquired, and you’re hungry to hear what they win next.