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Horrible Experience at Commander's

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This is the email I sent to Commander's after my dinner there Mon night. Wow, have any of you locals noticed a significant drop off post Katrina? Just curious if I just caught them on a really, really, really bad night.

I was in town with 3 people earlier this week. None had been to Commander's so (having been a half dozen times or so) I insisted we go to dinner there. Also, this was my first trip post Katrina.

In a nutshell, incredibly disappointed. First I'll say I'm well aware of the fine dining movement away from jacket/tie and all of the other formalities. So the fact that Commander's has joined in doesn't bother me all that much. Here were our issues from the top:

No black napkins offered. We're all in dark suits. Better linens sometimes don't shed but these did.

Sommelier?? Not sure if he/she has Monday's off or if you've done away with one all together. With a wine list of this caliber certainly a somm is warranted. Kenny (I believe that was his name) introduced himself as the manager and said, "I'm not a sommelier but I like wine." Okay...Anyway, our first bottle was off (and he agreed) so we sent it back. We ordered another Bourdeaux and 2 subsequent ones thereafter. We asked for bourdeaux glasses and were told you only now have 1 white and 1 red glass?!?! Really? We also had to request that the wine be decanted.

Our server, Jenny, gradually went from pleasant - though not particularly informative - to frustrated (quote, "hey, I don't order the wine, I just wait tables") to flat out indifferent. Somewhat in her defense, I will say we are all frequent customers of fine dining restaurants and have high standards for what we should receive from a restaurant like Commanders. As we are perusing the menu, we had to ask about the chef's tasting menu and then it was just, "yeah, these are pre-selected courses by the chef and everyone at the table has to participate". She pushed the soft shell crab special. 2 of us were going to order that but were told the kitchen ran out (another quote from Jenny, "I don't do the food buying. If I did, we'd have more back there!"). Did I mention the dining room was half full and it was only 8 pm? How do you run out of your special at 8 pm on a slow night?

Crumbs sat on our table throughout the meal.

As we ordered the first bottle of wine, we'd told Kenny to go ahead and open the 2nd one and decant it. Didn't happen.

The final straw was the food. Turtle Soup was incredible as always. After the soft shell was gone, I ordered the duck. Luckily I prefer it med rare since I wasn't asked how I wanted it prepared. And, with the exception of one person at the table, the entrees came out warm, not hot.

Again, I'm in top notch restaurants every week so I understand you may not have the A team working Mondays and chefs often take that night off. And I know restaurants are being forced to become more user friendly to the average consumer. Overall, the experience was a mere shell of the phenomenal meals I've had there in the past. Is this a concerted effort to 'dummy down' the grande dame of NOLA dining or did we just stumble into a coincidential collision of bad service, poor attention to detail and average food? I'm very much hoping its the latter.

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  1. Snootyfoodie,

    That sounds like my report (pre-K and pre-CH) of my dining experience there. I chalked it up to Chef Jamie Shannon having just died. The evening went pretty much as you describe, except that our confirmed reservation for a particular table (confirmed by phone twice, two letters and a FAX), was ignored. "Some important people wanted that table... "

    I've only been there on two events, and they were OK, but nothing more.

    They still hold a special place in my heart, but even my wife, who celebrated about 15 of her birthdays at table #8 does not want to go back. We will, but I'll probably look at it with a very critical eye.

    Sorry to hear that they are slipping, and slipping badly.

    Hunt

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      It has been said that Jamie Shannon's passing had a significant and lasting effect on the restaurant but most reports post K have been that the bar has been raised to it's usual level of perfection
      I am sorry your experience was so dismal. I hope it was an off night.

    2. It is quite unfortunate that your meal was not as pleasant as those jfood has enjoyed at CP. He, like many has his favorite table when he is in NOLA and has always enjoyed the elegance that CP has brought to every meal.

      Bill Hunt and jfood have had very different experiences at two of NOLA's faves and jfood has always had perfect service at CP (understand there was no interaction with the wine, since he does not drink). And given the times he has been there post-K, he chalks your experience to either a bad night (all restaurants have them) or the OP only writing half the story. As jfood's grandmother used to say. There are two sides to every story and then what really happened.

      He just has a hard time with this one, given his experiences there.

      1. Will you look at that. You turn your back and dining becomes all about napkin color. I'm moving to Namibia. I'm told they like to eat there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HalfShell

          black napkins have been in the offering for years. it is frustrating to have those pesky white ones shed on you. just happened to us at Rambla the other night. it is the little attention to details and service that can set one apart.
          I remember a restaurant having these cheap polyester napkins that repelled anything spilled on them only to have your clothing wick up the spills. not fun when your waiter dumps water when refilling glasses.

        2. Please write a letter to Ti Martin @ Commander's.
          She would absolutely want to know about your experience.

          I've not had a problem the last several meals I have had there.
          Hope it was just an off night.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Isabella

            We much prefer lunch to dinner at Commander's. We've been many times post K and have always had good food as well as service. Martinis, no wine. Our one post K dinner was about 2 weeks after they reopened. They were "off", as we surmised they might be this soon. We were anxoius to return and took a chance.

          2. have never been a fan of CP. have had similar dinner experiences there pre-K. most lunches were fine, though they were usually for group meetings/lunches.

            have also had horrible experiences at other Brennan's establishments; but will say when the management is called, they do try to make amends.

            1 Reply
            1. re: edible complex

              You mentioned "other Brennan's establishments." It's an easy mistake to make, since things have gotten really complicated.
              Commander's Palace has no affiliation with Brennan's Restaurant on Royal Street. The members of the extended Brennan family now comprise five separate and distinct groups of owners--the Dickie Brennan branch, the Mr. B's Branch, the Ralph Brennan branch, the Commander's Palace branch and the Brennan's on Royal Street branch. Whew!

            2. That does sound like a horrible dinner, and it stinks that your friends didn't get to enjoy the outstanding experience that you've had in the past and that Commander's IS still capable of offering. Of the half-dozen times I've been there since Katrina, none has been less than great and two have been fantastic, top 30 meals of my life quality. However, two caveats: all my visits have been in the afternoon (I second JazzyB's preference for Commander's lunch over dinner) and they've all been planned ahead celebrations.

              I'm in the "Commander's is better now than pre-Katrina" camp, but obviously several others have had poor experiences since the reopening. There is no excuse for your dinner. I really hope your email gets a reply, and that you'll give it another shot when you have a chance.

              1. Last year I went to a busniess luncheon there, the food was terrible, the fish had not been cleaned properly and the service was spotty! I have not been back, because I really felt like of all the restaurants to reopen after katrina Commanders had the most time to retrain their staff and I was just severly disappointed. I probable will never go back if left up to me.

                1 Reply
                1. re: localfoodie

                  I am sorry to hear about your bad experience. I am still in the process of writing up my dining report from last weekend 10/23-26, but brunch was nothing short of magical. The service was marvelous. The gumbo was so good, my husband took about and said "Damn." When I asked him what was wrong, he said, 'Now I'll never be able to enjoy gumbo anywhere else ever again." We did not, however, drink wine, so that may have helped.

                2. I'm a long time lurker, but now a first time poster. What prompted this is that I felt that my dinner the other night at CP was deserving a post to Chowhound. I was going to post separately but I thought linking to your thread made sense given my experience.

                  This was my first visit to CP in NO, though I had been fortunate enough to dine at the Las Vegas location multiple times when it was open years ago. We have always loved the food and I've recently been spending some time down in NO so I thought I'd try to get a table. This is important in that I had experienced the Vegas version and I am used to Vegas service.

                  I got an 8:30 dinner reservation the day of and my table was ready when I arrived. Now dining alone can sometimes be problematic but in this case I thought it was good because it gave me an opportunity to take in the whole room. I was placed near the corner in the room downstairs so I had a good view of the room and all that was going on.

                  In terms of the good, I thought the food was incredible. I did the Commander's Wild Side tasting menu with the wine accompaniment and thought it was tremendous.

                  The first course was Eggs Three Ways - TN Paddlefish, LA Bowfin and a quail egg on top of bacon fat potatoes (as good as bacon fat potatoes would be expected to be). This led to the first service snafu of the evening - when I asked my server what the quail egg was on, she replied incorrectly "sweet cornbread hash". i was able to determine this when I got a copy of the menu after the meal.

                  I wouldn't have thought much of it until she also incorrectly told me that the second course - Oyster & Absinthe - was made with brie and basil. Obvious lack of brie notwithstanding, this too was an outstanding dish.

                  The highlight of the meal, which is not a reflection on the other sources but rather on the superb nature of the third course, was the Foie Gras "Du Monde". Now, I'm a sucker for foie and as a matter of fact the first time I ever had it was on a tasting menu at the Las Vegas CP. With that said, this as one of the best dishes I've had this year and possibly one of hte single best dishes I've ever had. It was seared foie gras with foie gras beignets and a foie gras cafe au lait - mindboggingly good.

                  The subsequent courses were very good - wild Texas vension two ways on corn grits, a sheep's milk cheese course and a chocolate motlen cake were all very, very nice - but then a couple of service flaws occurred.

                  For one, the muscat paired with the molten cake arrived at my table about 15 minutes before the dessert. This is a long time to wait, particularly when you're seated by yourself. Additionally, my server seemed somewhat aloof for most of the evening and whereas the beverage attendant was dead on and apologetic as necessary.

                  I would definitely go back but I was expecting the acme of service I had encountered at the LV CP.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jpbegley

                    Thank you for taking the time to post. Great one, BTW.

                    With just a few slip-ups, it sounds like the meal was noteworthy, and in a positive way.

                    Never made it to the LV version, but did hear a lot of good things about it. Have done Emeril's in LV and enjoyed both meals, though it gets rather mixed reviews on the SW board. Still, they did everything well by me.

                    As for the "service" aspect, I keep asking myself when we can start judging NO by the way it once was. I think I still cut a lot of slack, knowing the dearth of good personnel. Still, I think that the time is rapidly approaching. I do agree about the pacing of your Muscat and the actual dessert. These timings need to be sorted out, everywhere. I am usually less critical, when the wine arrives before, but flat out hate it, when the wine misses the course being served. We should not expect our food to get cold, or warm, waiting for the wines to arrive.

                    I also like for my servers to have a better knowledge of the menu and the kitchen, than I do. A good house will do some training as the menu changes. Some servers just do not seem interested enough to pay attention. They also probably spend more time serving people, who just do not care as much as many CH's do. For most of us, it IS more than nourishment.

                    Good post and thanks,

                    Hunt

                  2. I think you had every right to be upset. I've read a lot of your posts, and you certainly don't impress me as somebody who makes a habit of complaining.
                    You're probably right in thinking maybe your mediocre (and maybe worse) experience was due to being there on a Monday night. This is indeed when the top people in the kitchen are off, the best servers are probably off, customers are few and far between, etc., etc.
                    But restaurant owners need to be reminded that these factors don't excuse bad food and service. The menu and wine prices are the same on Mondays as they are any other night of the week, so the quality of the cooking and the service should be consistent no matter what night you're there.

                    1. I'm presently in New Orleans, waiting for a cab to take me to the airport and a flight back to the SF Bay Area, but I have to just quickly post that we just had a GREAT lunch at Commander's . . . and while Jenny was NOT our wait person, she did serve several tables near us, and everyone seemed pleased . . . can't say I was watching all that carefully, though. Certainly Allin, Natalia and Maxine took great care of my wife and I.

                      Cheers,
                      Jason

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: zin1953

                        That is good to know. Have a safe flight, and remember to post your reviews here.

                        Hunt