The Treadsack hat trick is finally complete. Following the buzzed-about openings of Brit-chic Hunky Dory and Northern Thai Foreign Correspondents earlier this fall, the Heights-based restaurant group debuted its third and final restaurant of the year, seafood specialist Bernadine's, last week. Though it's still months too early for a proper review, it seemed only fair to share a taste, despite the dim, photo-unfriendly lighting.
Along with the veritable seafood buffet pictured above, a few of my dining companions sampled the Oyster Shell Martini. Ocean water tincture gives the vodka martini its natural brine, along with oyster-shell-infused Noilly Prat dry vermouth.
The New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp toast had little in common with the dim sum dish with which I'm familiar. The ground flesh surrounded meaty chunks of shrimp, all spread across a wedge of house ciabatta. Tangy barbecue sauce filled the bottom of the bowl.
Entrées provided the biggest wows, however. My favorite was a bowl of sweet potato (though the menu still says cornbread) gnocchi ($28), served with pulled chunks of oxtail in a lip-stickingly collagenous brown sauce.
In fact, despite Bernadine's claims of being "a love letter to the Gulf Coast," many of its best dishes are firmly planted on terra firma. Duck breast ($32) glazed in Dr. Pepper and crisped to perfection alongside cabbage with duck confit and wild rice is a winner, as is the a slab of pressed cochon de lait ($32), served with braised chard and dirty farro beneath a chicharron crown.
But there's no question chef Graham Laborde knows how to treat a fish. The catfish above is a simple testament to that fact, with a crackling crust and topping of buttermilk-dressed onions.
The grilled pompano breaks into satisfying morsels atop coarsely ground grits and al dente carrots in a salty fumet broth.
Vegetarians aren't forgotten. They just have to overlook the fact that the creamy mushroom fettuccine's description includes the words "oyster" and "Rockefeller." In this case, it just refers to the mushroom variety and the noodles' herbed breadcrumb topping.
Pastry chef Julia Doran digs into bayou history on her sweets menu. Where can you still find a dessert of Gallic warhorse oeufs à la neige in Houston? Bernadine's, that's where. It's really more of an île flottante (same dish, different shape), but the fluffy blob of meringue in a sea of orange-flavored crème anglaise is a delightful surprise nonetheless.
Other desserts include calas, beignets made of lightly fermented rice. Doran serves hers with a strawberry lambic jam and buttercream sweetened with Steen's cane syrup, a product in Slow Food's Ark of Taste, straight from Louisiana.