By Matt Starlight
Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen. Every one of them claims the best lasagna, pasta, or whatever, but Ruffino’s in Baton Rouge is actually delivering on the promises that other places wish they could claim. So, our ears perked up when we heard that this month, they’re bringing out Lobster Festival, which features a stellar deal: three lobster themed courses for just $30.
“It’s a special treat. Three courses, 30 bucks, you can’t beat it. So, for me, I’m excited for the month and it should be special,” said general manager Howard Joseph Walker.
It’s not exactly a surprise that they’re running this deal again, however. After the success of the special last year, bringing it back for round two was a no-brainer.
“We did it last year, and it was such a big hit. It was just something we were trying last year, and we said, ‘You know, let’s try to give something to our guests that’s just different than everybody else,'” said Corporate Chef Gino Sclafani. “So, it was such a huge hit and we had so many people talking about it so we decided we would do it again this year.”
To get a handle on the crustacean cuisine, DIG sat down for the works. What we found was beyond satisfactory, but in fact superb.
You’re quickly seated at a table of your choosing, then greeted by not one, but three exceptionally attentive waiters or waitresses.
“They all have a specific role,” said Sclafani. “You have your captain, your front wait, and your back wait. Your captain handles all food, your front wait handles all beverages, and then your back wait clears the table, brings bread, brings water. Now, granted, they all can do certain things, so its not just this, but that’s their main focus.”
The Lobster Festival selection list is served separately from the usual leather-bound menu, so don’t tempt yourself with their day-to-day spread and stick with what we’re here for. The menu offers three appetizer options, three entrees, and a single dessert, which seemed peculiar at first, but after having tasted it, it’s obvious that it’s the only one you could possibly want.
To start, one of your waiters will bring freshly baked ciabatta rolls and mix their Italian butter on a serving dish. The golden brown sauce consists of imported romano cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and roasted garlic. The simple concoction bears salty, savory notes that proudly show their heritage. It’s a fragrant, cheesy mixture that’s got less complexity, but more flavor and kick than expected, and that’s a good thing. Combined with truly fresh, soft, and warm ciabatta, the sauce sets the bar incredibly high.
Served alongside the Italian butter and to be consumed after is amuse-buse, which, according to the waiter, is Italian for “pleasing the mouth.” Apple slaw, seared tuna, and cucumber caviar come together to form this delectable little bite of palate cleansing elegance. It’s a nice touch, and a bit of class.
Now that niceties are out of the way, it’s time to make a few choices.
The appetizer we selected was the Spring Rolls, which were made of mixed baby greens, rice paper wrapped around lobster tail meat, mangos, asparagus, red onion, and some micro cilantro. Served along with some spicy soy dipping sauce, the spring rolls are incredibly fresh and pleasant. The vegetables are bright and crunchy, the lobster’s succulent and tender, and the cilantro and mango contribute nicely to the otherwise savory wrap. You’re given four, along with a small spinach salad that opens up your meal nicely.
Next, we opted for the Lobster Filet, which, according to Sclafani, is their biggest hit.
“There’s really only one dish that we did from last year. I can’t even tell you how big of a success it was. It’s called the lobster filet and a lot of times people go ‘lobster and filet.’ It’s actually lobster meat,” explained Sclafani. “We use shrimp and make a mousse, then we mix all the lobster in it. We put some chives and our creole seasoning, and we actually mold it and when we cook it, it looks like a filet. And it’s fantastic. I’m telling you, that’s our number one selling item on the lobster fest menu.”
It’s just salty enough, tender, and light so you can finish strong on the dessert. The filet comes topped with yellow béarnaise sauce, which is hollandaise (butter, eggs, lemon juice, salt) with tarragon leaves mixed together. It’s steamed up and drizzled across. Each bite of the soft lobster filet is tender and acts perfectly in tandem with the crunchiness of the fresh, bright asparagus.
Finally, arguably the tastiest thing on the menu: the Creole Bread Pudding. It’s a New Orleans-style bread pudding with raisins and cinnamon served with a succulent whiskey sauce. Soft and doughy on the inside, and a bit crispier on the outside, this bread pudding is drizzled with savory whiskey sauce for just the slightest bit of boozy flavor. It’s sweet, moist, and an absolute pleasure to indulge in.
It’s clear that Ruffino’s is working hard to ensure that your experience there is different from anywhere else.
“We’re always trying to do different things. We’re always looking at not only food, but hospitality is what we focus on,” said Sclafani.
And the reviews so far have been nothing but spectacular.
“It’s early,” said Joseph, “but the comments we’re getting are fantastic.”