Houma, Louisiana is true Cajun country, home to some outstanding down-home food. But on a fishing trip a few years ago, I discovered Cristiano’s, one of the best restaurants I’ve visited anywhere in Louisiana. It’s a great surprise and worth a drive.
Owner Cristiano Raffignone was raised in northwest Italy and knows how to create a unique dining experience. (He also owns Martinique Bistro on Magazine Street in New Orleans.) First, the atmosphere: A spacious side patio features palm trees and soft lighting that create a tropical vibe. Inside, the restaurant features small dining rooms; the walls are adorned with the evocative New Orleans photography of Frank Relle.
The lounge in back, with leather sofas, eclectic music, and plantation shutters continues the tropical feel. The waitstaff is top-notch, and as friendly as any you’ll find. (We asked them to make sandwiches for the next day’s fishing trip, and they obliged with some ciabatta creations that were far beyond what we’d have come up with ourselves.)
The menu changes seasonally, with a "classic" menu that remains year-round. Flavors here combine a Mediterranean sensibility with a fresh-from-the-Gulf creativity. Gnocchi comes with lump crabmeat and fontina cheese. Roasted red pepper garlic butter seasons Louisiana grilled oysters. Those are the kind of inventive creations that keep the menu surprising and fun. When you add the kind of celebratory atmosphere that seems part of the fabric of South Louisiana, you end up with a dining destination that sticks in the memory for a long time.