Lent: Fish Specials

Our area’s strong Catholic heritage and coastal traditions shift our attention to certain foods this time of year. Whether or not you observe Lent, you’re sure to notice many local restaurants catering toward those abstaining from meat, not that it’s ever difficult to find great seafood around here. We’ll be sharing these Lenten menus with you, but each week, we’d also like to highlight some tasty alternatives you should keep in mind until Easter.

I don’t often order fish specials. Not because I don’t expect them to be tasty, but rather I went to that restaurant with something specific in mind. By their nature, specials are unknown until not long before you arrive. The price is often a mystery as well, making diners anxious.

Sometimes, though, you’re just in the mood for a nice piece of fish. To decide where to go, I find it’s best to look at the restaurant as a whole. The quality of their menu should tell you what you need to know about how they’ll handle fresh fish. Since specials change every day and I can only speak to what I’ve tried, here’s a list of some great local restaurants, the fish I’ve enjoyed there, and a look at how their overall quality was reflected in the dish.

Dominique’s Bistro |  8013 W Main St, Houma

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Grouper with brown butter sauce, green beans, and roasted sweet potato

Dominique’s Bistro exudes the upscale casual vibe, partly because the beautiful restaurant is only open for weekday lunch but also because their food is both delicious and accessible. Dishes like the fig and prosciutto flatbread appetizer, a classic French onion soup overflowing with melted cheese, and a decadent hot ham and brie sandwich exemplify the food here.

For Lent, however, you should enjoy their fresh fish of the day. When I visited, it was a beautifully prepared grouper filet lightly seasoned and topped with a rich brown butter sauce that let the natural flavor of the fish shine. Dominique’s website now describes the fresh fish as being prepared with a lemon butter caper sauce, which sounds equally delicious. It’s always a treat to dine at Dominique’s for lunch.

If you can’t make it during the week, you’re in luck. The restaurant will be open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays in April. “Dressy or casual, come as you are!” the announcement says on Facebook, capturing Dominique’s Bistro in a nutshell.

Fremin’s | 402 West 3rd Street, Thibodaux

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Swordfish with chimichurri

It can be difficult to categorize the cuisine at Fremin’s. They make one of my favorite gumbos around (smoked duck and andouille) as well as muffallettas and seafood poboys. There’s also Italian fare like chicken marsala and veal piccata. And for the fresh catch of the day, Fremin’s often further explores the food world to best accentuate the flavor.

In the case of the swordfish I enjoyed there, the flavors ventured to South America with a vividly green chimichurri. The sauce is often made from parsley, garlic, vinegar and a number of herbs. It tasted extremely fresh and was bursting with tangy flavor.

The fact that you don’t have to narrow Fremin’s down to a single cuisine speaks volumes about the quality of the restaurant. The handsome decor makes for an upscale lunch, but Fremin’s popularity is most apparent for dinner when the restaurant is often packed, even at their great bar. Make a reservation for Friday night and start with some cheesy and buttery grilled oysters before diving into the catch of the day.

Flanagan’s | 1111 Audubon Ave, Thibodaux

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Ruby red trout with jalapeño cream sauce

Flanagan’s seems to exist in another time, not long ago but just far enough away that you can start to sense it. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all. Some restaurants just know where they want to be. At Flanagan’s, it feels like the height of the New Orleans creole bistro era found its way down the bayou. Pecan crusted redfish, Sunday jazz brunches, classic cocktails, lemon wrapped in mesh; details large and small make Flanagan’s unique in our area.

As with it’s brother restaurant Fremin’s, the quality at Flanagan’s is high enough that the fresh fish special can sometimes safely reach beyond their established cuisine and find something delicious. That was the case with the ruby red trout I had there. It was seasoned with tons of flavor but balanced out by a jalapeño cream sauce that had all the flavor of the pepper but didn’t kill the fish with heat.

For Lent, you should start your meal at Flanagan’s with oysters Lafourche, massive fried oysters drizzled with a tangy, creamy sauce and served with crispy crostinis. Definitely get one of the classic New Orleans cocktails, like my favorite there, the Vieux Carre.

Leeville Seafood Restaurant | 24203 LA-1, Golden Meadow

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Mahi mahi with lump crab and grilled oysters

All the other restaurants on this list are a bit upscale in their look, feel, and menu. The Leeville Restaurant is the exact opposite in many ways. It’s modest surroundings look like most other local Cajun restaurants and are completely devoid of pretentiousness. It’s menu greatly contrasts with this image though when you look past the typical (but delicious) fried fare and into the restaurant’s specials.

I covered their over the top soft shell crab special earlier in the Lenten season. The mahi mahi stands alongside the crab as an equally decadent meal. The fish is grilled and topped with jumbo lump crab and your choice of grilled shrimp or oysters. It’s a glorious trio of seafood well worth the trip out to the tiny town.

Cristiano Ristorante | 724 High St, Houma

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Hake with jalapeño risotto

While fish specials are often a mystery until you arrive, I feel like I know what to expect from Cristiano more than any other local restaurant. That’s because they post their extensive list of daily specials every afternoon on Facebook. If you’re not already following them, do so with caution as you’ll find yourself tempted to go there every night.

There’s usually a daily soup, salad, risotto, and gnocchi competing for your attention, but the fish almost always stands out. The chef is never afraid to venture into seemingly odd yet absolutely delicious territory, incorporating fruits and peppers and spirit-based sauces like tequila or champagne.

Just one example is the hake with jalapeño risotto. The perfectly cooked fish sat atop a bed of unabashedly spicy yet flavorful risotto. The specials here are often so beautiful you just want to look at them for a while, but once you dig in you won’t want to stop, especially if it has this addictive spice.

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