By Cody Worsham
When it comes to culinary crustaceans, the crawfish has long reigned as king in Louisiana.
However, the latest special menu from Ruffino’s – Lobster Festival – has the larger clawed creature in contention for the crown.
Through the end of August, diners can get a three-course meal at one of Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants for just $30. With three appetizers and three entrees featuring lobster, Chef Peter Sclafani has created a menu that has something for everyone.
Last night, my wife and I headed over to the Highland Road mainstay to sample the fare, and we walked away absolutely blown away by the experience.
From the start, the service was exceptional. Our servers, Chris and Peter, were terrific, attentive to our needs and always available to answer questions. Chris provided us with the lobster menu, detailed every dish to the last ingredient, and helped us cater our selections to our own particular tastes. He anticipated our needs before we realized them and helped maximize the dining experience. Peter also walked my wife through the wine list and gave us both perfect recommendations.
I went with the Cocktail de Louisiane, a great choice: rich, spicy, and smooth; a Southern man’s drink. At $10.95, it’s not cheap, but with liquor, you get what you pay for, and this Sazerac-based spirit is one of my new favorite to splurge on.
On to the appetizers. Chris listened to my wife and me detail our particular tastes, and expertly suggested the Lobster Spring Rolls (for her) and the Lobster Dumplings (for me). The dumplings were packed with flavor, crispy and crunch. If you like fried and buttery – who doesn’t? – you’ll devour these in a matter of minutes.
The spring rolls, Chris said, are a smash hit, and it’s obvious why. I had to steal one from my wife, the way her eyes lit up after one bite. With Maine lobster, asparagus, mango, and avocado all wrapped together in rice paper, the rolls pull off an almost impossible combination of trifectas, in texture (crisp, soft, creamy) and in taste (tangy, spicy, sweet). It’s like Southern sushi, Maine meets Louisiana with an Eastern twist, and best of all, the lobster remains the star of the show, its texture and flavor enhanced by its fellow ingredients. The mint soy dipping sauce gave a nutty addition that will leave you wishing local sushi joints would find a similar recipe.
My wife received her entree – the Lobster Fra Diavalo – with her appetite only enhanced by the light, flavorful spring rolls. The dumplings had me slightly fuller, so it was great that Chris had paired me with the Lobster “Filet Mignon,” a smaller dish than her large serving of pasta. The filet is one of the coolest culinary creations I’ve seen recently. It starts with a shrimp and egg white purée. The lobster is added, and the mix is placed in a mold and roasted, giving it a fluffy, smooth texture with a crisp first bite. Served with asparagus and a béarnaise sauce, I highly recommend it. It’s delicious, and you’ll probably never get the chance to eat anything like it again.
The Fra Diavalo gets its own paragraph, at my wife’s insistence. At this point, I’ll basically quote her. “In the 10 minutes I spent with this pasta, I had a complete love affair. It has ruined me for all other pastas. I would bathe in this sauce.” As you can tell, she’s a sauce girl, and she raved about the spicy tomato sauce, which has some kick but is definitely not too spicy for even those diners hesitant to heat up their palates. It was a perfect companion to the Main Lobster chunks resting on spaghetti. She was existentially torn between devouring the whole plate and saving some for lunch – she opted for the latter to extend the love affair for another day.
Full and happy, I selected the strawberry and black pepper sorbet for desert. Ruffino’s rotates their sorbets; I hope you’re lucky enough to go on a night when these two contrasting flavors tango. The black pepper lingers after every bite, begging for more strawberry to sweeten it. Light and delicious, it was a great final course after two satisfying predecessors. My wife opted for the Creole bread pudding, and I had to steal a bite or four. I love bread pudding and am notoriously picky for it, and this was among the best I’ve had, a subtler sauce letting the bread’s texture do the heavy lifting.
If you haven’t made it out to Ruffino’s yet for Lobster Festival, hurry up! It ends August 31.