In May of this year, Eaux eaux-pened its doors for the first time. Wanting to head someplace new, it seemed like a good option and New Orleans style/cajun food sounded fun to me. We made our way to the eatery on the early side for a Friday dinner. A sign out front said “you’re the chicken to my waffle” on one side and “cozy up with gumbo and an old fashioned (or two)” on the other.
The decor of the restaurant was relatively sparse and the interior slightly dark, but it worked. We were seated at a table by the bar which was in the middle of the room. Old school hip hop was playing and only one other table was taken. The waitress provided menus and water and gave us time to decide on food and drink while she appeard to be setting up for the evening service.
There were several beers, wines, and cocktails on the menu. When our server came back, my wife ordered Domaine De Pouy – a 2017 white from France and I stuck with water. We took a closer look at the food next. The menu was small with a half-dozen each of snacks and dinners with another four food items on a chalkboard nearby.
So few items made our decisions relatively easy. Though I considered the Salad or Escargot to start, we eventually decided to share two other items. She wanted the Fried Butter Beans – honey and chive butter, maldon salt – and I chose the Squash – salt and vinegar almonds, carmelized whey, horseradish, orange supreme. We both decided to get the Chicken and Waffles – cane syrup, fried sage, apples, pickled fresnos.
Our beans didn’t look like much – glistening, hollow, reduced beans with some finishes, including the salt, on top. The squash was a little more impressive with a number of wedges, some orange, a little pool of sauce, and a fair shake of almonds. I tried the beans first looking to determine the value of such a simplistic item. My first bite provided so much crunch that it nearly shook the room. The beans were twice as crunchy as a peanut, but as I quickly took a second bite, I deemed their texture pure perfection.
It wasn’t just the solidity of the bean, but also the mild honey butter that made the duality of the crunch and melty sweetness astoundingly plesant – a perfect starter if there ever was one. The squash held up too with excellent soft, sweet roasted squash quality and a crunch from the almonds similar to the beans, though much less intense. While I preferred the beans, the squash was more than adequate. We had picked two outstanding apps.
I’d had chicken and waffles maybe twice in my life prior to them arriving, but when they did, I was sure it was the best presentation of them. Like a beautiful pile of junkyard cars from the 50’s, the three-ish each of chicken and waffles were piled atop and leaning against one another looking like they were ready to fall over, but never actually doing so. A swirl of syrup lay underneath with apple, fresno, and sage on top of it all. And boy did that chicken look crispy with its dark fry char.
A piece of waffle was my first forkful of the goods. Syrup seemed a little sparse on the dish, but the joke was on me as the cane drizzle was sweet and clearly present throughout. More would have been overpowering. The chicken was brutally (in a really good way) crispy in a typical, well-dispersed spicy southern rub. It had lots of crunch and a nice tender bird inside. A hair of the syrup cut the moderate spice just a bit, creating a stellar, balanced combo.
On top, the apple, fesno pepper, and sage added a little more oomph to the flavors, but in truth, the waffles and chicken had a strength that was satisfying and heartwarming on their own. They were comfort food defined. As I slowly began slipping into a chicken and waffle coma with my last few bites, my wife said she was full and offered me her last piece of chicken and last waffle. I ate most of those.
We were done and I simultaneously regretted everything and nothing, noting that while I would be required to roll out of the restaurant, I had just basked in exquisite flavors and extraordinary dishes. From our hill of beans and seasonal squash, to the bird and baked batter platter, our food took us to New Orleans and back. And it was a wonderful journey.
About $70 with tip, the cost was probably appropriate for what we ordered, but the experience with the food was certainly worth more. The restaurant didn’t get very busy while we were there and I don’t know how busy they’ve been, but Portland, I urge you to get there ASAP. It’s Eaux so good and they play the best music of any restaurant around. The only question for mouth-watering me is that if what I had was so good, will I ever want to try anything else? Only time will tell.
90 Exchange St.
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