Our food critic's name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years—and makes a delizioso caponata.
On my first visit to Zolia, I was anxious. Excited about a new tapas-inspired restaurant, I was equally apprehensive of an establishment housed in an office building, envisioning uninspired décor and a menu catering to the masses. But, since my belly was empty, I tried to enter with an open mind.
The walkway was softly lit and augmented by a flowing stream, creating an inviting approach. Inside, we found an appealing, industrial-type space with high ceilings and exposed venting as would be expected from a mixed-use urban space. The floor-to-ceiling windows added to the voluminous feel, but the mix of carpet, wood and an open kitchen produced a warm ambience.
A light crowd made for a quiet space, but an attentive staff. Once seated, our server quickly took our drink order. The cocktail menu offered standard fare, but as I was looking for something different, I wandered over to the bar for inspiration. Seated there was General Manager Matt Anderson who, sharing my passion for cocktails, suggested an off-menu concoction. A cinnamon-infused Old Fashioned was just what the doctor ordered. Drinks in hand, it was time for eats.
We began with the Garlic Crimini Mushrooms and Petite Bistro Burger. Vampires will give you a wide berth after consuming the mushrooms, but the intense garlic flavor harmonized perfectly with the earthy fungi. Delizioso. The diminutive burger, embellished with pickled onions, packed plenty of flavor. My mouth waters thinking about it.
Our first two tapas devoured, we looked fervently at the menu. The Abita Rosemary Shrimp and Artichoke Hearts dishes caught our eyes. Five plump shrimp arrived atop five creamy grit cakes swimming in a spicy Abita amber brown butter sauce. Reminiscent of BBQ shrimp, the combination was heavenly. I found the artichokes bland and uninspired, but my companion concluded they were simple and piquant. Go figure.
To complete our savory sojourn, we ordered two crostini: the Trentino Pepperonata with speck, asiago and roasted red peppers, and the Warm Truffled Crimini with mushrooms, roasted garlic and honey goat cheese, finished with truffle oil. I was so excited to find speck on the menu I almost wept.
The speck, a specialty ham from Tyrol, Italy, was cured piggy deliciousness—but cumbersome, as everything fell off the bread at first bite except the speck, which dangled whole from my teeth. The Warm Truffled Crimini crostini, with rich honey-enhanced cheese and roasted garlic, was a nice conclusion to the entrées.
For dessert we ordered Blueberry Bread Pudding and Tiramisu. The tiramisu was standard fare, but the bread pudding was inspired. So often a cloyingly sweet elephantine mass of bread and boozy sauce, this little puddin’ was light, moist and accentuated perfectly by a luscious lemon rum sauce. Mmmm.
Baton Rouge has needed a restaurant where one can order a few small plates and a glass of wine and while away an evening. Zolia has helped fill that void. Always opinionated, my companion declared, “Pretty tasty and very economical. I’d go back.” I hope to, sooner rather than later.
Garlic Crimini Mushrooms
Petite Bistro Burger
Abita Rosemary Shrimp
Trentino Pepperonata with speck, asiago and roasted red peppers
Warm Truffled Crimini
Blueberry Bread Pudding
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Bad Guys, Good Eats! Pop-Up Dinner at Restaurant IPO
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