(New York Times) – Plenty of “Top Chef” competitors have opened restaurants, but it was Nina Compton, the runner-up (and fan favorite) from the 2013-2014 season, who fell in love with the host city that year, New Orleans. “I wanted to live here,” she said. “It reminded me a lot of home.”
“Home” for Ms. Compton, 37, is the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where she was born and first learned to cook, before working in kitchens run by Norman Van Aken, Scott Conant and Daniel Boulud. In June, she opened Compère Lapin with her husband, Larry Miller, who oversees the dining room. “As an outsider, coming in, I was very nervous,” she said. “Would people expect gumbo, étouffée?”
Ms. Compton can rest easy. Compère Lapin, in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in the Warehouse District, has apparently been a hit among many New Orleanians, who know good food when they taste it. “People thank me all the time, just walking down the street,” she said.
On a chilly winter evening, Compère Lapin, all dark wood and exposed brick, was indeed bustling. Its name is taken from the Creole version of the trickster character Brer Rabbit; Ms. Compton’s cooking, though, is less sly than comforting.
Our meal started with warm housemade biscuits and a mix of small bites and appetizers. Spiced pigs’ ears with smoked aioli were crispy-chewy. The gooey interior of fried croquettes was given texture by little bits of conch, one of a handful of St. Lucian ingredients peppering the menu. The best of the bunch was broiled shrimp swimming in a deeply satisfying Calabrian chile butter, and brussels sprouts, roasted to a pleasing char and served in a buttermilk sauce studded with crisp chicken skin.
Entrees and accompaniments were less consistent. The least successful were the most conventional: Gulf grouper with beurre blanc felt flat; a side of carrots almandine was oddly gritty.
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