The seafood platter is the dad joke of Lenten eating.
It’s the inevitable example wheeled out to prove that when we talk about the “penance” of meatless meals during Lent we mean it with irony as heavy as the shrimp/oyster/catfish combo itself.
Still, the seafood platter will always be tempting, and it’s no mystery why.
Variety is a key ingredient for culinary bliss, and a good platter can really pile it on. It’s the alternation of flavor under the same theme, like different characters interacting on the same stage.
But there can also be variety in the ways we tap this appeal. No one ever said partaking in the regional pleasure of lots and lots of seafood has to mean doing it the same way every time.
What follows are some seafood platters that swim outside the mainstream, with platters that are just for oyster lovers, “un-fried” and fried, but with a special sauce, and (mostly) raw.
Bounty a la Buffalo at Avery’s
2510 Tulane Ave., (504) 821-4110
Justin and Christy Pitard drew their po-boy shop to the template of the New Orleans classic, from the gumbo and roast beef to the friendly, homemade feel of the place. But they also get creative with house signatures, and one of them is a Buffalo shrimp po-boy that combines the roots of husband (from New Orleans) and wife (from Buffalo).
Avery’s makes a respectable, traditional seafood platter. The pro move is to “Buff it up,” an off-the-menu request eagerly accommodated by this kitchen. The shrimp, oysters and catfish are glazed with the red sauce. It has a backbeat of heat but the real draw is its velvety richness and lip-smacking tang.
Blue cheese crumbles and green onions finish it off, and more blue cheese dressing on the side works fiendishly well as a dip for the fries and (optional) onion rings underneath all the seafood.
The Shell Beach Diet at Brigtsen’s
723 Dante St., (504) 861-7610
Chef Frank Brigtsen’s long-running Riverbend bistro has an original way with flavors New Orleans knows by heart, and that includes the seafood platter. No two items are prepared the same way, none are fried and all would seem right at home on this upscale modern Creole menu.
The name is an old joke that hints at how long this dish has been in circulation at Brigtsen’s — melding Shell Beach, the fishing village in Da Parish, with the South Beach Diet, a low-carb craze of the early Aughts. Brigtsen said it started as a Friday special and proved so popular, it soon became a menu standard.
This platter is not exactly low-carb, or even particularly light, but it gives one bright, robust taste after the next.
The basic blueprint stays the same, while the particulars change with the season and the market. Recently, my Shell Beach Diet brought a generous cut of drum under buttery crawfish sauce next to a seared sea scallop over fontina grits, flanked by a pair of baked oysters — one with artichokes, the other an oyster Leruth, with shrimp and crab and scallions and cream, a tribute to the late, great chef Warren Leruth.
We’re not done yet: there was also a little column of shrimp jambalaya and a ramekin of shrimp cornbread (each soon to be replaced by crawfish versions, I’m told).
Chirashi Sushi at Origami
5130 Freret St., (504) 899-6532
Can sashimi stand in for a seafood platter? If we’re talking chirashi sushi, my answer is yes. Chirashi comes from the Japanese word for “scattered;” in practice, it presses the same buttons as a platter with variety and quantity and visual appeal.
The sushi bar that sold me on chirashi sushi was Kyoto. It happened in the natural way: spying on someone else’s dinner, feeling an envie for their order. I got it next time and have been a chirashi fan ever since. Kyoto, of course, closed in 2016, not long after the death of its beloved proprietor Sara Molony.
Chirashi sushi is not hard to find at traditional local sushi bars. However, the one I eventually tried at Origami closely follows the template of the Kyoto version I remembered.
That’s no coincidence. Origami was founded by Mitsuko Tanner, a co-founder of Kyoto back in the day.
The chirashi here brings a deep bowl with a floor of sour rice and a landscape of seafood and garnishes for varying flavor and texture. It changes from time to time. Mine had six different types of raw fish, cooked octopus and shrimp, crabstick, and then tuna salad, squid salad and seaweed salad all seeping their vinegary juice into the rice.
Oyster log at Trenasse
Hotel Intercontinental, 444 St. Charles Ave., (504) 680-7000
Chef Jim Richard's upscale Cajun restaurant makes a mixed seafood platter just for oyster lovers, and it’s a true spectacle.
“Log” sounds blunt, but it feels like the correct terminology when this lacquered cypress slab lands at your table, covering a four-top from end to end.
It is covered with variously cooked oysters. Count them off and the log numbers 36 (the “oyster platter” here brings half that number). Just gaze over them all, though, and they seem to go on forever. Anyway, stop counting and dig in. You don’t want them to get cold.
Some sizzle with garlic butter, some are prepared as Bienville or Rockefeller, others bubble under caps of smoked Gruyere and pancetta (technically a no-no if you are indeed going meatless). Sometimes a clutch of fried oysters makes its way between the shells too, as if strewn there on a whim by the oyster cook.
It looks like one of those seafood displays a restaurant assembles for the cameras but that you don’t normally get to eat. But here, it's ready for a whole group to share. It's like ordering up a St. Joseph’s Altar of oysters, with the supposed fast turned to a feast day.
Note: Try This Dish is a periodic series on interesting dishes around the New Orleans area and the stories, restaurants and people about them.
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