New Orleans, its culture, charm, and most of all cuisine, makes the Crescent City one of our favorite travel destinations. With that in mind, my bride and I were simply ecstatic when we discovered that the Datz folks were planning on opening a Cajun-Creole restaurant in the space formally occupied by Wimauma.
Roux finally opened their doors the last week in August. The Belle of Ballast Point and I decided to give them a few weeks to work out opening day jitters. We speculated that by September the ninth they should pretty well have de-jittered themselves, so we made reservations at Roux to celebrate my birthday and remind ourselves why we love New Orleans cuisine.
We arrived promptly at 5:30 and were energetically greeted at the door and swiftly guided to our table in a quaint dining room reminiscent of some we have visited in New Orleans's midtown, uptown, Carrollton, Marigny, and Central Business (CBD) districts.
Our very pleasant, but distracted server, inquired if we would like an adult beverage. "Mon dieu, jeune dame, mais naturellement!" said I. Remembering a quintessential New Orleans beverage prepared by Pam at the bar in Le Pavillon, we requested a Sazarac for monsieur et madame.
This rye whiskey beverage with bitters and a swirl of absinthe was the signature drink of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, where it received its name in 1859. It was originally made with Cognac and the reason for the change to rye has been lost in the mists of time.
My bride decided against an appetizer (she prefers to save room for dessert), but I just had to have some Roux oysters since these mollusks make up a major New Orleans food group. Roux offers four choices: raw on the half shell, smoked on hay (yes, real hay), char-grilled, and something called an oyster po'girl.
I have had the best char-grilled oysters known to man at Felix's in the Quarter, and the sandwich didn't entice, so I decided on a half dozen each of the raw and the hay smoked. I have been wanting to try the hay smoked ever since I saw the preparation on the television program, Unique Eats! I also judge the quality and competence of a restaurant on how well they shuck and present oysters on the half shell.
Roux should not be allowed by the State of Louisiana to serve their oysters! The first tray presented to me were, as I told our server, awful. They were not freshly shucked, the salty liquor had been drained off, and they had that disgusting sheen that oysters get when they have been sitting out for a long while. I sent them back. The server promised a freshly shucked replacement that wasn't much better than the first.
My tray of hay smoked oysters came next. This was an improvement over the raw. The hay gave the oysters a very subtle and pleasant smoky taste. Unfortunately, the shucker had failed to cut the oysters loose from the bottom shell so the extraction was difficult and a bit messy.
We had requested a bottle of French red to accompany our entrees. The bottle was opened and poured before we finished our cocktails, and we were not offered a taste for approval. Actually, our dinners were served before we finished our cocktails.
Thankfully, we fared better with our entrees. The Belle of Ballast Point surprised me by ordering the Praline Panéed Redfish served on a bed of brabant sweet potatoes and topped with bourbon pecan brown butter. Brabant potatoes are crispy tender potato cubes that frequent many breakfast, lunch and dinner menus throughout New Orleans. The butter, potatoes, and redfish elicited moans of gastronomic delight from my dining partner.
I was pleased to see that Roux had included a dish on their menu that I had not seen before in the Tampa Bay area, the Wood Grilled Lamb Belly Roulade. I simply go wild over pork belly so I knew that I had to try lamb belly. This dish included two strips of belly rolled up jelly-roll style, grilled, then served on a bed of the brabant sweet potatoes, and enhanced with a creole mustard vinaigrette.
This was a pleasant and innovative dish that could have been a little more rare. I like a little "baa" in my lamb, but that's just me. I probably could have requested medium-rare, so this one's on me.
For her dessert, my bride chose the sinfully good Bourbon Butterscotch Pecan Bread Pudding. I am not a dessert person, but that pudding could make me a convert. Just look at the picture and drool.
I noticed that Roux has an absinthe drink on their dessert menu so I asked our server if the bar could whip me up an absinthe prepared in the traditional manner with the sugar cube and dripping water. She came back in a few minutes and said that would be entirely doable. I expected a glass of absinthe to be brought to the table. Was I ever wrong!
The keeper of the bar brought over to our table the entire Green Fairy shootin' match: fine absinthe, a glass, an absinthe spoon, sugar, and a carafe full of ice-cold water. I love dancing with the Green Fairy, but haven't danced a step since New Orleans. This is something I never would have expected in Tampa.
Our evening at Roux could have been memorable if the service staff could just slow down a bit and not make the patrons feel rushed. It's not called the Big Easy because they are hyper. And, for the love of John Besh, find someone who has a clue how to handle oysters. What was served to me would never have made it out of a New Orleans kitchen.
Dinner for two with all food and adult beverages came to a very reasonable $166.88. The $7 dessert was comped because it was my birthday. Normally we pay full price for everything, but it was my birthday dammit!
Editor's Update - I received an email this morning (9/23/2014) from Suzanne Perry:
Gahhhhh!!!! I just this second found your Roux blog. They screwed up the OYSTERS!?!?! Well ........ We will fix that POST HASTE!
We bring the oysters in from Louisiana. We even flew in "The Oyster Guy" from Drago's to spend 3 days with my crew.
Sheesh. Must've been a new guy. Thanks for letting me know and we will fix it!
I value your feedback as you obviously know what you're talking about unlike a lot of feedback that is offered by those whose only knowledge of NOLA cuisine is what they ate drunk on Bourbon Street 10 years ago at Mardi Gras or threw up at Jazz Fest.:-)
Lunch rolls out 10/8.
It is always a pleasure to hear from Suzanne since she and Roger obviously care what their customers think. I am sure that any glitches found at Roux or Datz would be fixed POST HASTE.
Speaking of absinthe, here is Roux's Absinthe Room decorated with absinthe posters.