In Houma, Louisiana, where Cajun is king, Cristiano Ristorante combines the best of the Gulf with the soul of the Mediterranean.

Houma, Louisiana: Cristiano Ristorante
The patio is perfect for dining outdoors.
| Credit: Chris Granger

With its plantation shutters, distressed plank floors, and a patio shrouded by palm trees, Cristiano Ristorante, an hour's drive from New Orleans, serves up a bon vivant Mediterranean atmosphere in the heart of an area famous for letting the good times roll. Top-notch Italian food in a region that's sworn allegiance to andouille may sound a little out of place. But it's something locals have come to expect from the restaurant and its Italian owner, who relocated to Cajun country for love.

Owner Cristiano Raffignone grew up in Liguria on the Italian Riviera. As a youngster he enjoyed the area's simple culinary luxuries: olive oil; aromatic herbs such as basil, bay, and fennel; and fresh-ground pesto. He worked his way through kitchens in New York, Australia, and London. Finally, after building his culinary pedigree, Cristiano settled in this little corner of southeast Louisiana.

And his passion of the palate shines through with each plate. With every herb, most from the kitchen garden. With every gracious act of service by the staff. With every table of friends that lingers over the last pour of wine in one of the many intimate dining rooms.

What To Try
The fried green tomatoes with a South Louisiana twist: tangy tomatoes combined with a creamy lump crabmeat-rémoulade sauce. Roasted red pepper-garlic butter commingles with the luscious brininess of fire-tinged grilled local oysters. An open-faced ravioli, plump like a hotel bed with the duvet folded back, cushions sweet lumps of fresh crabmeat in a lemon-thyme cream sauce. Pecan-crusted black drum highlights the earthiness of a rosemary-and-dried cherry risotto.

While You're There
This is the land of gators, dark cypress swamps, and egrets. Get up close to the Cajun landscape with Bayou Black Airboat Swamp Tours out of Bob's Bayou Black Marina, about 17 miles away ( or 504-628-2508; $40).

For More on Cristiano's
Read Executive Editor Warner McGowin's blog post detailing his visit to the restaurant, complete with additional photos of the food and atmosphere.

Cristiano Ristorante: 724 High Street, Houma, LA 70360; or 985-223-1130; Appetizers average $8, entrées $26.