Around Louisiana-Cajun Country
FORK IN THE ROAD
Once you’ve reached the simple white Spanish façade of Pamplona Tapas Bar and walked through the pepper-red door, you might find yourself looking instinctively for Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power or Papa Hemingway himself. This eatery could have been plucked from a scene in The Sun Also Rises. Born into a privileged British family, chef William Annesley, proprietor, spent many boyhood days with his family in Majorca, Spain; traveled worldwide; and became most knowledgeable about exotic herbs and spices. Chef Annesley likewise distinguished himself at culinary establishments on the West Coast for the past 10 years with stellar acumen. An avid hunter and gatherer himself, he has transplanted himself smack-dab in Cajun Country.
Pamplona offers “nose to tail” menu service: Hunters can drop off their game, and the eatery will prepare it for their dinners the following evening. If Hemingway had owned a restaurant, he probably would have run it like Pamplona. And, yes, the place is named for the town where the bulls run, located in the Basque region of Spain.
This is a dining experience as rich as a glass of Spanish red wine, the sensuous tones of a Spanish guitar or reading a Hemingway novel for the first time. Begin your meal with the cocktail Death in the Afternoon, 1 ounce of absinthe in 5 ounces of champagne, and peruse the menu. The oyster bar overlooks the bustling kitchen and serves the oysters chargrilled. Individual montadillos dishes –– a helping of anything served over bread –– include jamòn serrano (a Spanish ham that by tradition was once cured in mountain air) with tangy goat cheese, anchovies and cream cheese, garlic shrimp, and baby eels with garlic and lemon.
The tapas menu runs the gamut of flavor, starting with the simple chargrilled bread or an entire loaf of ciabatta with garlic-chili oil. Absolutely refreshing is the smoked-salmon-wrapped asparagus with a lemon-dill vinaigrette. The bold and harmonious flavors of France, North Africa and Spain are apparent in all tapas –– the pork kebabs with rose petal sauce, the grape-stuffed roast quail encircled by jamòn serrano and applesauce, seared scallops in pomegranate molasses and the lamb chops in red currant sauce with a mint coulis.
The dinner menu is smaller but no less enjoyable. The Paella Valenciana brims with rabbit; duck; chicken; and morcilla, a black blood sausage traditional to Spain. The menu also includes chargrilled skirt steak in a chimichurri sauce. You might want to bite into 10 ounces of a prime filet mignon crusted with herbs and noisette butter or a bone-in prime rib-eye soaking up balsamic shallot sauce. Verduras (vegetables) include Potato and Leek Dauphinois, Duck Fat Fries, Spinach and Almonds, Green Peas with Mint, and Asparagus with Noisette Butter. Pamplona also features an impressive and extensive collection of fine Spanish wines perfect for the robust dishes.
Desserts include flan (something I’ve oddly enough always enjoyed with a rich red wine as an accompaniment), Balsamic Strawberries with Mascarpone Crème Fraîche, profiteroles, Churros con Chocolate (fried strips of sugar-and-spice pastry dough dipped in chocolate), gelatos, sorbets and granitas.
Pamplona offers a “moveable feast” you’ll always take wherever you go. Reservations are strongly suggested.
Pamplona Tapas Bar, 631 Jefferson St., Lafayette, (337) 232-0070
Mulate’s Restaurant in Breaux Bridge has provided countless people with pure eating pleasure, all dished up under the beneficent auspices of owner Goldie Comeaux, who left this world March 22 from complications following heart surgery. According to a story in the Teche News, Miss Goldie, 66, was rightfully known as a gifted gastronome who also loved art and created paintings herself. She served the community well, acting on the boards of directors for the Breaux Bridge Area Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Restaurant Association. The fame of her beloved restaurant helped put Breaux Bridge on the map. This loving grandmother possessed a heart of Goliath proportions: Each year when cold weather began settling in Cajun Country, she bought out all the sweats she could find for both children and adults and delivered them to homeless shelters. Homeless shelters in her area also received regular spaghetti dinners from her. Just before she died, she had returned from volunteering on a medical mission to Honduras and was planning a similar trip to Africa next year.
As reported in the Teche News, Sam Guilbeau, banker and friend, describes her glowingly: “She was a person who just opened her heart to anyone. If anyone came into her restaurant and was hungry, she’d feed them.”
Devastated by her death, her large family intends to keep Mulate’s open and operating in the warm tradition of their matriarch.
“Breaux Bridge is going to miss Goldie,” says Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme.
With ethanol being considered as an alternative for fuel, it has become apparent to politicians, farmers and scientists that the amount of food crops such as corn or sugar cane necessary for supply demands could not be grown in the United States.
But cellulosic technology that uses corn scraps, the pulpy cane fiber known as “bagasse” or forest residue and breaks it down into fuel could provide the solution for adequate ethanol production. In Jennings, a Massachusetts-based company named Verenium Corp. is spearheading the effort to attain this goal. The company spoke to a group of Vermilion Parish farmers about growing “energy cane” over the next two years to furnish cellulosic biomass for its Jennings plant. The Louisiana State University AgCenter has developed a few breeds of sugar cane that would facilitate this goal. Waiting in the wings for approval is a new energy bill that would provide substantial backing to cellulosic technology in the United States. According to Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser, Mark Zappi, dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Engineering, says that Louisiana timber, corn, soy, sugar cane, switch grass, manure and waste from it all could be grown as cellulosic biomass.
Zappi also says that cracked rice, a secondary product for animal feed, has potential usefulness for the ultimate production of ethanol using the cellulosic technology.
Verenium needs 1,500 acres of these crops planted in 2008, followed by 15,000 in 2009, as a test to see if Louisiana farmers can plant enough crops to support a larger plant in southwest Louisiana. Farmers who grow an energy crop could make a profit of $150 to $200 per acre. Verenium is considering harvesting and transporting the crops itself on behalf of the farmers.