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Restaurant August report

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This is an excerpt from a New Orleans trip report that I wrote for another forum. Most of the report concentrated on gambling and hotel, so I have snipped that part and just attached the part that would be interesting to Chow Hounds. Enjoy.

http://www.restaurantaugust.com/

Chef John Besh is pretty close to a celebrity chef in the New Orleans
world. He markets himself extremely well, has appeared on Iron Chef
America, etc. His was one of the first restaurants to reopen after
Katrina, and he is well known for his efforts to feed rescue and other
workers in the aftermath of that storm. I was really anticipating
this meal, as I really enjoy experiencing a talented hand behind a
good meal.

I should take this opportunity to explain that Harrah's New Orleans
sends regular players dining coupons. These can be used at any
restaurant inside the casino, but also at an impressive selection of
local restaurants, including all of the John Besh restaurants. This
is a great benefit, and we have discovered some spectacular places due
to these vouchers. For this evening, I had a $200 voucher.

August is a very cool, very New Orleans looking restaurant. It is
located on a corner, and encompasses 3 stories. The first floor is
the main floor, with additional seating and the restrooms on the
second level, and private dining rooms on the third level. I arrived
about 6:45 on a Sunday night to find the bar empty, much to my surprise. I took a seat
and simply announced to the bartender that I was having the
five-course tasting menu with the wine supplement ($105.) As a
splurge, I also ordered a bottle of Pellegrino water, which I finished
by the end of the meal.

The first course (not listed on the menu) was an amuse-bouche of a
flavored foam served with strips of brioche in an egg shell bowl. The
flavor was rich and delicious, complex but not overly so. It was a
very good start. It was served with a champagne, which I enjoyed very
much.

"Warm salad of pieds du cochon, veal sweetbreads, hearts of palm and black truffle"

Second course was pied du cochon (pig trotters) with sweetbreads,
hearts of palm, and some other vegetables. This was one of those
dishes with just too much going on. The sweetbreads were delicious,
but could have stood on their own just fine without the other things
on the plate. There was so much in the dish, that I had to ask for
the menu back just so I could remember what I was eating. It wasn't
bad, mind you, but it was very complex, perhaps overly so.

"yard egg raviolo with brown butter and black trumpet mushrooms"

The third course was a farm egg raviolo in brown butter with trumpet
mushrooms. This had the potential to be a knockout. Basically a
small egg was cooked inside a pasta coating and served with the sauce
over it. The egg was cooked perfectly, with a slightly runny yolk,
but the pasta was slightly undercooked. The brown butter sauce was
divine, but too salty for my taste. It was such a unique and special
presentation, that I hated that it was marred by such a salty sauce.

"French crawfish boil 'facon Chez Bruno"

Next was the strangest course of all. The server placed a bib around
my neck and presented me with a bowl containing about half a dozen
large whole crawfish. They had been covered in a cream sauce and
served, whole. I certainly wasn't expecting to eat with my hands
during this meal, and if the dish had been outstanding, I wouldn't
mind at all. However, I did eat two of the crawfish and found them to
be very bland on the inside. The delicious sauce (and it was an
amazing sauce) did not find its way inside the crawfish at all. After
eating two of the critters, I decided the rest were not worth the
trouble and mess of eating, so I just decided to sop up some of the
amazing sauce with the very good sourdough bread I had been served.
The server noticed this and we began discussing the dish. One of the
managers overheard us talking about it and came over to tell me he
agreed with me, but that chef Besh loves that dish so it stays on the
menu. They did tell me that they will substitute for that dish, so if
you go and the crawfish is on the tasting menu, I strongly suggest
that you ask your server for a substitution.

"slow braised kobe beef short rib; rapini, baby root vegetables, and rosti potato"

Next was Kobe Beef short rib with a potato pancake and baby root
vegetables. I guess these pieces of meat were cut from the top of a
short rib, but there was no rib bone on my plate. The meat was very
nicely marbled and had a great beefy flavor, but it was unlike any
short ribs I have had before. That's not a bad thing, as the
preparation and flavor was very nice. The potato pancake did not fare
as well. As it had been placed underneath the (wonderfully) fatty
meat and then doused with sauce, it was not crispy but instead soggy
and mushy. It simply had an unpleasant texture and I did not finish
the potato portion. The sauce was rich and a good foil to the beef,
but again was a little salty for my taste. The baby vegetables mixed
throughout were unremarkable.

"napoleon of nougatine with Valhrona chocolate bavoris and salted toffee ice cream"

Finally, dessert: a nougatine napoleon with salted toffee ice cream.
This looked marvelous, and parts of it were. However, the “salted
toffee” ice cream was a disaster. I was expecting a nice toffee
flavor with a background of salt. Instead I was surprised to taste an
overwhelming salty flavor... so much so that I could hardly pick out
any other flavor. I actually pushed the ice cream off the top of the
pastry (Blasphemy!) and allowed it to melt as I enjoyed the rest of
the dessert. I hope that I just got a bad batch, as this ice cream
was simply not edible.

The service throughout was excellent, and the atmosphere is very “New”
New Orleans, achieving a neighborhood bistro kind of vibe. I really
liked the place but was slightly disappointed by the food. If I would
dare to give Chef Besh a piece of advice, it would be to get back to
basics. Let the flavors of his ingredients shine through, and don't
over-think his dishes. His most successful dishes, the egg raviolo
and the kobe beef short rib, were examples of this, even though they
were far from perfect.

While I was dining the bar slowly filled up and I enjoyed a nice
conversation with some of my bar mates. To my left was a very nice
couple who ordered several appetizers and a bottle of wine. I could
tell from their order that they knew food, so we struck up a
conversation. They were so nice that I surreptitiously told the
bartender to put their bottle of wine on my tab. When they paid up
and the bartender told them that I had done that, they came over and
thanked me profusely. It turns out that he is the owner/chef of his
own restaurant. He said that next time I am in town, bring my family
and come to his place... I will be his guest and he will “take care of
me.” That was very nice, and I will surely take him up on his offer.
Sitting to my right was a lawyer who has an office down the street
from the restaurant. He seemed to be a regular, and we had a nice
talk about the practice of law and our profession in general.

All in all it was a very pleasant evening, and the kind of experience
that can only be had in New Orleans. I left Restaurant August
satisfied both physically and spiritually.

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  1. Thanks for the excellent report.

    1. I would like to hear from others about experiences at August.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Andrew in Alabama

        Andrew...do you mind sharing the name of the restaurant the couple next to you at the bar owned? Just curious as to who was sitting with you and where you might be "taken care of" the next time you are in town.

          1. re: Andrew in Alabama

            I went to August with a visiting friend. I thought it was as good as other comparable high-end restaurants I've been to. I did find the desserts to be mediocre, however.

          2. Andrew the amuse-bouche you had is probably the same truffled sabayon that I had when I dined there last. It is simply delicious.

            1. Andrew,

              Very nice report, even though all was not as good, as it should have been.

              My biggest question was "how was the wine pairing?" I've been informed that Restaurant August has a new sommelier, but I have not had the opportunity to put her through her paces. What did you have, and what did you think?

              Thank you for the review - well done!

              Hunt

              2 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Hi Bill. I enjoy your reports quite a bit.

                Sorry but I really don't have a basis to judge wines... I know when I like something, and I thought all the selections paired nicely with the dishes, at least to my untrained palate.

                Frankly, that's one of the reasons I enjoy tasting menus with pairings... it allows the experts to make wine decisions for me.

                1. re: Andrew in Alabama

                  Hey, if one likes the wines, then there is no argument on it. So long as you enjoyed the pairings, that is the important factor.

                  Thanks again for the review,

                  Hunt