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Restaurant review: Café New Orleans in Fredericksburg

By Linda Salisbury

Café New Orleans in downtown Fredericksburg is undergoing a welcome transformation that should surprise and delight. In fact, executive chef Garth Hansen should be capitalizing “NEW” in the restaurant’s name. New is the menu. New is the cleanliness. New is the carpet and soon new will be the interior colors.

My Dining Partner and I were astonished by the change.

Hansen brings experience working under great chefs at Marea and Le Cirque in New York City, and at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond. He has also worked in New Orleans and learned the secrets of making the famous beignets and other traditional dishes. But his impressive culinary talents transform the Southern ingredients, such as crawfish, into the realm of gourmet French-style cuisine.

We began by sharing a sampling of three signature soups ($7): New Orleans gumbo; beef and asparagus burgundy soup; and fresh lobster bisque. Each was delicately seasoned so that the basic flavors were distinct. Both the bisque and the gumbo had a smooth rather than lumpy texture (MDP would have liked a few chunks of ingredients) for a pleasant meld of fresh ingredients.

Like all menu categories, it was challenging to make selections; all sounded wonderful.

Remembering our trip to New Orleans last year, we decided to try Hansen’s Bourbon Street Beignets ($10). His appetizer version of the Big Easy’s doughnut/fritter confection employed a dusting of Parmesan, and sauces of lobster cream, red pepper coulis and MDP’s favorite, bourbon Coca–Cola BBQ. Each flavor transformed the simple little beignet into a novel treat.

We also shared a salad fashioned from local Virginia mixed greens, goat cheese, Mandarin orange slices, spiced walnuts and dressed with a light Louisiana citrus vinaigrette ($8). Each leaf was carefully selected for freshness and there was a lovely balance of crunchy nuts and creamy cheese.

MDP ordered the superb Crawfish and Mussel Linguine ($20)—bits of the famed Cajun crustacean favorite and mussels were presented in a creamy tomato nage that was prepared with spinach, garlic, prosciutto and Abita Purple Haze beer. The spicing enhanced rather than covered the ingredients, with freshness and originality lifting this dish to delicious heights.

I ordered Pan-seared Scallops ($20) served with Benton’s bacon, creamed endive, turnip purée, roasted red pepper coulis and micro arugula. I lamented that there were only three large sea scallops on the plate, but also realized that the portion was certainly sufficient for a meal. The tender and moist scallops were among the best I’ve ever tasted, again for their freshness and perfect searing. The vegetable purées and coulis added pops of color and flavor to this beautifully presented plate.

The very engaging Hansen makes the rounds to his tables during the meal, and talked with us about his experience, his dishes and plans for the restaurant. Server Brittany also did a fine job of looking after our needs.

As we discussed New Orleans, the temptation to try his dessert beignets ($7) overcame us. This time the doughnuts were dusted in raw sugar and served with freshly made whipped cream, and a peach butter sauce. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

There’s no need to head down the Mississippi for New Orleans’ goodness when there’s such culinary excellence to be had in Fredericksburg.

What: Café New Orleans

Address: 216 William St., Fredericksburg, between Princess Anne and Caroline streets.

Info: 540/374-0404; tastecajun.com

Hours: Monday to Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers: $7; Soups and salads: $7–$9.50; Dinners: $16–$22; Children’s menu: $8.50–$9.50; Desserts: $7; Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.

The Scoop: Upscale menu is culinary treat. Good service, decent decibel level (70) of enjoyable background music for easy table conversation; sparkling clean. An especially good place for special occasions.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.

Linda Salisbury is the author of the Bailey Fish books, an award-winning adventure series for kids.

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