Lefebvre heads new restaurant, offering fine foods, fine view

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

A new restaurant at one of Natchez’s most beautiful and popular settings will open this weekend with Chef Heath Lefebvre heading the staff.

Riverpointe Restaurant at the Ramada Inn Hilltop will open informally on Friday evening with a grand opening on Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

The new restaurant is one part of an overall remodeling at the hotel, which will include new looks for the lobby and an incremental renovation of guest rooms, said John Bergeron, a member of the family who own and operate the Ramada.

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&uot;This will give Natchez a renewed opportunity to experience the Ramada view and enjoy fine dining,&uot; Bergeron said. &uot;We think we’re going to have the nicest experience on the river &045;&045; the best food and the best view.&uot;

The Ramada, located on a high bluff just south of the Mississippi River Bridge, long has been known for its sweeping view of the river. Capitalizing on that, Ramada owners have refurbished the 64-seat section of the dining room where a wall of windows offers that panoramic view.

The Riverpointe will not change the lunch and Sunday brunch experience, when diners often fill the 150 places in the two areas of the restaurant. However, regular diners will find the familiar buffet table and salad bar moved into the gift shop and checkout area, now opened wide and comfortably accommodating diners who enjoy the buffet.

Lefebvre, who studied at Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute and spent two years working with the late beloved Natchez chef John Martin Terranova, has created a menu his mentor would approve &045;&045; French but with a definite Southern and Creole flavor.

Appetizers will include Crawfish cakes topped with chipotle pepper cream sauce and Mississippi Cocktail, four jumbo shrimp served with a spicy bloody Mary martini cocktail that you drink while you eat your shrimp.

Salads will include a grilled duck breast salad &045; the duck served on mixed greens tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette with duck cracklings.

Entrees have been selected carefully. &uot;It’s going to be a menu of specialties that have been successful at other fine dining establishments,&uot; Bergeron said.

The Colorado rack of lamb will be served on a smoked gouda grit cake with fresh saut/ed spinach and topped with a root beer demi-glaze. The seafood brie pasta is grilled shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat saut/ed with spinach and served with a brie cheese cream sauce tossed over fettuccini pasta.

Other entrees center on aged beef, grilled chicken, Mississippi duck, crawfish and Portobello mushrooms, for example.

Lefebvre grew up in Plaquemine, La., where he learned to cook from many good cooks in his family, especially his grandmother and his father. He strives for simplicity and excellence. &uot;I buy the best food I can find. I keep the menu simple, but the taste is heaven,&uot; he said.

Julie Ellis, Ramada food and beverage manager, has concentrated on the wait staff for the Riverpointe. &uot;Good servers are very important for me,&uot; she said. &uot;I think we have excellent service.&uot;

Starched white cloths and napkins, new tableware, china and crystal, new carpet and a new look are part of the remaking of a favorite Natchez place. &uot;This property is 28 years old,&uot; Bergeron said. &uot;It was time for us to do this.&uot;

Regular hours for Riverpointe Restaurant will be 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made by calling the Ramada at (601) 446-6311.

The chef shared his Raspberry Vinaigrette, below, which he said is excellent not only on the duck salad but on any salad.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

4 ounces raspberries (frozen or fresh), pureed

1 ounce balsamic vinegar

1/2 ounce brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine chopped shallot and garlic

4 ounces extra virgin olive oil

In a medium size skillet put 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Let skillet heat, almost to smoking point. Add shallot and garlic mixture. Remove from heat. Shake around in the pan. Add back to heat. Add balsalmic vinegar and brown sugar. Stir until smooth. Then add raspberry puree. Remove from heat and let cool until room temperature. Pass puree through a fine strainer to remove seeds. In a mixing bowl, whisk in remaining olive oil slowly. If too thick, add balsalmic vinegar to thin.