Roadside Dining: Luck of the Draw
I was traveling through north Louisiana with a worldly friend skilled in cooking many cuisines with a concentration in the foods of Asia. I had long heard rumors of a sensational Chinese restaurant in Bossier City with a voluminous wine list and we were eager to check it out.
Upon arriving at the motel where $195 will score you a room for a week, we did as we had been advised to do: “Do not look around the lobby, just head straight for the door in the back.” Upon opening the nondescript door under the words “Lucky Palace” reality shifted: A white linen cloth restaurant where nattily-attired patrons drank decanted wine from balloon glasses, tasteful Asian art glowed under subtle spotlights, bright tropical fish swam languorously in a pair of massive tanks. Awards lined the walls. The restaurant’s fabled wine “cellar” consists of racks, glowing in corners save for a small room lined floor-to-ceiling with glittering bottles. More bottles chill in a small refrigerator outside of the kitchen, others in another outside of a broom closet. We were seated next to a wall of windows. Through the foliage on the other side we caught glimpses of a grubby swimming pool. Look forward: One reality. Look back: Another.
“I am just waiting for Andy Warhol to show up,” my friend said. “This is un-f***ing-real.”
Welcome to Kuan Lim’s world. He immigrated to the United States from Kuala Lumpur to study mechanical engineering at an Illinois university. In 1997, he and his then-wife, Evelyn, a native of Taiwan, were traveling through Bossier City on their way to open a restaurant in Texas. They were sidetracked by a game of blackjack and simply never left, instead opening Lucky Palace in an old Ramada Inn with a menu that was heavy on Americanized classics and one or two crappy wines tossed on as an afterthought.
Noting the drinking tastes of a group of visiting Chinese high rollers, Lim set out to educate himself on the wines of the world and evolved his menu to match. He hired chefs Gerardo Orta Marcial and Alberto Orta Marcial, natives of north-central Mexico, who learned to cook Chinese food in Texas. Now, in addition to pu-pu platters and sweet and sour pork, specialties designed to pair with fine wines are on offer: Truffled chicken wings; roasted duck on scallion pancake; tempura fried lobster tails with green curry; and grilled rack of New Zealand lamb with mushrooms, sweet onions and a rich brown sauce among them.
Lim’s Lucky Palace features an encyclopedic, world-class wine list. His collection is diverse, approachable, and accessible, filled with bottles of all different price points and vintages. Both this year and last it was recognized by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Wine Program. The Wine Spectator has bestowed its Award of Excellence and named it one of the Top Ten Restaurants in the USA.
Housed in a converted service station, and named for his mama, Marilynn’s Place is a funhouse overseen by Chef “Boz” Baucum, a Shreveport native who returned to his hometown following decades of living and working in New Orleans and, according to him, “trying to drink myself to death.” Now sober, Baucum describes the Marilynn’s brunch experience as “drink ‘til you drown.” His is a place where a younger generations can go for brunch without worrying that they’ll be seated next to someone’s grandparents. The food is terrific — think fluffy biscuits split and topped with spicy Cajun sausage gravy; a creamy version of shrimp Creole served over baked garlic cheese grits; and creamy style red beans cooked with plenty of smoked andouille sausage, tasso and ham.
750 Diamond Jacks Blvd., Bossier City
318 752-1888 / lucky-palace.com
4041 Fern Ave., Shreveport
318-868-3004 / marilynns-place.com