Remember how excited Russ Salazar and I were when we tasted the Shrimp Remoulade Croque at ZacJack Bistro in Cameron Park? Recall how I went on and on about the Crab Cakes at the Gold Vine Grill in Somerset? And, who can forget our excitement with the Crab Stuffed Salmon at Los Pinos in Cameron Park? Well, I have another really outstanding dish for you to try: Blackened Catfish at The Levee in Placerville.
Actually I shouldn’t have been surprised about this dish as it is the one most often ordered at The Levee and the owner, Sonya Huff, comes from “Cajun Country,” Alexandra, Louisiana.
It was a Thursday evening when Russ Salazar and I dropped in on this newer restaurant at 451 Main St. #8 (the old Café Luna location). We picked that day because it is the least crowded and we could talk with Sonya and her daughter, Brandi, who was our delightful and knowledgeable server that evening.
Sonya learned cooking from her mother and grandmother while growing up. “I love to cook and always have,” she said. “From a very young age it has been my passion.
“What I want people to know is that our Cajun cuisine is purposely prepared mild so everyone can enjoy what I love, but if you ask we can ‘kick it up’ to your liking.
“Everything is from scratch and made to order,” she continued. “We make our own sauces, desserts and even the dry rub and blackening seasonings we use. We even blacken our fish in a cast iron pan, like it should be done.
“We try to buy local and fresh and are pretty interesting people,” she added with a smile. “I think we are the best kept secret on Main Street.”
Our first dish was Boudin Bites with Remoulade sauce. Generally this combination of cooked rice, pork, onions, green peppers, and seasonings is stuffed in a casing and eaten on the go. But now restaurants are making it into balls, coating them with bread crumbs, frying them and serving them with Remoulade, which is sort of a Cajun tarter sauce, but much better. They were a delicious appetizer that prepared us for the next course, Gumbo.
Gumbo comes in many varieties, from thin to heavy and gets its name from either a Native American or African word for okra. Theirs is thinner and is made with both chicken and andouille sausage, giving it a great flavor. I think they saw us both add several drops of Louisiana hot sauce, so they “kicked up” the rest of the dishes for us.
I really like okra and have never really understood why other people don’t. It can be easily overcooked and become mushy, but left slightly crunchy it is wonderful.
Next came the surprise, the Blackened Catfish. It was served over Basmati rice with orange glazed carrots (really yummy) and seasoned steamed broccoli. On the fish was a really delicious creamy shrimp and scallop sauce. It was so good that there was nothing left on the plate and we even used pieces of bread to get all the sauce.
I have never eaten blackened catfish before and both Russ and I were delighted as you can tell. It was tender, flaky and the star of the evening.
While we were enjoying the catfish, Sonya brought us a sample of their Red Beans and Rice.This is another southern dish that is made variety of ways, some good, some not so good. This was very good and made with real red beans. On top of it was a generous slice of andouille sausage worth fighting over. Like with the other dishes, there was nothing left when we were done.
All in all, a fantastic experience in a friendly warm setting with Zydeco music playing softly in the background.
The menu at The Levee is not very big, but is supplemented by several specials, which that evening included Frogs Legs, Pork Loin stuffed with three kinds of sausage, Bayou Pasta, Blackened Salmon and more. Sonya said the number of specials can vary from two to six, depending upon what is fresh and available.
On the menu you will find a small and large dinner salad and quite a list of appetizers including, Cajun Beef Sliders (think Philly Cheese Steak), Salmon Cakes, Baked Brie, Burrata Cheese (and interesting combination of both solid and creamy mozzarella) and Seared Scallops.
Menu entrees include the outstanding Blackened Catfish, Stuffed Salmon (stuffed with a house-made seafood dressing and topped with a dill-caper, white wine Beurre Blanc sauce), Basa (sauteed), a Rib-Eye Steak (served with fresh veggies and “smashed” potatoes), Vegetable Risotto, Louisiana Chicken YA-YA (chicken, mushrooms, green onions, bell peppers and garlic finished in a mild Cajun cheddar cheese sauce and tossed with penne pasta) and Pasta Jambalaya (New Orleans style).
Really want it hot? Try their two “Hot Heads Entrees,” Chicken Vindaloo or Chipotle Chile Pasta. Not hot enough for you? They can always fix it hotter.
To accompany your meal they serve beer and local wine, coffee (French Press or regular), espresso hot and iced tea, lemonade and soft drinks.
Starting in November, they will have a monthly wine tasting event at their Zydeco Wine Bar. Our own Madrona winery is scheduled for the first one.
The Levee is open for dinner only from 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Live music on Fridays, beginning at 8 p.m. with Happy Hour prices during the live music.
Inside or outside (creekside) seating.
For more information call (530) 642-8669.