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Stella, Maison de Ville & August report

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n.o.lover Nov 16, 2007 11:35 AM

Just got back late last night from a wonderful visit. Our first dinner was at Stella and I absolutely loved this place. I had a salad to start - beautifully seasoned avocado topped with crab & baby arugula, with a vinaigrette of corn, lobster & truffle. This was my favorite dish of the trip. Every bite was heavenly, didn't want it to end. Followed this with the sea bass with shark fin broth, thanks to fellow reviewers. This dish was also fabulous. The fish was firm, beautiful large flake, and cooked to absolute perfection. My husband had the gnocci with truffles and crab to start, and the lamb to follow. He loved the gnocci. Said that the quality of the lamb was fantastic, preparation perfect, but wasn't overwhelmed by flavors of the dish itself. Chef Scott Boswell visited with us and other diners in the dining room - super great guy, really down to earth, absolutely a blast to talk to about the food and his philosophy. The sea bass that he uses is line caught, there are Umbria truffles on the menu, and all sorts of other things that show that he is all about quality ingredients. It really shines through.

Next night was the Bistro at Maison de Ville. Please, please, please go to this place. It was really slow on Tuesday night. Several fellow diners said that they had been there previously and were the only ones there. The food is impeccable french bistro fare, reasonably priced, and spot on. I ordered the house smoked salmon salad to start (it was highly recommended by the waiter). I'm guessing that the salmon was hot smoked, it was served medium rare, over frisee, topped with a poached egg and a creamy remoulade blanc. Terrific dish, perfectly executed, and only $6.25. My husband had the sweet breads - crisp, tender, beatifully moist, served with a shitake and fig jus. I had the duck sampler for an entree, my husband had the filet mignon. Both were amazing. My hubby commented that the filet was the most tender that he's ever had. The duck was also great - seared breast, confit leg, foie gras, and an absolutely terrific yam pecan cake. Hubby had creme brulee for dessert - perfect. The chef, Greg Piccolo, also came out and chatted. This was a great evening, chatting with fellow diners, plus the chef joining in, it was a real blast. Servers were also terrific, even remembered us two days later when they saw us on the street. I hope that more of you will try this place, it really is wonderful, and doesn't seem to get a lot of mention on this board.

The last evening was August. Loved the atmosphere, had great service, found John Besh to be very personable, but neither one of us loved the place. The gnocci with truffles was amazing, actually better than at Stella - lighter texture, more delicate dish overall. I had the trout pontchartrain for an entree. Found this completely uninspired - pan fried trout topped with crab, and a sauce with fresh Porcini mushrooms. Sounded great. The sauce didn't have a lot of flavor, and lacked acidity. The waiter brought the lemon that I requested at the speed of light. The fish was cooked perfectly, but there was nothing else to the dish. I don't remember that this was an a la carte menu, so I found it odd that there was nothing else on the plate. Don't get me wrong, plenty of food for me, but I love when the chef comes up with a dish that involves more than just the protein. My husband had the pork belly served with Maine lobster. There was a lot of braised pork, actually quite a bit of lobster too. Unfortunately they really didn't go together, and the pork belly was so rich that my hubby didn't feel so swell the rest of the night and yesterday am. Overall it was just too much richness, maybe better as a starter.

We had lunch at Acme one day - oysters at the bar, shared a fried oyster po boy. Also had the trio of Oysters at Bourbon House. These are terrific, particularly the Fonseca - oysters topped with a mixture of Tasso, peppers, a bechamel, some bread crumbs, and cheese. For sure these toppings kind of mask the flavor of the oysters, but they taste great. Ended our last morning with Breakfast at Brennans. Maybe overpriced, but terrific Turtle Soup, and great poached eggs over fried trout and creamed spinach. Just a nice way to leave the city. (Along with the 2 whole Muffaletta's stowed in my carry on. Made for a great snack last night, plus lunch today. By the way - tried heating it up. That's pretty hard to argue with. My hubby wanted no part of heating, but I think that I'm hooked. Thanks for this suggestion.)

Service, pacing, and overall experience was just delightful at all of these restaurants. This was our second trip to N.O. this year, and we just love to see that things are starting to come back, but it still looks to be a struggle for so many people. Thank you all for your great advice, and may you enjoy many happy meals. Can't wait to return - it's snowing in Vermont, and yesterday it was 70 and sunny in New Orleans. Cheers!

  1. e
    eldub Nov 29, 2007 11:15 PM

    We were just there doing Habitat, and chose August as our one fine dining choice for the trip. I like John Besh on tv, but we had a similar experience...kinda "Eh" for the price. The amuse was impressive. My salad was a bit wilted though not advertised as such. The tuna entree had nice capers and large couscous (perhaps the most creative aspect of the meal) perfectly cooked but was otherwise the usual butter and lemon. I called in advance to say I might want to order vegetarian. They put me on hold and came back to say that they would take care of me, whatever my desires. When I did ask the waiter to have them invent a vegetarian appetizer (specifying that eggs and dairy ingredients were fine), as there were none on the menu, he seemed a bit confused by this and then brought a rather un-inventive plate of tempura'd vegetables. Who knows what that experiment cost me. My friend's fried oysters were delicious, but I can't ignore that panko has hydrogenated oils; using it instead of house-made breadcrumbs at this level of dining seems...wrong. Lovely space, attentive but un-smiling waiter, very friendly drink guy, pretty good food, but nothing to write home about.

    1 Reply
    1. re: eldub
      t
      Tonto Nov 30, 2007 12:34 PM

      So sorry to hear about your disappointing experience. Thank you so much for your hard work with Habitat. I don't know where we would be without people like you. I bet if you had mentioned you were volunteering to rebuild the city they would have fallen all over you, but I am sure you are far to humble for that.

    2. z
      zin1953 Nov 16, 2007 07:45 PM

      Interestingly, we've never dined at the Bistro at Maison de Ville -- we couldn't get a reservation there pre-K when we tried, and it took them a considerable time post-K to re-open . . . glad they're back, and we'll definitely put them on the list for our next trip.

      Cheers,
      Jason

      1. BombayUpWithaTwist Nov 16, 2007 05:05 PM

        Thanks for the great report. You got it done so quickly too! We were in NO a couple of weeks ago and thought the same for August. I think we all have too high of expectations and then are disappointed. I wrote a report about our visit a few days ago.

        Bistro at Maison de Ville sounds fabulous. It was one of the places I wanted to go, but we just couldn't fit it into our schedule.

        3 Replies
        1. re: BombayUpWithaTwist
          n
          n.o.lover Nov 16, 2007 05:30 PM

          I knew that I might be a bit lax if I didn't write it immediately. I have the gift of gab if you can't tell, and just love the topic of food. (only better thing than talking about food is eating a great meal.)

          I think that it is really tough to please people when the bar is too high, and food is so subjective. My fish at August just didn't have enough acid in the sauce for me, but others probably wouldn't feel the same way. It really was all executed just as the menu said, I probably just expected more. My hubby's dish was not quite as pleasing on all fronts, but again subjective.

          I thought that Stella was fabulous - I loved the crab & avocado salad, and also my fish, but the fish was really more of an intellectual / learning process for me. I've never had shark fin before, and this was great to experience, especially since the chef was so happy to entertain my curiosity about the shark fin (it comes dried, from Japan, lots of labor to get it to the final dish). Very gelatinous texture, much like a really reduced veal stock. So nice that I got a big spoon with the dish, so as not to leave a drop behind. I walked away feeling so fulfilled, not too many places that you can have a great meal and a culinary education all in one.

          Bistro at Maison de Ville was just not like this - the food was great, but you didn't feel like you had to think too much. The food was great, just not such an intellectual exercise. (I love the exercise, hubby gets less interested with the pretention that sometimes accompanies this level of cuisine.). It was great, just more familiar for us. We loved everything about this place - great service, comfortable atmosphere, sincere honest food. The only sad thing was that the place was not very busy. When we arrived, I actually wanted to get up and leave, but luckily hubby straightened me out. Everything was great as soon as I got over my apprehension about the lack of customers. Our server was so accomodating that he actually opened a bottle of champagne for us to taste - the bottle that we ordered was sold out - he recommended a dry German sparkling Riesling instead - sounds odd, but was really quite nice. All in all, this was a real gem, like being at a family member's house for dinner.

          How lucky you all in N.O. are to have such great places to eat. It's like splitting hairs, in the end the food is always great, just a matter of the finer points. Wish that this was home for me. Bon appetit!

          1. re: n.o.lover
            Bill Hunt Nov 16, 2007 06:38 PM

            "I think that it is really tough to please people when the bar is too high, and food is so subjective." There is an ongoing thread in General Chowhounding Topics (I think), concerning "what makes a restaurant great?" Setting the bar high and having a restaurant hit it squarely, is what makes a place great. It is a small percentage, that does it day in, and day out. Obviously, we hit RA on a good night, but there have been some gigs lately. Maybe it has been the distractions, or something else, but RA has the potential to be great. I hope that whatever has caused the hiccups (and coming from CH folk, I believe that these observations have been right-on and non-biased, in any way) can be put aside and the overall performance can reach its potential.

            I must get back to the Maison de Ville (will probably stay at the Audubon Cottages again, as well). I was worried at all that went on there, but you have calmed my fears.

            As for Riesling, one of the most food-friendly wines is well-made Riesling, and Germany does the best. I'm just surprised that a restaurant would go to the trouble of serving one, since they are not mainstream and are frowned upon, by those who do not know them, or appreciate them. To me, it's a sign of a sommelier, who knows what they are doing and one, who cares about the best pairings possible, regardless of the general sentiment.

            Thanks for all of the comments,
            Hunt

            1. re: n.o.lover
              BombayUpWithaTwist Nov 17, 2007 09:08 AM

              The shark fin broth with the sea bass at Stella sounds intriguing. I've never had it outside of a Chinese restaurant and they just make the soup. Pairing it with sea bass if very imaginative. I would love to try it.

              You are making me crave NOLA!

          2. Bill Hunt Nov 16, 2007 03:13 PM

            Great review. Thanks for taking the time to post it. Stay warm in VT.

            Hunt

            1. s
              Shiloh Nov 16, 2007 11:52 AM

              thanks for the report. i'll be sure to try bistro at maison de ville, as i've never been. i head up to vermont next wednesday. my in-laws live in quechee. my wife went up early, got there today, and just called to tell me about the snow. can't wait to get up there. i'm hoping dinner at simon pearce is in the plans -- worth a try if you're ever in the area.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Shiloh
                n
                n.o.lover Nov 16, 2007 12:28 PM

                I own an Inn in Woodstock - eat at Simon Pearce all the time. Even have a package with them. Love the place, they're the best in the area!

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