Friday, August 1, 2014

Pharewell to Oysters

Things change. It is an inevitable part of life. Especially in the culinary world if you don’t adapt, you die. Phares’ Oysters-Seafood & Steaks, a staple of Lafayette cuisine, has outlasted neighboring competitors for many years. Now with its newly announced changes, Phares’ is primed to excite you with small plates that pack huge flavor. Say Pharewell to the old and hello to the new Phares’ Kitchen.
The decision to transition Phares’ from oysters and seafood to a farm to table restaurant was an obvious one for owners Chad and Maria Phares, despite the family’s involvement in Gulf Oyster harvesting. Citing the environmental issues in the Gulf that have seemed to plague the waters off the Louisiana coast in recent years, Phares’ harvesting operation was only able to produce a small number of quality oysters; a number that would be reflected in the price you and I would have to pay. In an attempt to retain their customers, the Phares realized that changing to a community driven farm to table format would not only benefit the restaurant, but Lafayette as a whole. 

The Phares’ vision stretches well beyond just local fruits and vegetables. It is the goal of Phares to one day work with local 4-H Clubs and gardeners to source the products for their menu and to help with the education of where our food comes from. Gone are the large palms in the parking lot, making way for the soon to be planted gardens that will produce the fruits and vegetables used for the fresh and innovative seasonal menus.

To help develop those items, the Phares have brought on a wildly creative culinary team headed by Executive Chef Pat Waters, formerly of Cafe Vermilionville, and Sous Chef Zach Doise of LAstrEAT fame.

Sous Chef Zach Doise & Executive Chef Pat Waters
Drawing from his life experiences in his native New York and time spent in New Orleans before being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Chef Waters, Culinary Institute of America alum, shares the same vision of food as the owners of the restaurant.

“With the gardens we’ll plant, we’ll end up being more of a ‘backyard to table’ restaurant.”

“[Here] we just get to have fun and cook what we want,” added Chef Doise, who studied at the Louisiana Culinary Institute, something that is obvious while watching them work the line together. They work with an ease, a passion, and a synchronization that flows like an improv jazz band. While watching them moving from station to station, plates clanging, voices, laughter; all sounds seemed to fade away and you could almost hear Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hot House” as the soundtrack of the moment.  

It’s easy to see how much fun the pair has and it is reflected in the menu. Offering a wide selection of small plates, salads, flat breads and entrees, there is something appealing for even the pickiest of palates. The small plates menu allows you to taste a few new things and share them with others at your table. The new Phares’ Kitchen provides a casual atmosphere with a menu that fosters a more social environment. 

My wife and I were honored to attend a special menu tasting last night. We started off with the flatbreads. Brick Oven Chef Rogers William Closson III manned the massive oven that sits in the middle of the dining room.

Once used to fire orders of oysters, the oven, only one of a few in Lafayette, has found new life, and seemingly discovered its destiny, as a premier flatbread oven. Chef Closson prepared two of the six artisan flatbreads on the menu.

The white grape, pine nut and two cheese (gorgonzola and mozzarella) flatbread was the first we tried. The grapes were sweet with a light caramelization. Their soft, warm, sweet texture played well with the crispy crust and warm, creamy, stringy cheeses. The pine nuts added to that texture and gave the flatbread a rustic, woody flavor. Next we tried the chorizo and butternut squash with mozzarella flat bread. The chorizo made this flatbread a little spicy; but if you’ve never had it, the spice in chorizo isn’t an intense burn. It’s a slow, creep up on you kick that can be easily controlled. It’s also worth mentioning that the butternut squash helps to tame the heat and makes every bite of this flatbread exciting and leaving you wanting more. 

Next we sampled the BLT; fried green tomato sliders and guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork cheeks) with micro arugula and garlic aioli. Everything in this BLT is amazing.

The green tomato was soft and fleshy on the inside while still being crisp on the outside. The micro arugula’s peppery notes worked well with the garlic in the aioli and the pork cheeks added a bacon like texture and flavor to each bite. The bun was soft, warm and tore easily with each bite. 

When I was courting my wife, she fed me gnocchi for the first time. I’ve been in love with her and that delicate little potato pasta ever since. It wasn’t until last night that I had a twist on the traditional gnocchi. This one was made with sweet potato.

Dressed in a collard green pesto with shaved manchego cheese and micro greens, the flavor of the pasta itself was the star for me. It had all the familiar textures of a traditional gnocchi with a hint of sweetness.

Perhaps my favorite item of the night was the pork cheek steamed bun with pickled watermelon rind. On your first visit to the new Phares’, you have to get this plate.

You may end up getting more than one and Phares’ is the only restaurant in Lafayette where you can find this Chinese stuffed bread, something that Chad Phares is proud of.

“We want to take local ingredients and give you something you’ve never had before.”

The texture of the dough is similar to a steamed dumpling, though it tastes more like bread than pasta. The pulled pork cheek inside is perfectly seasoned and the micro greens on top bring a freshness to the bun. One taste of the pickled watermelon rind and I was brought back to a familiar flavor. It took us a while, but my wife was able to pinpoint the flavor as apple-cinnamon like, which paired well with the pork. Two sauces come on the plate for the bun. One is a pepper jelly made by Troy Primeaux and Kara Farmer-Primeaux of Primo’s Peppers; the other is a spicy mustard by Mary Mary Markets, a Horse Farm regular. Both the jelly and the mustard have so many levels of flavor and burn and leave you wanting more even though your mouth may not be able to handle it. 

Changing the point of view of a restaurant is a huge undertaking, but with the diversity of the menu, the creative culinary team on board, and the years of experience under their belts, Chad and Maria Phares are on the right path to introduce Lafayette to a new culinary experience; and it is my recommendation that you “Eat This Lafayette.” 

Phares’ opens Friday, August 1st at 4pm for dinner service.

Phares’ is located on Ambassador Caffery Parkway near New Orleans Original Daiquiris just past the intersection of Ambassador and Johnson. Their parking lot can also be accessed from the Best Buy parking lot. Visit them on Facebook or their website for more information.

Phares’ Kitchen
3502 Ambassador Caffery Parkway


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