Stella! is Stellar & Bayona Sublime + More
Stella! Is Stellar & Bayona Sublime
We left The Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, AZ) and headed to a series of meeting in New Orleans. This is the city of my wife’s birth, and a place that I lived in (growing up near by on the MS Gulf Coast) for 12 years. We’ve been gone for about 30 years, but with family still in NOLA, we find ourselves there very often. Whenever we do travel back, dining is #1 one my list, and probably #2 on my wife’s list. While I know my way around the NOLA dining scene, even after all these years, I still rely on CH for updates, as I live over 1,000 miles away, and don’t get to dine in NOLA as often, as I’d like. After many threads, we decided on Stella! and a return to Bayona, as the highlights of our trip. We were on a short string, as wife was flying in from a meeting in Newport Beach, CA and I was heading out from PHX. She also had meetings and events, plus a few moments with the family, so our moments were spoken for. The following is a series of reviews of my/our dining in “The Big Easy.” I’ve chosen to do this as the lead thread, and will add the actual reviews as “replies.” This scheme has worked well for many other cities’ reviews, so folk can just choose the segment of the thread, that they care about, without having to read a 5,000 word post. Hope that anyone, who reads these, will agree on the format.
Mélange at the Ritz Carlton
I arrived at MSY and grabbed my car to head to the Ritz Carlton on Canal. Traffic was light, and I arrived in no time. I checked in, and had time to do a full unpacking, prior to my reservations at Mélange, the main dining area at the Ritz: http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Propert...
I had done my homework, and had chosen Mélange in the hotel for the first evening. I suspected that I’d dine alone, as my wife was flying in from the West Coast, and was not due to land at MSY, until about 9:30PM. I had a car scheduled to pick her up and deliver her to the Ritz.
I was intrigued by the concept of Mélange. They feature dishes from other NOLA restaurants. Hey, how can you go wrong with “Vizard’s Seafood Gumbo?”
We used to avoid all “resort food,” at all costs, based on years of eating at various ones, around the world. We had to re-think this idea, when we moved to AZ, as many of the resorts had some great chefs, who did wonderful fare. Going back a few generations, only the resorts could afford the top chefs, so things developed differently here, than in most areas of the world. Over the years, we’ve had pretty good to poor food at various Ritz Carltons. Even some of the vaunted dining spots, like Chicago’s “The Dining Room,” were nearly let downs. Others seemed to do a much better job. Remington’s at the Beaver Creek Ritz was excellent, and easily beat out several, stand-alone, chef-driven spots, that garner a lot of foodie attention.
I had reservations for one, at 6:30PM, figuring that I might do something later, when my wife arrived at 10:00PM. I was seated in a restaurant, that was about ¼ full. I had a two-top, overlooking the bar/dance floor area, though my back was to the main dining room. There was no early activity in the bar, so I was really looking out, across it, to the courtyard beyond. This was not a problem, and I was actually quite pleased that I had a view of the evening falling on that courtyard.
I asked about any “tasting menus,” or “sommelier’s wine pairings,” and was told that there were none. I started with a bottle of Colin Delinger ‘02 Chassagne-Montrachet. I talked to the server about glassware, and had to work a bit, until I ended up with their “Burgundy Balloons.” The stemware was not something that I would have been proud of, but I did have the opportunity to bring my own and chose to opt for my cameras, rather than my stemware. I know the server thought that I was some sort of oddball, but I’m really into getting everything, that any wine, has to offer.
I started with the Trio of Crab (jumbo lump imperial, crab cake remoulade and a Napoleon with micro greens) and finally sorted out the stemware. The starter was good, but nothing really jumped out at me. However, the acid level in the Montrachet went well with each. I may have done better with a Chablis, or even a Viognier, but I was alone and neither of these were available by the glass. The Chard was OK, especially after I rescued it from the ice bucket. I guess that is just a habit, or maybe something that comes from too many patrons wanting their white wines ice cold, but far, far too many restaurants try to chill the life and soul out of whites with immersion into ice water. The serving temp was very good to start with, so it found a position on my table, instead of the chilled water.
Now, I had ordered the Demi Tasse Soup Tasting (turtle soup, seafood gumbo, lobster bisque) as my next course, with the Blackened Scallops (warm fingerling potato truffle salad and tasso sauce) and the Grilled 8 oz Filet of Beef Covered with Louisiana Jumbo Lump Crab (Parmesan potato gratin, and steamed asparagus finished with Béarnais and au pouive). I ordered a Sanford Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir ‘04 and a Cab from the b-t-g selections. I cannot find my notes on the Cab, but because of the limited b-t-g selections, it was nothing special. [Note to the Ritz: kick the b-t-g selections up TWO notches!]
The reason that I listed all of these courses together, is that is how they arrived - one, immediately followed by the next and then the next. My first thought was that the place had filled up behind me and they needed to turn my table. Since my back was to the dining room and I had spent most of my attention on the first course and the Montrachet, I could have missed the area crowds coming in. As all three additional courses hit at once, I looked around. Now, I was one of the ONLY diners in the room. It was not even ¼ full any more. Why did all of these hit my table at the same time? Well, my server, who was otherwise quite good, was gone. He did not reappear until I had finished the Soup Tasting and the Scallops, and had gotten half-way through the Filet. One of the aspects of dining, that I learned in my youth in New Orleans, was that dining should be an experience to be savored. One enjoys every aspect of a dish, it’s presentation, it’s aromas, and each bite should be enjoyed to the fullest. It’s nothing for my wife and me to have a 4-5 hour dinner, especially if there is conversation. Unfortunately on this night, there was no conversation, but I did have four hours to spend, and now I had three courses sitting in front of me, getting cold.
All of these dishes were OK, though their prices indicated that they should have been better, even by Ritz standards.
Finally, my affable server arrived (I cannot imagine where he was, as I did not see him dealing with the other six diners in the room). I had done a pretty good job of finishing what I had, and had him re-cork the Montrachet and the Pinot Noir for later, when my wife arrived.
I passed on dessert & Port and inquired about any cigar bars in the area. He informed me about The Library just across that courtyard, that I had been observing. I trekked to the room, with Chard and PN, and changed out of my “dining clothes” for some cigar clothing.
The Library at the Ritz Carlton
I headed back to The Library and entered. I surveyed the surroundings and was impressed. This was a nice cigar & Port venue, clubby, but too much so. I took a stool at the bar and asked for the cigar menu. I was informed that The Library was a private club, and that I would need to pay a membership of US$35, just to order. OK, I have skied in Utah and visited West Virginia, where all spots that serve wine are “private clubs.” I have encountered similar in other parts of the world. I am used to being “comp’ed” most of these “membership charges,” especially if I am spending US$500+/night at the inn. Not so at The Library. Full membership of US$35/day, regardless. I looked at the cigar menu and the Port menu and decided that since my wife had not yet arrived, and I’d not spent much time with my dinner, I’d pay-n-stay. They had the Cohiba (Domican) Sieglo V’s for a fair price, if I did not consider the $35 to “join” for the night. Now, I usually have the Sieglo VI’s from Havana, but I pick these up in London and “chance it.” With the membership, I was paying about US$3 over the Cubans, even with the exchange rate, but that’s life. Well, all of the cutters had been stolen, so we worked with a knife to cut my cigar. Last time that this happened was when TSA stole my cigar cutter from my golf bag. They left my lighter, but took the lovely, self-sharpening stainless steel cutter! I found myself on the golf course at Aviara having to chew my cigar’s cap. [Note to others: while on the golf course, it seems that a tee would be a natural tool to get past the cap of a cigar. Well, it is not, as it punches everything into the cap area, and all of the moisture and tar are trapped there. Bad idea, as I found out.] I ordered a Tawny Port (wish I could find the exact notes, as this was not what I expected), and was surprised that I ended up with probably an LBV. I discussed this with the bartender, and Ports became the topic of the evening. He pulled out his allotment list, and we poured over it, as it seemed that what he had gotten was not what the menu stated, and what the allotment list stated. The night wore on and the discussions progressed, as they do, when one’s wife is still in the air. I ordered their cheese platter and tried their PX with a Montecristo #2. Because of the Port discussion, the bartender extended my “membership” for two nights. A nice touch.
Well, wife was very late out of LAX (limo to LA from Newport Beach), and arrived at 12:30AM, instead of 9:30 PM. Oh well, that is the state of travel today. She got to the Ritz, but had not eaten since breakfast, Pacific Standard Time, except for the pretzels at the Red Carpet Club at LAX. Luckily, room service at the Ritz is 24/7.
Room Service Ritz Carlton
I ordered a shrimp salad for her, and a fried shrimp po-boy for me. I still had half of the Montrachet and the Sanford, so we were set on wine. Wow, room service was on top of it. What a wonderful spread! Had this not been post-K, we’d have walked to Felix’s and gotten similar, but they were closed by 1:30AM, and this was great. I cannot comment too highly on how good these two dishes were, all things considered. If only the Mélange had been so good.
The shrimp salad featured a half-dozen large, albeit tender, fried shrimp on a bed of lettuce with mixed field greens. The po-boy was a full half-loaf with maybe a dozen of the same shrimp. The sandwich came “dressed,” but the shredded lettuce, tomato and a few dill pickle slices were on the side. With just a little mayonnaise and some catsup, this thing rivaled the best that I had ever gotten from Felix’s. I love the shredding of the lettuce (almost julienne’ed), as opposed to chopped lettuce. I don’t know why, but the taste seems different and the texture of this style, is just right.
The Coffee Pot Restaurant
I had been having breakfasts at The Coffee Pot Restaurant, 714 Saint Peter ST, New Orleans, LA, 504-524-3500, since it was Maxie’s Original Coffee Pot. The name had changed, but the charm was still there.
I walked through the Quarter, after my wife left for her board meetings. It was still early on a Friday morning, and the streets were still wet from the rain during the night. The Quarter looked great in the AM light and seemed quite busy, in its usual way, with staff out cleaning the sidewalks in front of each restaurant and the deliveries being made for that evenings dinners. Had I not known of Katrina, I would have assumed that nothing catastrophic had ever happened very near this place. Other than just to come in for dinners, this was actually my first time walking the streets in the FQ, post-K. On the way down to Saint Peter St, I happened to walk past Brennan’s and had to wait for a moment, as a couple of deliveries were being made. Oh, I could have crossed over Royal, but I was just taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a city, that I once called “home.” Something about Brennan’s caught my eye. Maybe it was the early morning light, or something else, but my attention had been grabbed, and I can’t explain why.
I made my way to The Coffee Pot, and noticed that the inside area was full. I really enjoy sitting at one of the two-tops by the windows, overlooking Saint Peter St, or in the courtyard. Though it was almost empty, and still damp from the rain, I requested the courtyard and was seated right at the entrance. After I managed to shim up my table and wipe the seat dry, I settled in for some coffee. I also love this table, as it provides a view onto the street. Yes, it does look out to what was once the A&P, but it’s the street and the folk, who pass by, that I appreciate the most. There was some construction going on at the property just up from the old A&P, and workers were in and out. Deliveries were being made at the grocery, whose current name, I have forgotten, or maybe never noticed. My hostess came by (I think that she might well have been the first lady to seat me, on my first visit so very many years before) and got my coffee started, along with the menu. Now, unless things had changed greatly, I would not need this menu.
I quickly checked, and almost everything that I remembered was still on it. The only decision to be made was whether to go with the Pain Perdu (Lost Bread – New Orleans’ version of French Toast), or the Callas (deep fried rice cakes) to go with my Thick-sliced Applewood Smoked Bacon and my coffee and OJ. The Pain Perdu won out this time, and it could not have been better, but more on that in a moment.
By now, my coffee cup was empty, and no waitress was in sight. My hostess was very busy inside, seating diners and making them feel at home. I had seen no one out in the courtyard, except for a couple, who had come in, seemingly waiting for something to go. There was a party of about eight behind me, but I had seen no one serve them, since I was seated. A few minutes went by and then an older lady entered the courtyard from the street. She was dressed like a waitress, but didn’t seem to act like one. Before she could hurry past me, I took a chance and asked if I could order. She paused, looked like I had done something wrong, but took my order anyway. Something about her demeanor indicated that she might have been drinking, but I’m not quite sure. Still, my order had been placed, along with a request for more coffee.
I thumbed through the “Wall Street Journal,” from the hotel, and began reading the “Weekend Section.” A cheerful young lad brought out my breakfast, including the OJ, but didn’t have the coffee pot with him. I asked for a re-fill on my coffee, and he left.
The Pain Perdu was possibly even better, than I remembered it to be. It was two large slices of a baguette (a long, thin loaf of French Bread, that belies its name – stick, or wand), that had been flattened and fried in butter with an egg batter. It was perfectly moist with the batter and the butter, but too oily, as can happen sometimes. There was a light dusting of powdered sugar on the slices. It was served with maple syrup (I think the real stuff, or a great imitation of it) and my order of bacon, done perfectly – crisp, as ordered. I also think that the OJ was fresh-squeezed. Still, no coffee re-fill. I munched, and sipped and read the WSJ. At last, my hostess came down the steps, with two pots of coffee, which she used to re-fill the “take-out” couple’s cups. She had a discussion with them, about their order. It seemed that they were picking up a lunch for several friends for later in the day, and I believe that my hostess knew both well, plus the other folk, who would be having lunch with them. Before she could get too far away, I did get my re-fill.
In the time that I was seated, I only saw the waitress that once, when she took my order. I don’t even know if she was an employee, or just someone, who was stopping in, while on break from her restaurant – odd, to say the least.
Just after my table was bussed, my hostess stopped by with more coffee and the check. I started to ask about my “waitress,” but decided against it. I paid, and took my paper with me, walking back towards the hotel.
It was on this return trip, that Brennan’s caught my eye once more. I stopped in, and asked about brunch reservations for the next day, Saturday. They were able to get us in.
I wandered around the FQ and Canal Street for a bit, noticing that the streetcars, were now running. I also realized that the line, along the River, had been connected, and that the line had been extended up Canal Street. This was great news to me, as I can recall New Orleans of my youth with the streetcars running most of the way along Canal. I do not think that they ever went beyond the ferry landing, but maybe I was wrong. I recall them being phased out, except for the St. Charles line, in favor of the electric busses, and then the diesel busses. I also remember when the River line was put in – what was that, ‘86 for the World’s Fair? At that time, they used several red streetcars, that were from Australia, as I was told. Now, it appeared that the lines were joined and all of the streetcars, that I saw, were the New Orleans green trolleys. The red ones were no place to be seen.
While I was photographing along Canal St, a gentleman with a camera struck up a conversation, noting that we both were shooting the streetcars. He lamented that the “original streetcars,” the red ones, had been replaced by these newer green ones. I did not correct him on this little matter, as I’m sure that he never knew the “original” ones, like I did.
The Café Du Monde
By now, it was early afternoon. I had walked off much of my Pain Perdu, and felt like a visit to The Café Du Monde, 1039 Decatur St, New Orleans, 800-772-2927, http://www.cafedumonde.com/main.html was in order. I walked over, and was relieved to see that the “lunch crowd” had moved on. I found a table right at the railing (best place for people watching) and settled in.
When I was a child, my family, and I, would take the L&N to New Orleans from Gulfport for shopping and dinner. We’d always stop in at the Café Du Monde for coffee, beignets and I, a chocolate milk. My mother liked the CDM better than the Morning Call, just down River. In later years, I was torn between the two. We always sat outside at the CDM, in about the same spot I was now seated. Back then, there were far fewer tables, and there was “curb-side service” out front and on the alley that passed, River-side, behind. That’s all long gone now. At some point in my growing up, I substituted the chocolate milk for Café Au Lait with Chicory. I still am a big fan, though have to import it to the places that I’ve lived, since New Orleans.
In the years past, I had formed a vision of the typical waiter at the CDM. He was in his late 50's, worked hard and rapidly, but possessed an “attitude.” This archetypical CDM waiter existed for many years. He bordered on rude, had no time for conversation, but was highly efficient, almost to the point of brusqueness. Now, he’s gone, replaced by equally efficient Oriental ladies, for the most part. I seem to recall the demise of my quintessential waiter, while I was still living in NOLA. He was slowly be replaced by females. Now, there was no trace of him at all. The ethnicity of the waitstaff seemed to be 100% Oriental, as well.
One of the things that I liked better at the old Morning Call (the tradition is still alive at the location in Metairie), was that I could shake my powdered sugar onto my hot beignets, myself. CDM had always done this for the patron. My order came laden with powdered sugar. The shaker’s lid must have fallen off, because these could have been large Mexican Wedding Cookies. I could see no brown anywhere. Now, powdered sugar on hot beignets is something easy to apply, but nearly impossible to remove. The hot grease, that the little dough balls are plunged into, still clings to their surface. Add some powdered sugar, and it all bonds immediately. I did manage to scrape some off, but there was still too much for my tastes. Finally, the flavor of the fried dough came through. The Café Au Lait was good, but something seemed missing. Maybe it was just too much sugar on the beignets, or maybe I had already had my limit on coffee that day. It was good, but my anticipation had me primed for something more – something a bit better.
In all, I was glad that I had gone. No trip to the FQ would have been complete without it. It was not the perfection of my memories, but I did have time to reflect, as I watched the horse-drawn carriages queue up in front of Jackson Square. I also had built-in entertainment by a talented musician, with a trumpet. He was hawking his CDs and entertaining the crowds of tourists and locals alike, right at my table side. He worked the crowds to perfection and sang, as well as playing his trumpet. The crowds loved him, and I enjoyed the show. While I did not pick up any of his CDs, he got a very nice tip, when I left.
Broussard’s for an Event
It had been many years, since we last dined at Broussard’s, 819 Rue Conti, New Orleans, 504-581-3866, http://www.broussards.com/. Matter of fact, it was probably in the mid-to-late 70s. We had enjoyed it, but for whatever reasons, had not been back, before we left New Orleans, and had not included them in our dining plans, upon our many return trips. Well, the charm is still there, and so is the good food.
This was an “event,” so it does not really count as a full review. We attended with about 200 of the guests-of-honor’s friends and peers. On a lovely, cool Spring evening, we descended on Broussard’s. The staff was ready to show us the way to the courtyard. There, we were greeted to two full bars, and maybe four staffers passing various hors d’oeuvres: Choux Puffs (light pastry puffs filled with Boursin Cream), Shrimp Remoulade in Capella Shells (Bayou Shrimp in white and red Remoulade Sauce), Spicy Andouille Sausage (with tomato relish on Smoked Cheddar Triangles) and Pot Stickers (Pork and Vegetable filled Dumplings with Teriyaki Soy Sauce). Looking over their “events menu,” I do wish that the Marinated Fried Catfish Bits (with Caper Tartar Sauce) had also been served. If they were, they were grabbed up, before any of the servers got to my wife, or to me.
I did not make note of the wines, but they were adequate with the passed foods. Remember, this was a completely hosted event. I started with a white (I believe that it was a Cal-Chard, as I got one for my wife, and she is less of a Sauvignon Blanc fan, than I am) and moved on to a Cal-Merlot, that was not bad, and I am not usually a Merlot fan.
Finally, we headed inside to the front dining room. It was a tad cramped, but the servers did a good job of getting around the crowded tables. I’d put the 200 figure as near the max for that room.
Our menu consisted of a few choices for starters: Corn, Shrimp & Sweet Potato Bisque, or Andouille & Chicken Gumbo Bayou Medley. We chose to do one of each, and both were good, especially considering the size of the group. There were a few little mis-steps by the servers, but I’ll overlook them - hey, it WAS crowded.
The entrées were a combo of Tournedo Madagascar - Filet Mignon (Brandy carmelized onions and mushrooms, green pepper corn sauce and tomato relish) and Red Fish Pontchartrain (lightly sautéed with Crabmeat with mustard caper sauce).
During the event, the servers were stopped, while various videos were played. Still, they did not miss a beat at our table. I had also ordered several bottles of Olivier LaFalive Chassagne-Montrachet ‘04 and a Mt. Veeder Cab ‘02.. I do not know what the “hosted” wine was, but my table did start with it, as it took a bit too long to get my wines. [Note to Broussard’s management: when a patron orders a few special wines as an event, get these out quickly, as you will likely sell a few more bottles.] Luckily, with the various breaks in the program, my table did not really miss too much. Still, I like to have any wine on my table, when the meal begins. Minor quibble, I have to admit, but worth noting.
All of the food was good to very good, with only a few temp problems, but remember the size of the event.
We both commented that we need to go back, for a meal, just for the two of us. Maybe on the third trip from now, as we already have two “full plates,” for the next two.
In all, very pleased with the staff, the kitchen and the venue. There is still a lot of charm in Broussard’s and we will be back.
Brunch at Brennan’s
Like Broussard’s, it had been many years, since we dined at Brennan’s, 417 Royal St, New Orleans, http://www.brennansneworleans.com/. As I recall, most of the experiences were to accommodate guests, who specifically requested it. In the past (mid-to-late 70s) the dining was a bit up and down. Still, I had passed the restaurant and had even been stopped, while a big delivery was made. It seemed to be kismet that we dine there. It was as though that everywhere I looked, I saw Brennan’s. I made the reservations for Saturday Brunch, as my wife was through with her board meetings. She was a bit surprised, but accompanied me for our 11:00 AM seating.
We were greeted like long lost friends and promptly seated. I noticed that others were at the hostess stand, and others were lined up in the ante-room, but we were escorted in, ahead of all. Do not know what was up with that. Maybe they were all walk-ins, or something, but I half expected for some of these folk to boo and throw bread at us.
I would have chosen the courtyard for seating, but rains fell most of the night, and into the morning. The courtyard seating was soaked, but we were against the glass, looking out to the courtyard. While we dined, the workers were drying out the cushions and feeding the turtles! It was like being there, but separated by a pane of glass. Also, had we been able to dine outside, we probably would not have had our server, and she was a real gem.
Immediately upon being seated, our server was at our sides and asked about our beverage choices. I chose the Champagne and my wife their Mimosa. These were on the table instantly, and our menus were presented. So far, our server was 100%.
As I sipped my Tattinger NV, I looked over the wine list and chose the Colin Delinger Meursault ‘04 and negotiated the stemware. I think our server “got it,” as she returned with two nice Burg “balloons.” Well, I would have chosen a couple of Riedel Vinum Montrachets, but these were better than most restaurants’ “white wine glasses.” The Chard arrived, and I tested the temp. It was good, so I waved off the ice bucket and explained my decision Again, I think she got it. Most servers just give a blank stare, when I do not want my white wine chilled to 45̊F! Between stops by, we chatted on old NOLA restaurants, and it seemed that her parents had treated her to some of these, and that she’d learned of many others. Nice to have a server, who knows her NOLA restaurant history, even considering her youth.
We started with Maude’s Seafood Okra Gumbo and New Orleans Turtle Soup. We got a touch of filé and I, an bit more Sherry, for the Turtle Soup. Again, our server was quick to present the bottle of Sherry, to make sure that I was comfortable with it, rather than just a glass of unknown wine. Both of these were good to very good. I’d place the Turtle Soup as near, but not equal to, Commander’s. I added a little squeeze of lemon, and that brought it up another level. The recipe needs a touch more acid, than it contained. Now, I know that filé is mostly a thickening agent, and this WAS an Okra Seafood Gumbo, but there is also a taste of the sassafras, and a little sprinkle did just what my wife wanted. I agreed 100%. Were these the best of each type of soup, that we’ve ever had? No, but good, none the less. We ordered a couple of glasses of Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir ‘05.
We had several bread services, with each one getting a full definition and description. Coupled with the butter, the Meursault went well with these.
For “mains,” I chose the Eggs Benedict and my wife, the Eggs St. Charles. Both were excellent. I do not recall having better Eggs Benedict, and this covers all of the US and most of the world. Everything was perfect. My wife enjoyed her Eggs St. Charles, as well. The Trout was light, perfectly cooked, and very tasty. I agreed on this and may have eaten more than MY share of it.
Now, eggs are not really good with wines, but the Meursault and the PN went well. The sauces also probably worked in the favor of the wines.
For our desserts, we chose the Bananas Foster. I’m a pushover for any flaming dessert, and also for bananas. This was done from a table-side cart, and done perfectly. The bananas were toasted, the rum was mostly burned off, but still imparted a bit of a molasses taste. To accompany the dessert, I chose a 0.375 ltr. of Grgich Hills’ Violetta.
It was not an inexpensive brunch, nor was it the most expensive brunch, that we’ve done. However, it exceeded my expectations, and those of my wife. If I lived in NOLA, would I do this every weekend? No. Would I do this with special guests? Yes.
After a lot of consideration, I think I would place Ralph’s On the Park above Brennan’s for brunch, but it was still very good, and worth the expense.
I know how so many on CH feel about Brennan’s, and I cannot argue. I can only state that our Saturday Brunch was almost perfect.