Report: Brigtsen's, Gamay, Rene's, Pelican Club, Gabrielle, Marisol, Liuzza, Sake's, Harbor Seafood
Just got back from pre-Xmas stay in New Orleans. Thanks to various message boards, including chowhound, we had a pretty good idea of where to go to eat. We basically did an early bird theme to guage all the restaurants comparably, as well as to save big bucks which we used for wine (and tips).
For what it is worth, here are my thoughts from my foray through New Orleans. Everything was very good to great. Gamay was a very pleasant experience and actually outshone (by a hair) her older sibling, at least for the early dinner menu selections. For less than $17, I got the mixed grill sausage appetizer with creole mustard, a pan fried gulf fish with shrimp etouffee sauce (it was fantastic, one of the best dishes of the trip), and dessert was the upside-down apple bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce. SO MUCH and so good, I could not finish it. My wife was similarly pleased with her shrimp and butternut squash bisque and her cornish game hen with country stuffing. With the dinner we had Mommessin brut etoile champagne for $25 (which we had again at Gabrielle the next day for only $18). The decor was great, and service (Melissa?) was top notch. The only sad part was that we were the only diners there from 5:45 to 7:20 or so pm. It was the 18th, but still... It was a bargain as well as a great dinner.
Next day was Gabrielle. When we arrived at 6 pm, there was only one other couple there. By 6:30, it filled by half and by 7:30 or so, it was full. Foodwise, early dinner selections were good but not spectacular. The appetizer of goose pate was tasty but did not seem to catch the essence of the goose liver. The tipilia fish entree with garlic sauce, topped by white beans was well made, just not exceptional. My wife's duck and rabbit tamale was a good tamale, but with no real distinctiveness. For extra sides, we also had the she-crab soup and crab cakes, which were exceptional and worthy of the "95" and top ten ratings this restaurant has recieved. Dessert was Mary's homemade ice cream and a double chocolate cake. Yum. Service was friendly and attentive.
Thursday's early dinner was Brigtsen's. The coconut Shrimp Bisque was fantastic, as was the tossed salad with tomato, egg, pine nuts, ricotta salata and balsamic vinaigrette.
My broiled gulf fish with shrimp etoufee sauce was well made, with the etoufee being made in a lighter style than at Gamay. (While I liked the heavier seasoning at Gamay, the lighter style did not detract from my appreciation of the dish.) My wife's grilled chicken breasts however were a bit overdone to her personal taste. I ordered an extra appetizer of sauted sweetbreads with shiitake mushrooms, capers, and a lemon garlic sauce. Very sublime. For dessert, the Pecan Pie was fantastic. The Creme Brulee was very good, but not up to the highflying pecan pie. Service was very good. They made us feel welcomed.
Previous posters have remarked that Brigtsen's was cramped, etc. I did not get that sense at all. I could easily have stretched my arms without hitting the next table if I wanted to. Space was not a problem.
Friday's was Rene's Bistrot. We had a 9 pm reservation and the place was about 90% full. Our server was Tony who provided the best service of the trip. The place was definitely jammed packed with locals, with at least two Xmas parties going
As I said, service was great, particularly the wine service. They know their stuff. For starters, my wife and I had the crabmeat and corn chowder, which was excellent. She then had a salad which she remembers as being very good. I had the sweetbreads and my wife had the pork loin as entrees. The sweetbreads were prepared a bit firmer than I like, and finished with a sauce that was remarkably similar, if not identical, to the sauce used for the duck sausage appetizer I had also ordered. I would have preferred a bit more originality. I also preferred the lighter style of Brigtsen's sweetbreads. Dessert was a double chocolate cake which was very,very nice. All in all, a wonderful dining experience despite the loudest dining room of the trip, and a still emerging, but absolutely will get there, kitchen.
Saturday's was Sake's in Metairie, which would easily fit into San Francisco and do well. Very fresh fish and well-made sushi rolls. My only disappointment was that they did not have selections using fresh oysters, a surprise given the season.
Sunday was early dinner at the Pelican Club. When we arrived at 5:30, the place was nearly empty. We were seated in the wood paneled clubroom. It never got past half-full the 2 hours we were there. Foodwise, the Pelican Club is first rate. I was happy to find this out because some had said that PC had slipped. We opted to try both the early dinner menu and the reveillon diner and were not disappointed. The Creole Jambalaya entrée with huge prawns was excellent. But even better were the baked oysters, as was the cream of Oyster soup, the roasted sweetbread (cooked to delicate perfection) with apple-smoked bacon, and the Salmon in Rosemary entree, all cooked to perfection. However, all good things must pass, and desserts were merely average (creme brulee, pecan pie, ice cream).
Now, the bad: wine service was absolutely amateurish. I won't say more except the stemware and service were absolutely below standard for a restaurant that sells $150 bottles of wine and charges $20 for corkage.
Table service, however, was much better, with only occasional lapses such as forgeting to bring my homemade egg nog as part of my reveillon dinner, an oversight I remembered only afterwards. Still, the excellent food made the evening memorable, which could have been even more memorable had the table and wine service been equal to the food preparation.
We went to Marisol's one early evening for tapas. Very good food, ambience, and service. I even tried Chef Petes Foie Gras En Bocal appetizer, which was very good. However, I thought it was rather careless or inattentive for the Foie Gras to be served with burnt toasted levain.
Other food notes: stopped by Foodies on Veterans Memorial one day for a quick snack. Well prepared food, but not exceptional, and a tad overpriced for what is offered. Also managed to snag a dozen oysters at Seafood Harbor on Williams while the wife was at Esplanade Mall. Service was slow. With only one shucker during lunch, it took about 30 minutes to get my food. The oysters were cheap,and very good and fresh.
Also stopped by Liuzza's By the Track for the Seafood Gumbo (great) and the BBQ shrimp po-boy (hate to blasphame, but it was good but not great).
Well, those were my New Orleans restaurant experiences, for what they are worth.