Dining Around New Orleans [Long]
- Bill Hunt Nov 8, 2008 01:56 PM
I believe that I need to establish a rule: do not dine on my first night in New Orleans. For the third time, I experienced a less than great meal. Now, it’s tough, with airline travel being what it is today, and also factoring in flying Southwest Airlines, where there is no Red Carpet Club, it seems logical that a meal upon arrival, in a city like New Orleans would be a no-brainer. Well, it did not turn out that way.
We were headed back to NOLA with MIL, and her nurse, for the wedding of her grandson, my nephew. As this was her first grandchild to get married, it was a big event. As the flight was running late (the Disney Land/Disney World Express on SW, that is non-stop from PHX to MSY), we knew we’d be dining late, by EDT. I was cashing in some of my Hilton points with a couple of rooms at the Riverside. Most of the events were at the Hotel St. Pierre, and most of the party was staying there, but our study told us that an 88 year old lady in a wheelchair would just not be happy in a restored property, like the St. Pierre. The Hilton offered us some proximity to the FQ, plus a full handicap room with an adjoining suite. Besides, I had over 1.5M points and would not be using any in Hawai`i in December. Gotta’ use those suckas for something, right?
Besides the accommodations, the Hilton Riverside also had Drago’s in the lobby. Since they do not take reservations, we hoped to just walk in and dine.
Drago’s, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, http://www.dragosrestaurant.com/ (Hilton New Orleans Riverside, Two Poydras St., NOLA, 504-561-0500.
I had never dined at either Drago’s location, and did not even recall this one, when we last stayed at the Hilton. I do not know the chronological history of Drago’s. It occupies much of the lower-front area of the lobby. I’m not sure if the bar in the lobby is part of the restaurant, but do not think so, as there is a bar area within the restaurant. The space is very large and well-lit. There are banquette tables along most of the walls, with many 4-tops (some grouped into pairs) throughout the restaurant. I would imagine that it can seat 200 people easily, but could be off on that guess. It has a nice casual vibe. Sorta’ like an upscale seafood restaurant in New Orleans. What a surprise – it is. The weeknight hours are: 11:00AM until 10:00PM. We arrived at approximately 9:00PM. The restaurant only had a half-dozen tables occupied – not a good sign to my CH senses, but it was a weeknight in early Autumn, though there was a football game the next night and a Saint’s game on Sunday. The hotel seemed busy with a convention, but the restaurant was almost empty. The space may have fooled me, but we felt all by ourselves, in the middle of the main dining area.
The first thing that I noticed was that there were maybe two-dozen members of the waitstaff on the floor, plus two bartenders. I also picked up that three of the waitstaff had headsets and were dressed a bit differently, than the others. I would hazard a guess that these were group leaders, or Secret Service operatives. Our waiter arrived, introduced himself and presented our party of four with menus. He took our water order and offered cocktails. Well, MIL does not drink anything but ice tea and Barq’s rootbeer, and wife and I are avowed winos, so I asked of the wine list. It was on the menu. MIL’s nurse drinks wine (good thing for THIS trip), so I ordered two Markham Chards for her, and my wife, and a glass of the Markham Sauvignon Blanc for myself. In a flash, our server was back with bad news. The Markham SB was gone, and he offered the Kim Crawford SB as a replacement. Now, I enjoy New Zealand SB’s, especially from Marlborough, but really like a domestic SB with seafood. I find that the NZ versions are great by themselves, but their heavy grapefruit and “hay” aspects do not go that well with food. I prefer something with more “lemon” and some fruit forward. I opted for another glass of the Markham Chardonnay.
Our server suggested the signature, Charbroiled Oysters. I ordered a small plate of these, as I had read so many great reviews of various “charbroiled oysters” on this board. Our party pondered the rest of the menu, and the wines, an ice tea and wine and Charbroiled Oysters arrived.
We had six oysters served on the half-shell. Or, should I say “oyster parts?” The preparation was breading, oyster parts and some garnish placed on heated half-shells. I could not find one whole oyster in the batch. There were tiny strips of oysters in the breading base. What was there was tasty with nice garlic hints, but mostly the breading bed, with tiny slivers of oyster parts. I thought that this was some sort of a bad joke, but was assured that this was how Drago’s did their “famous” Charbroiled Oysters. OK, for about US$1.75 each, it wasn’t a big deal, just a touch of a letdown. I should have picked up on the hints of things to come.
Orders were placed, as we picked around the oysters. Since my wife cannot do bi-valves of any sort, there were more than enough for the three of us. Still, one was left, as no one really wanted any more of this dish.
We did one BBQ Drumfish, two Shrimp Platters and one Catfish Platter, with a few cups of Mama Ruth’s Seafood Gumbo. As I was ready for a second Chardonnay, I asked for another Markham. It came with the gumbos, and our server was gone in a flash. He had to be the quickest server on the planet – gone before the plates had come to rest.
My second glass of Markham was horribly flawed. Now, I have encountered many flaws in wine, but this one was a rarity. When restaurants run their wine glasses through the dishwasher, liberal doses of sanitizer are used. These are designed to be washed away in the rinse cycles and usually are. Not in this case. I thought I was smelling Janitor In A Drum! I waited for our server to appear, but he did not. There were still about 20 other servers in the dining area, and I waited patiently. OK, he was gone, so I flagged down one of the other servers, who were occupied in conversation with all of the other servers. This was something that they seemed to enjoy doing, as there were few diners left. I quietly explained the problem and handed over the glass. This server flagged down one of the folk with the headsets, who came over for me to explain it all over again. I do not think that she understood, or maybe just did not believe me, but did disappear with the offending glass.
Bam, our entrées hit, along with my replacement Chardonnay. The plates were still spinning, and our server had disappeared again. This replacement wine had the same problem. Either there was a problem with the sanitizer, or they tried to pawn off the same bad glass of wine on me.
I waited, but our server was AOL. I flagged down one of the “headset folk,” and explained once more, what the problem was. She took it around the room and talked to maybe a dozen different servers. After making the rounds with my glass, she disappeared too. Finally, I walked to the bar and explained the problem to one of the bartenders. He brought over the other bartender, and I explained it all over again. The second bartender disappeared and did not return. I still did not have my second glass of wine and my entrée was getting cold. I went back to my chair and started in on my Shrimp Platter. During this time, I caught sight of my server, but he was in deep conversation with a patron, or at least someone, who had come in from the Poydras St. entrance. He was not in “hailing distance,” and I could not catch his attention. In a second, he was gone from sight again. About then, another “headset person” came by with yet another glass of wine. She asked what I had not liked about the first few glasses, and I explained the problem. She offered me this glass, but it was also badly tainted. Probably the same, original bad glass, that was just being passed around. I asked her to taste the wine, but she refused. I took this glass directly to the first bartender and asked him to taste the wine. He also declined. I told the story once more, and demanded in a rather loud voice that they get me a clean glass with the Markham Chardonnay. I instructed him to let me smell the glass, before he poured anything. He did, and all was finally OK.
I won’t comment on my now cold Shrimp Platter, or the soggy fries, but will only offer comments from the other diners. The shrimp were tiny and horribly overcooked. The fries were apparently soggy, when served. They were then hot, but it was from a heat lamp. The fries were obviously frozen, pre-prepared generic fries, not unlike any fast-food outlet. The Catfish Platter suffered from some of the same problems – overcooked with soggy fries. The BBQ Drumfish was very fishy and the odor was obvious around the table. Even the garlic could not overcome this.
Going back, the Gumbo was bland and even a healthy dose of Tabasco could not resurrect it. The roux seemed to be uncooked flour and lacked any character. I would also suspect that the shrimp in it were from India, because of their size and the distinct impression that they had been long frozen.
Considering all of the times that we have dined across the Gulf South on little more than Seafood Gumbo and Fried Shrimp, I have to say that these examples were some of the worst – wine service not withstanding.
Our server materialized at the end of this part of the meal and asked if we wanted desserts. We all declined. The bill with a less than normal tip was US$198.00 for four with four b-t-g Chardonnays. This was a very bad start to our trip and I cannot think of anything to recommend this Drago’s location. I have no idea how this experience might translate to either dining early, or at another location.
I can comment that the stemware, disregarding the sanitizer issue, was even poor by any restaurant’s standards – small bowls, thick rims and little more than “jelly jars.” This is often a big problem with restaurants, especially in my beloved Deep South.
That was pretty much what I had expected. These seemed to have been minced and mixed with breadcrumbs, garlic and butter/oil. If there was a whole oyster in the six, I did not see it, and did not taste it. I suppose that there could have been MAJOR shrinkage, but I cannot image that much. No, my observation told me "minced." Now, I do have to admit that I have not had this dish, at Drago's, or elsewhere. However, judging from the photographs in their ads the oysters do look whole, and rather fill the void in the shell. Now, I understand that the art director probably picked perfect shells, and then perfect oysters for the photos, but the dish did not appear as depicted. I do not hold restaurants to match their ads, because I know what goes into shooting food. Still, some semblance should be expected. If there was, I flat missed it.
Thanks for the clarification, both of you,
Messina’s Cajun Creole Cookery, Riverwalk Marketplace, Bon Fete Food Court - Level C, 1 Poydras St, http://www.riverwalkmarketplace.com/h...
Breakfast was in the Executive Tower of the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and our group went out shopping in the Riverwalk Marketplace, just across the RR and streetcar tracks, along the waterfront. After several hours, we decided to try the food court for a late lunch and chose Messina’s Cajun Creole Cookery.
As this was “food court” dining, we kept it simple: a couple of fried shrimp po-boys, some red beans and rice and a few cups of gumbo. All was washed down with Barq’s Root Beer.
The sandwiches were good, but nothing special. The same could be said for the gumbo too. The red beans and rice lacked much spirit, but there was Tabasco sauce to get it jump started a bit. For food court fare, it was better than most, that I have experienced, but did not come up to New Orleans standards for anything. At about US$60 for four, it was not a bad deal, but I worry a bit that other tourists might think that this is as good as it gets in New Orleans. That would be a shame. However, I would never think of measuring a city’s cuisine on anything purchased at a food court.
Had we not had MIL in the wheelchair and an event in the FQ that evening, I think we’d have been better off going to Felix’s for more representative food. Still, a decent value and nothing to complain about, all things considered.
Crescent City Brewhouse, 527 Decatur St, phone: 504-522-3901, http://www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com/
This was the location chosen for the rehearsal dinner. I had never been there, but have enjoyed many “brew pubs” around the country and seek out pubs of all sorts, when in the UK. Luckily for us, they had an elevator to the second floor, where the dinner was being held, as I do not think we could have gotten MIL up the stairs in the wheelchair. We had the entire upper floor and the balcony overlooking Decatur St. There were two bartenders and about eight servers for our group of maybe 70.
Our menu was set with prix fix selections.
I started out with a couple of glasses of their house Chardonnay, Just Chardonnay. I did not get the full details, but it was stated that it was French. Now, I realize that I was in a brewpub, but wife is not much of a beer drinker, and I’m more of a wino. Just Chardonnay was not a good choice, IMO, and I quickly moved on to their beers. I started with the Weiss Beer, a wheat, which was light and more refreshing than the Chardonnay. Next, came the Red Stallion. It was both more flavorful and fuller in body, though lighter, than I expected. With my entrée, I moved on to the Black Forest, which was full-bodied and very flavorful, without too much bitterness. This was the best of the lot and I stayed with it through dessert.
The food consisted of a “chicken-something,” a “tuna-something” and a “beef-something.” We chose one of the ahi and the beef and passed sections back and forth. Hm-m-m, I think they are much better with “pub-grub,” as nothing on either plate did anything really positive for us. Do not misunderstand. Nothing was bad, but nothing really sang to us either. This was more like “banquet food,” that one is likely to encounter at a business meeting at some resort in another city, than New Orleans. It was better than Drago’s, but that is not setting the bar very high.
The venue is nice and the ladies tending bar upstairs knew the brews pretty well. The balcony overlooking Decatur St was very nice, and with the weather, we enjoyed the family and the brews most of all. I’d give them another try, going for a tasting of the beers and maybe a burger.
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. As I stated in the last review of TCP, “the name had changed, but the charm was still there.”
We were batting 0.000, and the ladies were off doing something for the wedding. As is my usual routine, I headed to The Coffee Pot for breakfast.
When I arrived at The Coffee Pot, I noticed that the inside area was almost empty. I really enjoy sitting at one of the two-tops by the windows, overlooking Saint Peter St, or in the courtyard. While I could have had one of my two-tops at the window, I chose my “usual” al fresco spot, right at the opening of the courtyard. Yes, it’s a four-top, but there was no crowd - yet.
Since I’d just been in March, I didn’t need to even look at the menu. The hostess, a wonderfully charming lady, who’s been there, almost as long as I have been going there, came by with the menu and a cup of coffee. We talked a bit, and she refreshed my memory on when/why the name “Maxie’s” disappeared. Seems that he sold out and went back to NYC, where things did not go very well. The restaurant in NOLA has survived with only a name change.
This trip, there was none of the strangeness that I had encountered before. All went perfectly, as I had remembered it. The crowds were starting to arrive and most of them seemed to be UGA fans. There were a few renditions of “Who let the dogs out?” by the waitstaff. Hey, coming into “enemy territory,” and getting something like this shows the hospitality of NOLA.
The Pain Perdu was as good as my March visit. “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.” I quoted my previous review, so those who are not familiar with this dish will know what I’m talking about. Again, all was very good.
This time, all was right with my world and I was glad to start reversing my batting average.
Since we cannot get MIL into Camilla Grill, in her wheelchair, it will be another trip, before we get to go back. In the meantime, I still think that The Coffee Pot is a great little breakfast place, especially if one is in the FQ.
Crabby Jack’s, 428 Jefferson Hwy, Jefferson, LA, phone: 504-833-2722 (CRAB), no Web site found.
I’d been reading about Crabby Jack’s for over a year. Last trip, we did locate it, but did not have the time to get by. This time would be different. We started out on River Road, and my wife, who was driving almost hit it perfectly. We were only one block off, when we got to Jefferson Hwy. Now, she did have a bit of an edge, as she’d worked at Ochsner Foundation Hospital for eleven years, so I am actually surprised that she missed by that one block.
I do not recall what else might have been in this location, but the site is well-used. The parking lot could stand a bit of refurbishment, and some of the patrons a lesson in parking, but it was full and that was a good sign. We entered and were struck my how “quirky,” kitschy” yet “homey,” Crabby Jack’s is. The entire back wall, over the counter is filled with the menu, and I mean FILLED. We did not bother to get into the line, as it was going to take a while to read all the info and make some decisions. Obviously, everyone who entered after us knew that menu, because they already knew exactly what they were going to order and all of the extras and options. We continued to read and try and make up our minds. Now, I can read and decipher Chef Mavro’s 11-course tasting menu and you can order anything from any of the other tasting menus, plus there are two levels of wine pairings to go with each dish! This was almost more than I could comprehend, but we managed to put together an order for a small catfish po-boy, a small oyster po-boy and a small shrimp po-boy, plus a side of gumbo and red beans and rice, plus our drinks. Some of the plates looked good, but we were dining fairly early that evening. I kept feeling that there was something that I was also supposed to be ordering, but could not remember what the CH’s had said was a “must-do.”
At Crabby Jack’s, you enter, find the end of the line, approach the right-end of the counter and place your order. You then go to the cooler, or dispenser, and get your drink and try to find a seat. We’d staked out an empty spot and placed MIL in the wheelchair there. We immediately ordered, got the drinks and grabbed the two seats near her. Then, one of us went to get any utensils and such, so as to not loose the seats. Some groups seemed to have this down to a science, with everyone in the party grabbing chairs and one person doing all of the ordering. In a few minutes, our order was called up and I started carrying it to the table. I was SO-O very glad that we’d gone with the “small” po-boys. They were huge!
As we had the necessary condiments, including Tabasco, on the table, we started in.
The gumbo is duck & andouille, not seafood, which we all prefer. It was good, though the roux was a bit bland. The sausage added little sparks of flavor, but none of us was really enthusiastic. It wasn’t bad, just left us wanting. The red beans and rice were really similar. I guess that my wife’s recipes have spoiled me horribly, even when she has to have the ingredients shipped in.
We started in on the various po-boys and I actually had to remove some of my shrimp, just to be able to grab the danged thing. I have never seen this many shrimp on a po-boy, small or large. The bread was good and the shrimp were very good. They were a tad small (though there were certainly a lot of them) and just a bit tougher, than I would have loved. Still, they got “very good” marks. The same for the catfish and the oysters. Not the best of either, but still very good. It was then that I saw what I was supposed to order - the sweet potato chips. A young Ochsner employee next to me had gotten them and the lightbulb went off in my head. I quickly got back into line, and placed an order. While I labored on my po-boy, they came up. Well, I love all sorts of things “sweet potato.” Back many years, my wife was Miss Sweet Potato. I try fries, chips, purées, whatever. These just did not do anything for me. They were thin sliced sweet potatoes, but were just too greasy to really enjoy – a Tagamet® moment for sure. Maybe I got the end of a batch, or maybe I was being punished for not having placed the order with the po-boys, but I think these had been sitting around a bit too long.
We finally gave up on the sandwiches and packaged them up for M-I-L to have later that evening, as we were going on a date. Actually, there was enough for both her and her nurse to dine well. So very much food. One couple seated next to us had gotten almost the same thing and had eaten every bit. They then ordered a mixed seafood plate and had finished that. When we left, they were debating what to order next. I did not want to think about it. M-I-L allowed that even cold, the po-boys were wonderful and her nurse enjoyed some as well.
I think that I now have the drill down, on ordering, plus I believe that I know the location on the menu wall for what I am likely to want. I also know that one does not need many sides, even with a small po-boy. It was a good, though not great meal in a fun, funky spot. I can see why they were so filled. Maybe I need to train for my next visit!
re: Bill Hunt
it used to be Lousiana Seafood Exchange, home of the seafoodaletta...imagine fried oysters, fish, and shrimp on that big round of muff bread, with an extra heaping of seafood spilling all around the edges.
the po boy to get at Crabby Jack's is either the braised duck or the paneed rabbit or both!
if you are in that hood again, stay on River Rd. and go to Rivershack. weekday lunch specials are cooked by a chef formerly of Rene's Bistro. otherwise, you can't go wrong with their fried seafood plate and their sweet fries with special sauce.
Ralph’s on the Park, 900 City Park Ave., New Orleans, LA, phone: 504-488-1000 http://www.ralphsonthepark.com/menu_d....
Ralph’s has become our go-to Sunday Brunch spot, so we made our reservations. Since we were not flying out for a few days, we chose a later seating, than normal. We headed out with N-I-L and her nurse. Though we had the wheelchair, access was easy, and we were seated in the bar area, as the main dining room was full. Maybe the later time was not a good idea, but we had been out late the night before, so we made the best of it.
Now, Ralph’s on the Park is located immediately River-side of City Park Ave, looking out onto City Park. The main dining room is bright and sunny. The bar area isn’t quite so open and light-filled. It’s more like a cozy club dining room. Still quite nice, but I would go with a time to allow seating in the main room next time, even if it was earlier, or later. The one other little problem with the bar, is that there is a piano player in there on Sunday. Now, I am not opposed to music as I dine. I have nothing against a piano and the pianist was very good. However, the piano is not mic’ed, so the pianist was playing for the diners in the other room. Though we were seated as far from him, as the room would permit, it was just too loud to really talk at a normal dining room level. I had never noticed this before. Maybe I had assumed that the music was from a sound system. Were to change anything, it would be to mic the piano and feed via a system into the other room(s).
We started with a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay and added an Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Pinot Noir. The wine list has been pared down quite a bit, as there were no white Burgs and many more of the “usual suspects.” Maybe this reflects the patron’s choices, but I was saddened. Please tell the Sommelier to bring back just a few of the Montrachets and expand the reds with some choices that are not on every wine list around the country – please.
The dishes were a real mixed bag, so I’ll concentrate on what my wife and I had. We started with the Gratinée of Crabmeat (fresh Lake Pontchartrain crabmeat baked in a creamy Sherry sauce rich with Fontina and pepperjack cheese), which was wonderful, and then went with the turtle soup and the Chef’s Soup of the Day, a seafood gumbo. Both were very good, though I still think that Commander’s Palace does the turtle soup slightly better. Ralph’s is a little better than I found Brennan’s.
For mains, we chose the Veal Grillades and Grits (veal medallions with peppers, onions and shitake mushrooms in a veal reduction with thyme and goatcheese) and Crispy Skin-On Redfish (with fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard, crab butter sauce and served with jumbo lump crabmeat and basil vinaigrette). Again, excellent. I think that I liked the Blackened Redfish from the previous trip a bit better, but this dish was very good. I am not normally a “blackened anything” fan, but that redfish was wonderful.
I do not have notes on the desserts, but do not remember even crumbs being left behind.
Except as noted, it was as good as always.
Brunch at Brennan’s
Since we had experienced a wonderful brunch at Brennan’s and that MIL had not dined there since well before she left NOLA, before Katrina, I decided to try it again.
Once more, we were greeted like long lost friends and promptly seated. This time, there were no patrons lined up, and no one waiting. The main dining room had maybe five tables filled, but there was still a lot of activity.
Because of the small crowd, they were not seating on the patio, but we had a very large table (we were a party of four) with a view of the courtyard. Ron was our head waiter, and he was soon being accepted into the family by my MIL. What a charming gentleman. He was at the top of his game and because of the smaller crowd, had time to do his full “revue.” I had forgotten how much personality the waitstaff in NOLA can have. This was absolutely refreshing for me. MIL was charmed, and her nurse (from Transylvania) did not quite know what to make of all of this. We explained that NOLA was a bit of a “different” place and this sort of interaction used to be fairly common. Anyone listening in, would have thought that Ron was our “personal” waiter and a fast family friend. When he found that MIL’s nurse was from Eastern Europe, he went out of his way to explain New Orleans and gave her some history. He was able to tie much of this in to Eastern Europe, so that the analogies would hit home with her. I do not know if he’d traveled to Transylvania, but seemed to understand the possible cultural differences. While doing his routine, he also took my wine order,
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.
The New Orleans Grill, Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier St, phone: 504-523-6000, http://www.windsorcourthotel.com/web/...
I’m going to invoke the “way-back machine,” to start this review. The reason will be clear in a moment. Stick with me on this one, please.
Going back into history, I did a scathing review of the “Grill Room,” at the Windsor Court Hotel. This was back in CH’s infancy. It also ran on TripAdvisor and several more travel/dining Web sites. Because of changes in most of these sites, that review has now gone to byte-heaven.
We were in NOLA for two reasons, my wife was attending her nursing school reunion and was also delivering a talk on healthcare to a group from Arthur Anderson, then an active national accounting firm. It was also her birthday. Normally, we do table #8 at Commander’s Palace, but they dropped the ball on her birthday, the year before. I’d been reading a lot of reviews on the chef and the Grill Room. The James Beard folk were singing some major praises. Every chef I knew, was also singing praises. Sounded too good to be true. I made reservations through the American Express concierge service about 2 mos. out. I set the time and the date, noted that this was my wife’s birthday and asked for a “romantic table.” In the meantime, I dropped them a letter, reiterating my simple requests and then followed up with a FAX. What could go wrong?
We arrived at 8:00PM, our reserved time. The restaurant was about 3/4 full, though there were several empty two-tops along the windows. We were ushered to a two-top against the wall, away from the windows. I asked our hostess about the three tables along the glass. “They are reserved,” was her comment.
Well, our table placed me in an aisle and my wife’s chair back against a side-board, where the cutlery was stored. Every time that a server needed to replace anything, my wife was jolted, and had to stand, move her chair and let the server access the side-board. So much for romantic! We placed our initial wine order, and I asked to hold onto the wine list for our next course. I was told that they needed it for other guests, and that it would be handed back “should” I choose to order more wine. Now, our first wine was a Puligny-Montrachet that ran about US$200/btl. We are NOT talking plonk here.
The wine arrived and was presented. I kept eyeing the original glassware on the table, and when the sommelier started to pour into my what I had assumed was my water glass (unfilled), I asked if he didn’t have a more appropriate glass for this wine. I mentioned that a Burgundy “balloon” would be nice. His comment was, “I’m sorry, but we can’t use good glasses for a wine like this.” Did he mean that a $200 Puligny-Montrachet was not good enough for anything but their regular stemware? Now, I had glanced at the “seized” wine list, and had noted that they had some DRC Burgs, ranging from US$3000 to $12,000. OK, so I was not with AIG and was not on an expense account, but cut me some slack, I was starting with a $200 bottle of white! The water glasses were used. The wine was fine, and I accepted it. Pours were made, and sommelier and the wine disappeared.
It was now about 8:15PM and only one of the three window-side tables was now occupied. I excused myself and asked the hostess about being moved. I explained the problem with our table. She stated that the other two tables had been expressly reserved. What, more than two months out? I highly doubt that.
Orders were taken and my wife was standing more than she was seated, due to the side-board. By 8:30, another table was occupied, but one was still open. I approached the hostess once more, and she said that if, by 9:00, the party with the express reservations for that table had not arrived, we’d be re-seated.
I asked for the wine list again, and was told that other guests were using it. I explained that I had not memorized it, and wanted to order additional wine. “It’ll probably be another 15 mins.,” was the response. “The sommelier can pick something for you, if you’re in a hurry.” “In a hurry,” my first course was coming out and I had not ordered the other wines! What, did they only have one wine list?
I flagged down two of our servers, and requested that we be moved to the one empty table. “We can’t do that sir, only the hostess can allow you to be reseated.” I approached the hostess one more time. It was now about 8:50. No one had shown for their table-specific reservation. “I’m sorry, I cannot seat you there, until 9:00PM,” was her reply.
When I came back to the table, there was a couple now seated at the vacant table. I commented to my wife that the reservations must have shown up. “No, that is the couple, who were seated behind us. They complained to the server about their table and were promptly moved.” she shared. What, the loud, obnoxious couple, who were seated behind us, had been re-seated by a server? The couple, who announced that they had “arrived,” when they walked into the room? The couple, who had been screaming, shouting and berating the servers? Same couple? Yes, the same couple.
Once more, I approached the hostess, and asked about the table. “Oh, too bad, the other couple was making a ruckus, so we re-seated them.” What, in the name of good sense and comportment was happening here? I had made repeated requests, only to be denied. They had created a “scene,” and were immediately re-seated.
Back at our table, I was approached by the sommelier. “What would you like with your entrées?” he asked. “Well, I would actually have liked another wine with our first and second courses, BEFORE our entrées,” was my reply.
As I was doing a filet with Port-reduction and bleu cheese, and my wife had chosen fish (Pompano, IIRC, in their signature preparation), I was thinking of something to split the difference, or maybe half-bottles. A really big Pinot Noir might have worked, or maybe a Syrah. I asked for the wine list, and he said that it was elsewhere and that he’d pick something for us. I asked about half-bottles and he shrugged, saying they really didn’t have many - only cheap wines for the masses. His suggestion was a red Burg, that was in the US$700 range. I knew this wine and it was far too light to stand up to my filet with its bleu cheese. I told him of my concern and also asked for two wines in the US$200-300 range to “split the differences.” He said that he couldn’t come up with any in THAT price range. Once more, I requested the wine list, and instructed him to just take the damned thing away from whomever had it. I needed that wine list.
The entrées arrived, but no wine list. Fifteen minutes later, he secured the list from the gentleman, who had screamed to be moved to the one empty table. It had been beside his chair, since he was seated!
I flagged down the sommelier and ordered a Nuit-St George for my wife and a petite Ch. Bdx. for my beef. The total cost was about US$ 450 for both wines.
Just as we were finishing our entrées, the wines finally arrived. Again, we were told that the glassware offered was the best that they could do with wines, such as these. OK, I’ve now got about $650 in wines for two (in mid-90s $’s). I can’t get the good glasses, because of what? Were we not spending enough? Considering the markup on these wines I should have been “given” a set of Riedel Sommelier stems to take home with me!
About that time, the couple by the window got a b-t-g order. One wine each. Poured into crystal stemware! I flagged down the sommelier and in a voice loud enough to be heard on the street below, told him, “get you’re a** back there and bring out the f***ing Riedels, or I’m going to go ballistic!” He disappeared, only to return with the “good” stemware.
Now, my filet, a signature dish, was dry, tough and not at all inspiring. I could have done this well at Morton’s, if I did Morton’s. Wife’s fish was also dry and tasted as though it had been frozen for years, then overcooked. Actually, as a child, I fished with fresher cut-bait than this!
When our server asked if we wanted dessert, I gave him a look that sent him away for about 30 mins. Our wines were our only desserts. My wife did order decaf, but it turned out to be caffeinated. I ordered a glass of Taylor-Fladgate LBV Port. It came with about half of the glass filled with sediment. I informed our server of my problem and he told me, “that’s the way it is with Port.” Well, that is NOT” the way that it is with LBV.” Some houses’ LBV’s do throw a lot of sediment. Taylor’s is not one of those. This had to be the last pour of the bottle. I explained the problem to him and instructed him to bring me a new copita and a freshly opened bottle. I then gave a class on pouring Port.
We were the last people to leave the restaurant. I paid a bill that ran about US$1100 for two. It was as bad a meal as we had ever had. I “donated” our leftover wine to the busboys, instructing them to not let the sommelier, or the chef, have any of it.
Upon my return home, I wrote a letter, even more detailed than above, telling of our displeasure and the poor food, service, wine service and seating.
I received a letter from the Hotel’s GM, offering apologies and a comp’ed meal for two, regardless of the number of courses, with complimentary wines of their choice. I never bothered, as there are too many good restaurants in NOLA.
Fast forward to our trip. I was amazed, when my wife suggested that we give Windsor Court another chance. Though, it HAS been many years, many chefs and probably many GM’s. Reluctantly, I called. They had a table for two at 6:30PM, our chosen time.
When I walked in, it was like walking into a space, that I had never dined before. I looked for our “birthday” table, but all of the room had changed so very much. As we were being led to our table, I was holding my breath. Well, we were seated at a four-top, very near the windows, and not too far from the bar area.
There were interesting murals all around, that featured scenes from the “Old South.” The room was quiet, even though the bar was but steps away. There was a piano playing “out there,” but the level was fine for us to converse (more on pianos later).
The lighting was subdued, but there was enough over each table, that with my reading glasses, I could even make out the smallest print. It was “romantic,” but adequate. I like to be able to read the menu, or the wine list without a flashlight. I also like to have enough light to appreciate the presentations of the dishes and be able to find my flatware, without having to feel around the table for it. This was just about perfect. Because the presentations to come were such works of art, and worthy of a long look, I am glad that it was. Job well done.
As service began, I ordered a Corton-Charlemagne for starters. I asked our server if we could get Burg glasses for this big white. They were promptly delivered to our table. My, that was a change in things, rather like the rearrangement of the tables in the room.
I asked our serving captain about the changes, and he told me of a letter that the GM had gotten many years before. He said that changes began then, and by the time that they had restructured the entire room, and its name, post-K, all of the old layout was history. I have to wonder if that was my letter, that started the changes. We talked about the history of the restaurant, and he went down the list of chefs, and how things had changed so greatly over time. He offered an information sheet on the various murals, as each had an interesting story behind the scenes depicted. These were apparently added to the decor, post-K and are by a local artist, Ausekiis Ozolos, and are worth the time to study and appreciate.
The Corton arrived, was perfect and at a perfect temp. I told him that an ice bucket would not be needed.
The menu was explained and our choices were made. For starters, we ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with ravigote sauce and micro-green salad and the Foie Gras on brioche toast, carmelized peaches and blood orange gastrique. Along with the Corton, we added a Clos-Haut-Peyraguey Sauternes.
For the soup-course, we went with the Chicken & Andouille Gumbo and the Classic Windsor Court Salad of Romain lettuce, eggs, bacon, bleu cheese, avocado, tomato, radish and Lorenzo dressing. We ordered a bottle of Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.
Our mains were the Whole Boneless Gulf Fish (again the pompono), with ginger crust, safron nage, artichokes, Parisian potatoes and teardrop tomatoes and the Filet Mignon with truffled potato terrine and broccolini. At this point, we added the Turley Juvenile Zinfandel. This time, both dishes were perfectly prepared and cooked. Nothing like our previous visit.
Each dish was given a lovely presentation and were delivered to the table in unison. The dishes were placed on the table in perfect synchronization. The timing and pacing was absolutely perfect.
Service was excellent and very friendly. There was proper attention to all of our desires, yet at no time were we bothered by over-attentive staff. Nothing was cleared, before it was finished. Wines were poured, as was needed, and never too much. The stemware was never in question, as before. The wine service was perfect.
We went with a cheese course to finish, and I seem to recall that my wife had some sort of chocolate, as I had some with my Zinfandel. I just do not recall what it was, or even if she ordered it. Since we had plenty of wines, each was tried with the various cheeses. The remaining Corton and the Pinot Noirs were my favorites, but that was probably predicated on having more cream cheeses on the plate.
Some years back, I did a set of reviews on dining in Hawai`i, that I titled “A tale of two entrées.” Well, this was “A tale of two restaurants,” though they shared the same location. They were years, and light-years, apart. Predicated on my earlier experience, I wondered how so many folk could sing the praises of the Windsor Court. Upon reflection, I wondered how so many could have sung its praises, when we first dined. It had been so very bad, that I could not just chalk it up to a “bad night.” It was just plain horrible at every level. My, how the years (and staff changes) have altered every aspect of this restaurant, and in all ways for the better. This was what I had anticipated on our first visit. This was an experience to write about. The bill was slightly lower this time (because of the wines selected, mainly), and was now a good, albeit relatively expensive, value. Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket, but at this level of dining, I cannot imagine a gentleman NOT wearing a jacket. I would encourage a tie, as well, or you will feel under-dressed.
While I stick to what I reported from our first experience, I now have to say that the New Orleans Grill is at the top of the “fine-dining” destinations in New Orleans.
re: Bill Hunt
MiLa, 817 Common St, New Orleans, phone: 504-412-2580, http://www.milaneworleans.com/.
I had been hearing and reading a lot about MiLa. Most of it was excellent, and I had to try for myself. We made reservations and inquired about valet parking, as we had a van full of folk plus a wheelchair. “Yes, we have valet parking. Just look for the valet stand on Common Street, river-side of the restaurant,” was the reply. Off we headed. Well, there was construction on Common and also next door to the restaurant. We found their sign, but did not find the valet. Around the block (well, actually several blocks with the one-way streets and the construction) we went and still did not see a valet stand. On our next trip, I hopped out and went inside. The hostess said that there was a valet just river-side of the restaurant. I looked, and looked and could find nothing. Finally, we decided to just park in the Pere Marquette Parking Garage. Guess what – that was the valet parking. I had not realized that MiLa was actually in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel. We were finally on our way.
I had read that the name “MiLa” is derived from the state of origin of the two chefs, Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing, hailing from Mississippi and Louisiana. I really didn’t know quite what to expect, but was impressed by the very contemporary design of the place. We were ushered around the hostess stand and down a short hallway, past a wall of wine. We proceeded around this to one of the dining rooms, right behind that wall. Since I’m a wino, this was a good sign. The rest of our party arrived and we were provided menus and the wine list. The lighting is low enough in ambience, but with enough just over the tables to make reading a menu no problem. Romantic, but addressing the needs of diners.
With a party of six, mostly family members, I did not take careful notes, but will try to hit the high spots from my and my wife’s dining. We started with the New Orleans Barbeque Lobster with lemon confit and fresh thyme and the Foie Gras Terrine with pepperjelly gastrique and buttermilk brioche. Both dishes were innovative, well-prepared and presented.
For our mains, we chose the Snapper a la Meuniere with artichokes, caramelized fennel and turnips in an orange-chili reduction and the Double Cut Pork Chops with turnips and pork rillette in a pot liquor sauce. The snapper was probably a bit better, as the pork chop was a little tough. Nothing bad, but not quite as tender as it could have been.
For wines were a nice Meursault and a Seasmoke Southing Pinot Noir. I also got a Muscat b-t-g for the foie gras.
The service was excellent and everything was perfect, except for one. The “wine room,” where we were seated was not really a room, but just an area, that is open to other dining areas, and only separated by a bead curtain, not a soundproof wall. Why would this be important? Well, just through that curtain was a group about as large as ours. Unfortunately, they were having a party and had obviously been drinking heavily. I thought that we were at a homecoming football game. This had to the loudest 6-8 people that I have ever been around. They screamed and laughed the entire evening. We could not hear each other 25' away. Since our table was rather long, I never heard a word that was uttered, except from my niece directly across from me, and my wife at my side. Even then, we had to wait for a lull to try and speak. An otherwise perfect evening was ruined by this one group, who were behaving badly. I felt even more sorry for a group at a four-top, that was between our table and the party table. They were trying to have a working business dinner and were leaning completely across their table to talk to each other. The beautiful, though hard surfaces of MiLa did not help the acoustics. Other than have padded rooms for such patrons, I don’t know what a restauranteur could do. In a similar situation at Viognier in San Mateo, there was another party group. After asking them to hold down the screaming and over-the-top laughter several times, the management asked them to vacate. As they departed, the entire restaurant stood and applauded. I understand having fun, but such behavior should not be indulged in a fine-dining restaurant.
re: Bill Hunt
I long for the day when restaurateurs or managers begin preventing the kind of customer behavior you described at MiLa. I will never understand why one table of crass loudmouths can be allowed to ruin other people's evenings again and again and again without ever being called out by the person running the dining room.
This kind of incident came to a head one night a couple of years ago, when a group of screechers was turning our night out into holy hell. After ordering we asked the manager to do something about the noise. He gave us a non-answer, and the annoyance continued. So all four of us made a decision: We got up from the table and walked out of the restaurant. I think if more of us did this, restaurant owners might start doing their job and rid their places of these inconsiderate Neanderthals.
re: Honore Melmoth
I feel your pain. We dine in "festive" atmospheres very often - New Orleans, Las Vegas and even Phoenix. Heck, let me add Hawai`i to that, as there are often conventioneers there too. Personally, I do not get the charm of acting a fool in a nice restaurant. If one has rented the entire venue of a party, that's another thing.
Now, I am a person, whose voice does carry to the "tables in the back of the room," and I do enjoy my dining companions, but I have learned to not "project" and to dine without the clamor.
As mentioned, Viognier (San Mateao, CA) did the best job of "crowd control," that I have ever witnessed. Too many meals are ruined by an out-of-control group of diners. We are all adults, or nearly, and should have been raised to behave better. Still, some folk wish for every other diner in a restaurant to see and hear them.
That was my only rub with MiLa. The food, the wines and the service were very good, to great.
Were I to design a restaurant, it would have rooms with "soft" surfaces for parties, and then separate rooms for my diners. I like to be able to converse with my table mates, without having to "project" to the "tables in the back."
Best example of this, that I have seen was Chef Jean-Marie Josselin's A Pacific Cafe in Ka`pa`a, Kaua`i. We scored reservations and walked in at the appointed time. The hostess, who could not have been over 18 years old, took one look at my face, when confronted with the open-kitchen, loud bistro aspect of the restaurant, and inquired, "can I seat you in the 'quiet' room?" She went on to explain that Chef Josseline had designed the restaurant with the French bistros of his youth in mind - open kitchen, hard surfaces and every diner with at least two cell-phones going at all times. Still, he built in a "quiet room," that had view of the restaurant and the kitchen, but with soft surfaces.
This was great, and the cell-phone people had their "happening vibe" out in the main area. For one so young, she was great. Or, my face told a complete story. The food was spectacular. The service was excellent. The ambiance was just what an old-dude, such as I, really enjoyed. I could actually talk to my wife and hear her replies. Had the only option been the main dining room, I'd never have gone back, regardless of how good the food was.
One of my favorite restaurants in the Phoenix Area has great food, over-the-top service and a wine program that should be a model for most. Still, it is so danged loud, that I have to eat in silence, as I cannot hear anyone at my table. When we book, the standing rule is to give us the "quiet table," but even that is horribly loud. We know the owner and he usually stops by, inquiring on our dining experience. He nods to me and usually say, "other than the noise - pause - how was everything?"
MiLa is on a good course. I loved the food. Since I am from Mississippi and my wife is a NOLA native, we enjoyed the menu. Were I to be commissioned to redesign the dining rooms, I'd do away with the beaded curtains, and put in doors and a full wall. The surfaces would be changed, so that an elegant dining experience could be had by all. Old-school for sure, but not a bad idea.
re: Bill Hunt
Wow. I felt your pain as I read the account of your “meal from hell” at the Windsor Court. We've all been in a position where you just can't believe the actions of a restaurant, but this was just a complete and total never-ending disaster... like a bad dream. I have to rank it as the worst account of a meal that I’ve ever heard. For me, the only meal that I can think comes close was a meal I once had at I Ricchi in DC about 10 years ago... as bad as that was, yours takes the cake.
That said, I dined at the Grill Room post Katrina as I was staying in the hotel, and it was very good… food was straight forward, the room was beautiful, service good, nice wine list… an excellent relaxing hotel dining experience. They advised that they were happy to “clean house” acknowledging that the prior management at the restaurant left a lot to be desired. I enjoy staying there, and you can take breakfast (included when you book thru Amex Fine Hotel Program) in the Grill Room, which is a nice way to enjoy the room.
Was in New Orleans last week and stopped by Crabby Jacks for the first time. I loved the place… went mid aft (around 245pm) so was not crowded… but still a steady flow of customers. Had been advised by some locals to have the duck po-boy and the pork po-boy… tried those as well as shrimp w/fried green tomato po-poy, the gumbo… and the fried chicken just for the heck of it. The pork and the shrimp were my favs… the duck and the chicken were also good, but didn’t favor them as much as the others. Really enjoyed it… perfect for lunch.
Thanks for sharing your pain and your tears. Yes, it does happen, and more often when a restaurant takes their press clipping too closely to heart. If the press tells them that they cannot fail, they do not even consider fallibility.
You have to remember that my ill-fated experience was way pre-K. It was back in the first two, or so, years of operation. A lot has changed since that night.
For us, Crabby Jacks was a hoot. Now, I know the drill. I also have made notes on the items that need to be ordered. I went with what I really like. I had not taken my CH notes with me - mistake. We’ll be back and probably with your time-frame, instead of what we did. It was funky to the max, or nearly so. The food was good, and copious as heck! Nothing was the best that we’d ever eaten, but still good.
Thanks for your comments,
Lagniappe. OK, this is not a restaurant, but is a brief note on a New Orleans chef, with whom I have had the pleasure to dine on several occasions. Going back some years, Chef Patti Constantine had a wonderful restaurant, Constantine’s on Oak St, in the Riverbend Area with her husband. We were fortunate to have dined there, before she closed it to raise a family.
Over the years, she has catered several events for my family and all were great. It’s difficult to bring off fine-dining, while catering an event, but she finds a way to do it. The wedding, at the Botanic Gardens in City Park was likewise catered. She has not lost her touch and the spread was both beautiful and flavorful. I just wish that she’d decide to re-open a full-service restaurant.
428 Jefferson Hwy, New Orleans, LA 70121
Coffee Pot Restaurant
714 Saint Peter St, New Orleans, LA 70116
417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Ralphs On the Park
900 City Park Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119
817 Common Street, New Orleans, LA 70112
Drago's Seafood Restaurant
2 Poydras St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Windsor Court Hotel
300 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Thank you for the wonderful post, Bill! I've seen your others on NO and will be considering them as I start planning my tip in May. Going for nephews graduation from Tulane, so will have about two days of obligatory family meals which will probably be touristy as some haven't been to NO. I plan on staying a full week - maybe at the Ritz! - so will tuck in a few interesting places. I'll post my initial thoughts in a separate link so as to not highjack yours - but thanks again for the thoroughness of your report!
I can't believe after your very fine reviews that you would even consider putting Crabby Jack's on the list! That is a mere chain restaurant! You would do better to dine at The Gumbo Shop, or Bucktown Seafood in the Quarter, or Mandina's out on Canal (delicious Italian neighborhood restaurant! Crabby Jack's ---- no Way!