Three Decades of Fine Dining

by Anna Purdy

Established white linen eating doesn't mean sedate.

Established white linen eating doesn't mean sedate. By Anna Purdy

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

A few blocks from the Vermilion River on Pinhook Road in Lafayette is one of the most notable fine dining spots in Acadiana. Since 1981 Café Vermilionville has been a venerated establishment known for its white linen and crystal service. Some of the most creative minds in Acadiana can be found in its kitchen.

Terms like "fine dining" can be very intimidating, and that's understandable - visions of snotty waiters scoffing at patrons and checks so big they make your eyes pop out, cartoon-style. I don't think, however, there is any eatery in Acadiana with that sort of elitist mentality. Good food is good food, and Café Vermilionville wants to make sure you get it.

Café Vermilionville used to be a hotel back when waterways were the way to get around. The National Historic Register dates the structure back to 1835, but some architects and historians believe it to be late 1700s. There is proof the building acted as a Civil War infirmary.

Its front porch offers some seating for al fresco drinking and noshing. Go in through the bar and you'll find one of the most attractive bars in Acadiana, looking more like an old-world pub with its marvelous collection of miniature liquor bottles on display. Servers glide silently on wooden floors shined to a gleam, and were it not for people in modern dress you could swear this was something from decades ago - with the imaginative culinary inventiveness of 2012.

Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio

Photo by Gwen Aucoin

Starter was the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. Tenderloin, which is noted for its namesake tenderness, is shaved and seared then rolled into itself. Café V serves it with julienned cucumber and crispy shoestring potatoes, then dashes a chive and white truffle vinaigrette over the dish. This is perfect for those who want a little bit of something decadent for a starter. The carpaccio is very rich in flavor without being overwhelming or too filling. This is the ideal start to split - but you probably won't want to.

Day Boat Scallops were the entree. Day boat scallops are so named because they are fished and brought to shore and often to the diner's table the very same day. Here the scallops are lightly seared to retain the supple sweetness of the seafood. Scallops are like the filets mignon of the sea and overcooking them will lead to a taste and texture similar to your grandfather's boots, something that never happens here - unless you asked for the dish to be well done, in which case no one can help you. This is served with a hash made with diced sweet potatoes and butternut squash blended with tasso. The sweetness of the vegetables blended with the smoky saltiness of the pork is a perfect accompaniment to the bivalves. The whole thing is finished off with drizzles of chive oil and a balsamic gastrique, which is simply a thickened balsamic vinaigrette that adds a sharp urgency to the dish.

Day Boat Scallops

Photo by Gwen Aucoin

Part of the allure of fine dining is the art of it - the presentation of the food, the knowledgeable, smiling staff and feeling as elegant and well cared for as your surroundings. If you are lucky enough to dine this way, even once in a while, Café Vermilionville makes it worthwhile.