Like so many people who come to New Orleans for the first time, Nina Compton fell in love with the city. But unlike most visitors, the St. Lucia native was influenced by her time filming BRAVO’s Top Chef New Orleans, the popular show’s 11th season.
Despite being bested in the final hour by Philly chef Nick Elmi, the charismatic Compton felt drawn to New Orleans, to a culinary community “unlike any place I’ve been,” she says.
So, along with her husband/partner Larry Miller, a veteran in the hospitality industry, Compton pulled up stakes in Miami, where she’d been working at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta. and moved to her new favorite city. That's when she opened Compère Lapin.
Lobster gazpacho defines freshness at Compère Lapin — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Compère Lapin (pronounced kom-pare la-pan) means “brother rabbit,” a reference to a mischievous rabbit featured in the Caribbean folk tales that Compton read as a kid.
Drawing on the story’s themes of exploration and play, Compton designed a restaurant that features a mix of inventive flavors drawn from the New Orleans table and her own Caribbean roots, French culinary training and deep experience with Italian cuisine.
After even just a few bites, it’s not hard to conjure Compère Lapin’s island roots. Small plates, which pair insanely well with the bold drinks program designed by beverage director Ricky Gomez, include the likes of conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartar sauce and roasted jerk corn with a citrus aioli.
Flavors are exotic, tropical and tinged with just the right amount of heat.
Each plate is artfully composed, whether it’s a seasonal treatment of fresh heirloom tomato gazpacho sweetened with bites of lobster or a cinnamon-scented curried goat paired with sweet plantain gnocchi and crunchy chopped cashews.
A lunchtime plate of hot chicken will deliver a moist boneless thigh, flash fried and slathered in a blistering sauce paired with cooling bits of mango and zucchini slaw, a fiery dish that works beautifully with the panache, a bright and refreshing shandy with floral notes featuring IPA, lemon, elderflower and aromatized wine.
Desserts from Pastry Chef Danny Alas are equally fetching. Two to try include his island-kissed coconut tres leches or a New Orleans-inspired doberge cake layered with tangy lemon curd.
Compère Lapin exudes a great vibe. The historic building’s original floor-to-ceiling wood and glass French doors open onto Tchoupitoulas Street for outdoor seating. The bar, with well-known barkeep Abigail Gullo at the helm, buzzes with energy and verve. The airy 86-seat restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Nina Compton may not have visited New Orleans before she filmed Top Chef in 2013. But with her inspired cookery and energetic approach to creating her new restaurant Compère Lapin, she’s made herself very much at home.