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Chef Chat, Part 3: Tony Mandola

After we spoke withTony Mandola for this week's chef chat, he brought out a bowl of Mama's famous gumbo. The roux was deeply brown and aromatic, with tons of Gulf Coast seafood and fresh vegetables. The accompanying rice was fluffy and made an excellent base for the delicious, savory gumbo. This recipe is copyrighted, and after tasting it, we can see why.

Next, we sampled both the Snapper Martha, a grilled snapper filet topped with shrimp, crawfish and crabmeat sautéed in basil wine butter sauce, as well as the blackened snapper in lime butter topped with diced tomato, cilantro and jumbo lump crabmeat. I probably changed my mind 50 times as to which I liked better, because both were truly stunning. The Snapper Martha was light and subtly sweet, with heaps of crabmeat seasoning each bite, while the vegetables were cooked to that wonderful tender-crisp stage that exemplifies what a good veggie should taste like.

That said, the blackened snapper was probably my favorite dish of the meal. I am a big fan of blackened seafood when it's done right, and this was perfect. The seasoning was flavorful, but did not overwhelm the delicate snapper. And the rich lime butter was divine.

I am generally a big chocoholic and tend to stay away from citrus desserts, as they can be a bit too tart for me. But when I tried the banana key lime pie, the sweetness of the bananas took care of that problem entirely Each bite was a luscious blend of banana key lime custard, which was texturized by sliced bananas and a crunchy graham cracker crust.

As decadent as the meal was, it was also nice and light thanks to the fresh, simple ingredients. When the new restaurant opens in the spring, I know I'll be first in line for dinner.

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