October 23-25 Dining Review (long)
First, I would like to thank everyone on this board, including JazzyB, Bill Hunt and N.O. Food, for your great suggestions and thoughtful input on the local restaurant scene. It made planning our first trip post-Katrina back to New Orleans easy and fun. The city was everything wonderful I remembered. My husband had never been before, and we definitely won’t wait so long to come back! For those of you who don’t want to read this long dissertation, my summary is this: Bayona – excellent; Felix’s – good; MiLa – phenomenal, our favorite meal of the trip; Commander’s Palace – excellent and fun, like stepping back in time; and Rambla awful; plus a few great bars we managed to squeeze in between all the food.
Onto the specifics:
Bayona – Thurday dinner. I really like this restaurant. The service was very good. The server not only explained the dishes well, she volunteered her well-informed opinions when asked and was generally quite competent. We split three appetizers to start. Neither of us had ever had sweetbreads before (I’m not sure why the idea made me nervous, since I will eat duck liver coming and going), but the server recommended them highly. They were crispy fried on the outside and very tender on the inside. We both grew up in the country, and the dish reminded us of a fancy version of the kinds of food we grew up eating. I mean that as a compliment. We also had the goat cheese crouton with mushrooms and from the special list, pork ribs. I liked the goat cheese crouton but would not consider it especially memorable. The pork ribs off the bone were sensational – tender, juicy and flavorful. (My mouth just started watering!) I had an appetizer, scallops wrapped in bacon, for my entrée. I was not a fan of the scallops. They were incredibly salty, almost to the point of being inedible. My husband had the salmon with a Gewürztraminer sauce. It was nothing short of transformative. We generally like our salmon raw, but this was no question, the freshest, most perfectly cooked salmon (medium rare) either of us had ever tasted. It came with some very nice sides, including a very tasty butter nut squash puree. The server recommended a nice Chardonnay to go with the meal. We are not oaky wine drinkers, but she described the wine very well, and we agreed with her assessment that it was oak-minimal. Dessert was fine but nothing special. We had the cheese plate and the grape tart. The things that were good were first class, and nothing was a disaster (okay, maybe the scallops). One off dish is certainly not enough to prevent us from returning.
Felix’s for Friday lunch – We tried to eat at Galatoire’s, but there was a 2-hour wait. My nearly deaf husband was grateful. He said the background noise would’ve killed him. There was a LONG line at Acme, so we scooted into Felix’s and immediately got a table. Service was pleasant; food was good, if not great. We had: chargrilled oysters (good but so greasy/buttery), the seafood salad (with surprisingly fresh greens), gumbo (without much seafood) and boiled shrimp which was good. I wouldn’t say it was the meal of a lifetime, but we enjoyed everything and were especially pleased not to wait. They also make a very tasty bloody mary, or two. : )
My mom and I left my husband at Harrah’s and went on the Gray Line Tours Cocktail tour. The guide was funny, well informed and entertaining. Our favorite places on the tour were Muriel’s, where we both had a Pimm’s Cup (where have these BEEN all my life?) Pirate’s Alley, where we tried the absinthe (not my thing but really dig the bar. It’s the kind of place I’d like to become a regular), and Court of Two Sisters for the Southern Orleans. I liked the Bombay Club vibe, but wasn’t overwhelmed by their Pimm’s Cup.
MiLa for Friday dinner – our favorite meal of the trip. Service was friendly but not familiar, competent but not cold. We had 3-4 people waiting on us at any given moment, but our head waiter was a delight. We ordered the six-course tasting menu, which we agreed was a great value at $65. We ordered a bottle of Vouvray to accompany the meal, at the suggestion of the server. It was excellent (my apologize; I am terrible about remembering the specifics of wine). The menu:: Course 1 - tian of Louisiana blue crab, chive remoulade – very nice; course 2 - veloute of white (butternut?) squash, roasted scallop and truffle oil – heavenly and amazing. This was the scallop I’d hoped to eat at Bayone, perfectly seared and tender. The veloute was creamy and delicious. We mopped up what we couldn’t get with a spoon with bread. Course three was good but nothing exceptional – sautéed flounder, fricassee of farm vegatables, basil coulis. Course 4 was another homerun – Berkshire pork, foie gras, turnips and greens, port liquor. WOW. The pork was so tender, the foie gras perfectly seared. I loved the vegetables, too, which the server told us came from local farms. We really liked that they got 80% of their vegetables from local Louisiana farmers. Their freshness was apparent. Course 5 was a palate cleanser, sweet tea sorbet with lemon confit. This was a very unusual flavor of sorbet, which we really enjoyed. Dessert was another WOW from the kitchen (the theme of the evening, apparently): caramel poached apples with spiced ice cream. This tasted so much better than the description led me to expect. It is not something I probably would’ve ordered off a regular menu, but it was delightful. We cannot wait to go back to MiLa.
Commander’s Palace for Saturday brunch or, how can we possibly keep eating?? Brunch is probably my favorite meal, and CP really lived up to the hype. As I mentioned in another post, my husband has now sworn off all other gumbo as a result of his love for CP’s gumbo (not really, but the gumbo he had was soooo good). My mom and I had the duck and fois gras pie, which was good, but I admit to slightly coveting the gumbo. We each had the cochon de lait as a main course. The waitstaff joked that we got a B- for originality but an A for selection. They were right – it was excellent. This dish is basically eggs benedict, except with biscuits instead of muffins, and pork (mind-blowingly tender, delicious pork) instead of Canadian bacon. It was enough to last me for about three meals. We all saved room for the Creole bread pudding soufflé, which was also incredibly good. The bloody mary’s were a little strange tasting, but I find they are very much a matter of personal taste. I switched back to the divine brandy milk punch as all was right in the world. We walked all the way back (2.something miles) to International House to walk off some of the approximately 10,000 calories we’d each consumed. It was worth every one.
Napoleon House for drinks. I am now obsessed with the Pimm’s Cup and I LOVE this bar. We couldn’t stay for as long as I’d like (we had to get in line for Preservation Hall), but we got three tasty beverages to go. This may be heresy, but I liked the Pimm’s Cup at Muriel’s just slightly better. That didn’t stop me from asking my husband to walk back and get us a second round at Napoleon House while we waited, though. ; )
Rambla for Saturday night snack. We were too full to eat dinner, but around 9 decided we needed a little snack. Since we were staying at International House, this was kind of a no-brainer. I agree with JazzyB’s third experience there. Ours was not a good one. Service was familiar to the point where I thought my mom and husband were going to strangle the waiter. He leaned on our table and talked for 10 solid minutes, rambling about ingredients, dishes, etc, without saying too much that was helpful. We ordered the sangria, which was traditional and good. The cheese stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto were to die for. If only they’d come out last, we might’ve forgotten the other tasteless (or worse, terrible tasting) dishes that came after. The empanadas were some of the worst I’ve ever had. The dough was spongy and I’ve had fresher spinach out of my freezer. I literally spit out my bite. The manager did not seem too interested in my thoughtful assessment of them, either (for the record I was extremely nice, and was sure to complement the dates). It was clear he just wanted us to say everything was great so he could move along. We had the fig and prosciutto flat bread which was decent, not great. The special duck pate was extremely bland, as were the mushrooms. The dining room is pretty, but the endless “club mix” and excessive effort at hipness were nearly too much to bear. I almost ordered some more dates just to end the meal on a positive note, but by then we just wanted to leave. On the plus side with tip, the meal was our least expensive, around $70 with tip.
All in all, we had a great experience in New Orleans, and we can’t wait to go back.