It’s hard to imagine that any restaurant could make itself more conspicuous than Acadiana. Superstar Chef Jeff Tunks’ contemporary interpretation of a Louisiana “fish house,” is located at one of the District’s busiest intersections: the triangular corner where K Street, 9th Street and New York Avenue all converge. It’s across the street from the Convention Center, which means that it draws a steady stream of convention goers from out of town, as well as K Street lobbyists and government employees. As if location alone weren’t enough, it announces its presence with a prominent sign above the doorway; the illuminated lowercase letters of its name can easily be seen by passing pedestrians and motorists.
One of D.C.’s premiere restaurateurs, Tunks — along with General Manager Arsalan Riaz — knows how to appeal to his diverse base. Happy hour deals are a major draw: $5 for most signature cocktails, draft beers (including Abita, the New Orleans favorite) and appetizers. And large social halls in back make Acadiana an attractive option for office parties or post-convention gatherings. The dining room itself is usually crowded, even on weekday evenings, but manages to maintain a comfortably lively level of noise.
Acadiana presents itself as a “fish house” in several subtle ways. Its logo depicts the prow of a rowboat among some reeds, and marble urns used as accent pieces appear to have been salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic. It may also be Tunks’ reputation for seafood mastery (see DC Coast and Passionfish for further evidence) that steers guests in this direction. And indeed, there are several seafood standouts on the menu, beginning with Charbroiled Oysters ($14), which come six to a platter, each coated in garlic butter and parmesan cheese that complement their naturally brininess. Of course, there is also an extensive raw bar, featuring Gulf Coast oysters ($12), spice-boiled shrimp ($14) and crab ravigote ($15), a light French sauce, or a combination of all three.
There are those who believe that quality sauce is the best barometer of a chef’s expertise. Such wisdom applies heavily to Creole cuisine, which is so often judged by its Roux, the starchy sauce that makes up the base of gumbo. The kitchen, led by Executive Chef Brant Tesky, under Tunks’ watchful eye, takes great pains to get the roux right, and the result is a rich and smoky Gumbo ($8), full of hearty chunks of chicken and sausage, and further seasoned with fresh parsley. Soups are among the menu’s strengths, and a Trio of Soups ($9), which places the gumbo alongside a creamy blue crab soup and a savory turtle soup, flavored with sherry, is a convenient way to sample the full range of varieties. A flavorful Crawfish Etoufee ($13), while on the pricy side, is another strong entry.
True to Tunks’ reputation, most seafood dishes are on point: the Shrimp and Grits ($29), a familiar Southern specialty, is rich, creamy and massively portioned, and the same goes for the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp ($29). But, some of the showstoppers on the entrée section confirm that Acadiana is about more than fish. A less conventional standout is Pan Crisped Roasted Duck ($25), slathered with the kitchen’s patented pepper jelly for a satisfyingly sweet and spicy crunch. The “Grillades & Grits” mark a return to the recurring theme of “rich and creamy.” A single forkful of sautéed veal, cheesy grits and piquant jalapeno makes for a truly heavenly bite.
For dessert, the kitchen’s beignets ($8), those sugary fritters endemic to New Orleans, have a pleasantly al dente texture. The same goes for the Lemon Bar ($8), which is marshmallowy light on top and thickly crusted underneath.
With its French influence and American uniqueness, Creole food can be hard to nail, but the menu at Acadiana is in capable hands with Tunks, who paid his dues at New Orleans’ highly regarded Grill Room. The recipes may be borrowed from points further south, but Acadiana has become a fixture in D.C.’s restaurant scene.