217 W. College St., Lake Charles, LA
Why is it that Mazen’s has a reputation as a special-occasion-only restaurant? More often than not, I find myself in a conversation about this particular restaurant and hear the same thing: “We go there for our anniversary or birthdays.”
Having never been to Mazen’s myself, my interest was piqued. Is it considered so fancy that it’s out of the realm of normal dining for most? Is it exceedingly pricey? Is the dress code black-tie formal? I know better; I’m not that naïve. But I wondered if I, like everybody else, was waiting for a special occasion to go.
Well, one recent Saturday morning I found myself with no plans or obligations for the weekend. Our daughter recently moved out, and it’s just my wife and I, empty nesting in peace. My phone dings alerted me to a text message on this particular Saturday morning. Someone was texting me to tell me a celebrity chef would be at Mazen’s that evening.
I told my wife that it sounded like we were going out to dinner that night. This really wasn’t a surprise, because that’s what we do most weekends. The plan was set, but it turned out that getting a reservation was a little more difficult than anticipated. But we did book a table.
It was clear to us that Mazen’s is a very popular restaurant. It was standing room only in the white marbled foyer with arched glass doors. The swanky bar was on the opposite side, and there wasn’t an empty table in sight. From what I could see, everybody was dressed appropriately, but not so over-the-top that I questioned whether I was underdressed. Strike that myth.
Mazen’s is situated in a rather large building with multiple sectioned dining rooms, decorated in a light Mediterranean color palette.
Like most buildings in SWLA, Hurricane Laura did a number on Mazen’s. The roof developed a hole where rainwater funneled into the mid-section of the restaurant. Almost nothing was salvageable. On our visit, there were a few floral arrangements about, and a few paintings adorned the walls.
After a brief wait, my wife and I were escorted to our white-linen table in a dining room with large windows where we could watch the sunlight dim. We were immediately greeted by our server, Darrell, who welcomed us warmly and asked what we’d like to drink. My wife had a pomegranate martini and I ordered one of my all-time favorites, a dirty martini.
Glancing through the menu, we saw that Mazen’s offers a Mediterranean cuisine, with a wide variety of dishes featuring fresh fish and shrimp, lamb, veal, salads and steaks. The prices are not extraordinary, so we busted that myth, as well. That leaves us 0 for 2 on the assumptions list.
To start off, we had Oysters Rockefeller and a stuffed portobello mushroom. We were quickly served six large half-shell oysters topped with sautéed spinach and herbed butter. They were absolutely delicious. The mushroom cap, layered with crab, shrimp and cheese then baked until it was bubbling throughout, was nearly a meal in itself.
Remember I mentioned my wife and I were recent empty nesters?
Our daughter tracked us through an app to find out we were dining at Mazen’s. Stalking us from the parking lot, she texted, asking if she could join us. Now, Mazen’s might not be “formal” attire, but I don’t know how my daughter managed to make it past the maître d’ and stroll the several feet to join our table without being stopped and questioned about her “just got out of bed” wardrobe. We played it off as best we could. She draped the napkin across her lap and we all hoped for the best.
Apparently, this “chance encounter” was all part of a plan. The celebrity chef made an appearance. Who was it? One of our favorite people, Jacob Gillett, a renowned chef, a former mentor to our daughter and a Pro-Start culinary instructor at our local high schools.
We definitely wanted to allow Chef Jacob to do his thing, and we couldn’t have been more pleased. My wife chose a fish entrée, my daughter opted for steak and I asked for a filet mignon. With casual timing, an additional appetizer of roasted duck breast with a raspberry three-wine reduction sauce was placed at our table. The duck was tender and seasoned well with hints of a sweet and tart sauce. It melted in our mouths.
Mazen’s is casual fine dining. It has a romantic setting, and the time between dishes is a perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the company at your table.
As the entrées arrive, you can’t help but admire what is placed before you. This is gastronomy art, a balance of culture and food.
The fresh fish on the night of our visit was red snapper. My wife ordered her fish finished “Aladdin” style, with a generous portion of lump crab delicately draped with a lemon butter saffron sauce and a side of creamed spinach.
Our daughter’s ribeye arrived in a three-wine reduction sauce and topped with grilled shrimp and a drizzle of hollandaise sauce. It was accompanied by au gratin potatoes.
My filet mignon was close to rare and topped with lump crab meat, hollandaise and a beautiful broiled lobster, split and perched on top of its tail, plated in the aromatic three-wine sauce.
Before we arrived at the restaurant, my wife had decided she wanted to round off the evening with the dessert everyone raves about, Grand Marnier soufflé. Made from separated eggs in a meringue of sugar and Grand Marnier, this light and fluffy baked dessert served warm is a great finish.
To describe these dishes as anything less than spectacular would be a disservice. Everything about that evening was extraordinary. The atmosphere, the food, the chef and the professionalism from the entire staff made our evening perfect.
Is it out of the realm of “normal“ dining? Mazen’s is upper-echelon dining, but you should definitely consider treating yourself to this experience more often than on a special occasion.