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Disappointment at Lilette

ddavis Apr 27, 2007 04:48 PM

My wife and I had a great trip down last weekend -- our second since Katrina. Had great meals at Cochon, Galatoire's, Brigtsen's, Stella! and Commanders Palace. Our only disappointment was at Lilette, where we had not been before and will not be again.

We had a 1:00 pm reservation. Were seated right on time by a sullen hostess who did not smile for the entire hour and a half we were there. Now that I think about it, our waiter never smiled either. The food was good, but the service was atrocious. I am not impatient -- my wife gets impatient with me (and did during this meal) because I am overly patient with servers -- but this was ridiculous. Took many minutes for the waiter to acknowledge we were there. He was obviously uninterested in being there himself. Once we finally did order we had to flag him down to get water glasses refilled. He brought bread and butter, but never offered any more. Appetizers were served fairly quickly, but after those plates were removed it was at least twenty minutes before the main courses arrived.

It was odd -- there were only six or seven other tables filled at this time on a Saturday afternoon. There were at least four, maybe five, waiters. It seemed that all the tables were between courses when we were and there were no waiters to be seen. Maybe they were all out back smoking. At any rate, all of a sudden every table was being served entrees at the same time. Then our waiter disappeared for another long period of time. He finally removed our plates and was gone again. I finally got his attention and asked for dessert menus, which were promptly delivered. Then for fifteen minutes we waited for him to come back. During that time he went at least five times to a table that obviously were regulars and during that time brought them desserts and coffee, which they finished by the time he finally came back to our table. By then we did not want dessert and did not want to stay there any longer. He did bring the check quickly, picked up my credit card promptly and brought back the receipt immediately. We weren't the only ones who were ready for us to leave.

Maybe it was just a bad day. I had high hopes when I arrived based on the glowing reports here. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for us. We aren't able to get down there very often. It's a seven hour drive with no good flight connections. When we do have an opportunity to go down it won't be to try this place. There are just too many great places to eat to give this one a second try.

  1. g
    govinda8 Oct 29, 2007 12:48 PM

    To go back to Lilette. I'm sure this has all been said before, but I love Lilette and have never had a bad experience there. I love the bartender and their special drinks, earlier in the summer they had a thyme infused vodka lemonade that was to die for. And their Alberto is one of the best cocktails ever. I always order the gnocchi, and I hate beets but will eat their beet salad. And for dessert, they have a coconut sorbet served with candied dates that will just melt in your mouth. The servers have always been polite but maybe not the quickest. But who cares when the food is so fantastic.

    1. jamielynn Oct 24, 2007 11:30 AM

      I like this recent quote from Frank Bruni (ny times food critic):

      "That’s the thing about restaurants. You never know. You really don’t. The most fervently recommended place in its prime can leave you heartsick; a place to which you bring relatively low expectations can delight you, and not just because your expectations were restrained."

      1. b
        brshpr Oct 23, 2007 10:20 AM

        if the owner never smiles how can you expect the employees to smile

        1. s
          szfoster Oct 22, 2007 10:18 PM

          This is my first chowhound post. I am a food person, always have been. I lived in China for 10 years, that's how long it takes to eat all the food there. I've traveled 40+ countries. I spent $10K in Paris eating over a 2 week period during the Millenium. After reading this post, I finally felt compelled to register and say a few words about Lilette. I was in New Orleans two weeks ago and tried 1/2 dozen name brand spots. The food at Cochon was pretty good, BUT, the flavors of the food are managed. I mean that the chicken livers don't tast like chicken liver and the pig tongue doesn't taste like a pig's tongue. The chef is using fun materials, but he's still pandering to the mainstream palate. I don't like it when it all tastes like chicken or braised beef. I should be able to discern what I am eating by the taste of it.

          Now, with respect to Lilette. In my humble opinion, the food there is better than excellent. The chef is an artist who creates sublime flavors. Arguments about whether it's too rich or too thick, too salty or too whatever are, to me, not the point. He understands flavor and is not afraid to break new ground. Kudos to him.

          I believe it's now closed, but I once had a 7 course truffle dinner in Atlanta at a restaurant called Seeger's (here, I found a link: http://www.theworldwidegourmet.com/re...) that was, like Lilette, revolutionary. The chef there made a veal that was so good, I have been disappointed with veal since....almost makes me wish I never had it.

          For what it's worth, I had excellent service at Lilette. Now, what constitutes excellent service is always up for debate. The waiter was friendly when I told him to recommend what he thought was best. Another waiter joined in and we started talking about Turkish food. Then, this tall handsome attorney walks in with his beautiful wife and two teenage daughters. We were all crowded at the bar. He commented on how good my food smelled and I could not help but notice how right he was. In addition to his family, the lawyer also brought with him a heaping platter of freshly baked cookies, maybe they were brownies. The staff was delighted. He was obviously a regular there, but still, it's not every day that a regular bakes you cookies.

          Final comment, I asked the sous chef at Cochon what her favorite restaurant in New Orleans was.....Lilette.

          5 Replies
          1. re: szfoster
            malenky Oct 23, 2007 09:43 AM

            cochon is a cajun resto...cajun food is not meant to taste like what you are eating. The whole philosophy behind cajun cooking was to be able to utilize all that was available, i.e., the whole pig, without making it taste like, say, whole pig. That is why we use a lot of heavy creams and seasonings, to mask those flavors so that they become more palatable and less offensive.

            1. re: malenky
              s
              szfoster Oct 24, 2007 12:52 PM

              I love the tast of pig's tongue. I love the slight crunch about it. There is nothing offensive about pig's tongue to me or to the 15 million Shanghaiese who enjoy it as a regular delicacy in their town....I wonder if there are other places that enjoy pig's tongue? I have yet to eat a part of a pig who's flavor I found offensive. Now, on the other hand, the pig might be.

              BTW, the chef/owner of Lilette came out and was charming, telling us all at the bar about how he had recently cooked for Gorbachev and how much he enjoyed doing that.

              Jamielynn and the Bruni quote are spot on. You never really know, but I think that more than one star must align to make a perfect meal.

              Aloha.

              1. re: szfoster
                malenky Oct 24, 2007 01:05 PM

                I think the point you are not getting is that cajun people were not accustomed to eatting pig's tongue, but were very poor and had to utilize the whole pig, so they made those things more palatable so that they could eat it for survival, not for flavor. I am sure pig's tongue is wonderful, but when eatting different cuisines you have to take in to account that things are prepared for certain reasons.

                1. re: malenky
                  h
                  Hungry Celeste Oct 24, 2007 01:23 PM

                  How on earth can you assert that cajuns were "unaccustomed" to eating any part of the pig? Prior to the second half of the 20th century, most rural residents of Acadiana were quite accustomed to raising, slaughtering, and processing their own livestock, including pigs. Stuffed and/or smoked beef tongues are still a common sight at many Acadiana meat markets. I can't agree with the blanket statement that "cajun food is not meant to taste like what you're eating"....while extensive processing and reformulation are indeed parts of cajun charcuterie (an inheritance directly from French & German traditions), I'd argue that simplicity and purity are extant in many other dishes (I'm thinking of straighforward things like raw oysters, slow-cooked veggies, simple fried seafoods, plain roasted chicken & potatoes--i.e., the backbone of cajun home cooking, rather than what might be called the "cajun restaurant" style (admittedly more baroque in seasonings & textures).

                  1. re: Hungry Celeste
                    malenky Oct 24, 2007 02:17 PM

                    I'm sorry, but this is how I grew up and what I was accustomed to eating. This is how the cuisine was in Crowley where I am from. I am only going by what I experienced and how I was raised. I had never been to a restaurant until I was probably well into my teens. I was just mearly trying to point out that a lot different parts of all animals were covered up by heavy creams and butters to make things more palatable. My mom always cooked everything with cream and at least a stick of butter. I know it is different on the bayou where you are from, but this is how the people where I'm from eat and have eaten. I think the food was very comforting food, but there was nothing simple about they way we ate.

          2. l
            lowergardendistrict May 15, 2007 06:51 PM

            Here's all you need to know about the state of service in NO: I have recently seen "Now Hirirng" and "Help Wanted" BANNERS--not just small signs--on the exteriors of Commander's Palace and Brennan's. Absolutely, positively unthinkable before 829.

            6 Replies
            1. re: lowergardendistrict
              m
              MIKELOCK34 May 16, 2007 01:41 AM

              Restaurants in every city have always had problems with staffing. Commander's has always been advertising for staff, including using banners, since before the storm. Where do you think that they got their staff before the storm? "Unthinkable?" That is ridiculous. The restaurants in New Orleans have always had staffing problems. Mediocre food and service has always been a trademark of New Orleans restaurants, the storm did not create that. The excuses are old. Another revelation, restaurants in New Orleans are always busy for Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, Essence Festival, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, conventions, and on and on. That is not being caused by the storm either. Stop with the excuses. The city is still a mess, but that is not what is causing the problems with pooor food and service in the restaurants.

              1. re: MIKELOCK34
                PolarBear May 16, 2007 04:38 PM

                "Mediocre food and service has always been a trademark of New Orleans restaurants..."

                speaking of "ridiculous", just my $0.20 (adjusted for inflation).

                1. re: PolarBear
                  t
                  Tonto May 16, 2007 06:22 PM

                  This is shocking to me that there is a consensus that service is notoriously bad in New Orleans and the latest that the food is mediocre. What are we being compared to I would like to know?

                  1. re: Tonto
                    s
                    stlmark May 16, 2007 06:55 PM

                    DDavis, from where are you coming down here?

                    I'd say I think Lilette serves a really nice lunch. The service I receive at the lunch hour has always been more than adequate.

                    1. re: stlmark
                      ddavis May 16, 2007 08:29 PM

                      I live in Tyler, Texas. Not sure what difference that makes. At any rate, I'm glad your experience at Lilette has been better than mine. The only experience I have to report on is my own and it was as described above.

                      BUT, I am not one of those to whom Tonto refers who think that "service is notoriously bad in New Orleans" or that "the food is mediocre." On our recent weekend there we had five excellent meals at Cochon, Galatoire's, Brigtsen's, Stella! and Commander's Palace. I posted reports of all those meals. We had good service and excellent food at those five restaurants. The only place we had a disappointing experience was at Lilette.

                    2. re: Tonto
                      jamielynn Oct 23, 2007 10:31 AM

                      Hope it's not New York, because I'm sick of everyone thinking they have the best service. Read the Manhattan board...you will find just as many complaints about service in top notch stops all over the island.
                      And no one would ever try to compare an establishment in Nola to Per Se.

              2. Adrienne May 7, 2007 12:21 PM

                This is kindof a tangent because I don't only mean Lilette, but does anyone else feel that lunch in New Orleans has been more hit-or-miss than dinner? I've gotten the feeling that a lot of the places that have had to completely re-staff are training new waitstaff during the lunch service.

                It is still hugely improved in the past months, though -- last summer I was served by several waiters who seemed like they were on drugs etc., and I haven't had service *that* bad in a long time.

                1. z
                  zin1953 Apr 28, 2007 10:49 AM

                  I've not been to Lilette for lunch, and so cannot comment on that directly, but the dinner I had there in October 2006 was stunning, and the service was excellent.

                  As you say, "Maybe it was just a bad day . . . " Maybe they deserve another chance.

                  Then again, you said you had a great meal at Stella! -- and my wife and I absolutely HATED it . . . both the meal itself, which would be generously described as "weak," and the service, which was truly horrid. Every restaurant can have an "off" night -- and I would like to think, having worked in and with many restaurants, I am usually pretty good about cutting the restaurant (kitchen or floor) some slack -- but I've little desire to ever go back to Stella!, and so I can understand your not wanting to . . .

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: zin1953
                    m
                    mikemill May 4, 2007 08:29 AM

                    That's odd, because I recently had the best lunch of my life at Lilette. Service was fine, and the food blew me away.

                    On another note, Stella! is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in the city. But that's a different topic.

                    1. re: mikemill
                      h
                      hartly May 6, 2007 02:13 PM

                      i think stella is a great place, but best in the city?. the lack of local and regional seafoods and meats at stella is a little annoying. w/ such a great bounty of ingredients it confuses me the way everything is flown in from half way across the world. it inflates prices, which cuts out a whole demographic of diners. it shows a severe lack of sustainability and disregard for a more "green" cooking. with that being said the pastry chef is progressive and amazing.

                      1. re: hartly
                        k
                        Kingrover May 6, 2007 02:39 PM

                        While I do appreciate restuarants that use local ingredients, sometimes people get tired or bored of regional foods and want something different. I love Stella's creative menu and think there food is impeccably executed.

                        While demographics are things to some places consider, restaurants aren't obligated to try lower their prices to include everyone. If the food is worth it, people will pay; and if not, they'll adjust their prices or lose money. Furthermore, while sustainability is a valiant goal, restaurants are not obligated to pursue that either.

                        I think Stella does a fantastic job of utilizing both global and local ingredients in creating unique dishes.

                  2. m
                    MIKELOCK34 Apr 27, 2007 09:29 PM

                    We gave up on Lilette too. The service was as you described, but the dishes we tried there were all very mediocre.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MIKELOCK34
                      h
                      Hungry Celeste Apr 30, 2007 06:52 AM

                      I've never had bad service there, but I'm not a regular b/c I too am uninspired by the food. It's a nice little room, warm w/good vibes, but the food never excites me much.

                    2. t
                      Tonto Apr 27, 2007 08:43 PM

                      I have to tell you that your complaint seems to be about service not food. Please, of all the things that can not be helped ,is the lack of experienced wait staff since the city's diaspora, but that should not be a black mark for the person putting out the food.
                      I love the restaurant and what ever you feel now, they are worth another try. Times are still tough for restaurants.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Tonto
                        ddavis Apr 28, 2007 09:03 AM

                        You are absolutely right that service, not food, is my complaint. The food was generally good. However, if food were the only element of dining out, they could just set it outside the kitchen and I could pick it up, take it to my table and eat it. When you are paying upwards of $100 for two for lunch, there must be more than food.

                        I know Katrina was hard on the restaurant industry, but I went to six top shelf restaurants last weekend and Lilette was the only one where service was poor. Frankly, after a year and a half, this excuse is beginning to wear thin. The restaurant business there is highly competitive. The places that meet expectations stay. Those that do not die.

                        1. re: ddavis
                          t
                          Tonto Apr 29, 2007 05:33 PM

                          You may think this excuse is wearing thin, but it is still a fact. And as a matter of fact the restaurant business has made a better come back than any single service in the city. Some restaurants have more of a bankroll and were able to keep their old employees paid until they were able to reestablish business again. Not true for all. The cost of living here is double if not more and affordable housing is still the biggest problem for restaurants employees. Still for those prices you should have better service, that is a given.

                          1. re: Tonto
                            n
                            NolaRola May 15, 2007 01:43 PM

                            "Please, of all the things that can not be helped ,is the lack of experienced wait staff since the city's diaspora, ....Times are still tough for restaurants."

                            Speaking as an experienced server in New Orleans I would also like to let everyone know how much extra strain we are under. Most restaurants in New Orleans are VERY short staffed, which means I'm working several doubles a week with only one day off. Sometimes, like during Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest, and when very large conventions are in town we don't even get a day off. That's not to say I'm not happy that we are busy, because I'm VERY happy and we WANT your business, but keep in mind we are very tired and when we are this exhausted, we don't perform at our best. As someone else has mentioned, yes, less experienced servers are working the lunch shifts. This is because the experienced servers know there is more money to be made at night. Back of the house is feeling the pressure too. Cooks are not paid much, and only those who truly love food are serious about there jobs. The turn over rate back of house is crazy. Every few weeks restaurants are training someone new.
                            "You may think this excuse is wearing thin, but it is still a fact."
                            Tonto is right, just look around. You see help wanted signs everywhere you look. I've recived job offers from places I would have never dreamed. Not because I'm not experienced enough for the job, but because these positions would have never been opened before the storm.. Places like Galatoire's and Antoine's where the waitstaff never leave their coveted positions.
                            Human resourses hands are tied because they need bodies to give the experienced workes some relief.

                            And to ddavis I'm sorry for your poor service. I hope you made a complaint to the managemet while you were there. Your service was unacceptable and should and it should be addressed.
                            I do suggest patrons who have any problems, be it food or service please let someone know right away. If you are unhappy then we sould at leat be given a chance to fix the problem. Most inexperienced servers don't know how to read their guest, so if no one complains, they think they are doing a fine job. Experienced servers can usually tell if a guest is unhappy and will find a way to fix the problem. Please don't ASSUME we know that there is a problem.

                            1. re: NolaRola
                              m
                              MIKELOCK34 May 15, 2007 03:57 PM

                              Then lower prices to reflect the poor service and food until the problems are fixed. If you cannot operate at your correct level, do not charge premium prices for subpar food and service. The excuses are very old.

                        2. re: Tonto
                          l
                          localfoodie May 17, 2007 10:08 AM

                          In response to the idea that service has suffered since the storm. I do agree there is a lack of proffesional servers in an area encomppassed by restaurants that require their services. However I have eaten at Lillite before the storm, and the service was just as bad. I experianced the same problems. To make things worse I was sitting at the bar waiting for my party and I was really excited that their special drink was the bellini made with fresh imported peaches so I inquired to the bartender his responce was "they are very exspensive" insinuating that I appeared to young to be able to afford such a drink, I reposnded by asking for two. Then the waiters took at least 15 min to acknowledge that we had been seated. The food was great and we haopoened to be friends with on of the cooks. They never presented a wine list and looked like they were forced to be there. The experiance was not pleseant. I have worked in restaurants for a long time so I give respect to all that work day to day trying to please all the dinners in this city, but I swore I would never go back there based on the service we had received there.

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