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Dining report -- Grill Room, Riomar, Brennan's (With food pictures)

My wife and I celebrated our 14th anniversary by visiting New Orleans. I sprang for a room at the Windsor Court, which was wonderful, but since this is a food report, let's get to it!

THE GRILL ROOM

After the drive from hell into NOLA from Alabama, we were ready for a nice relaxing meal, and, importantly, some alcohol. I had made a 7 PM reservation for the Grill Room, which I had to back up to 8 PM on account of the drive from hell. After a quick wash up and change of clothes in our suite, we walked up the stairs from the beautiful, old-school cool hotel lobby and the hostess was expecting us. I had mentioned when making the reservation that this was our anniversary, and we were led to the best table in the house, in a tiny alcove by itself, looking out over the "courtyard," which really was the porte cochere. In any event, it was a lovely presentation. We could not have had a better welcome to town than we got at the Windsor Court and at the Grill Room.

Within seconds we were greeted by John, a young enthusiastic waiter who took excellent care of us all night. We were happy to see John, but were even happier to see that he was pouring us two glasses of champagne (Veuve Cliquot, IIRC) as an "anniversary gift." How thoughtful.

The first food we were served was the bread basket. This is something that is often overlooked at many places, but this was a STUNNER. Yeah I know it is just bread, but each of the four types of bread in the basket were unique and expertly made in their own individual way.

http://tinyurl.com/dleczx

There was a cracker-type lavosh, a whole wheat pumpkin seed loaf, tiny cornbread muffins, and the show-stopper, bacon and leek muffin that was so flavorful that we couldn't stop eating them.

I told John that because of my admittedly limited wine knowledge I was going to trust him to keep us properly served with wines by the glass throughout the evening, which he did with efficiency and enthusiasm, giving us some background on each vintage, why he liked it, and why he chose to pair it with the food we had chosen. It was fun to try new wines, made even more fun because of John's enthusiasm.

A beautiful amuse bouche of perfectly grilled scallop in a citrus sauce with salmon roe was a noble start to dinner.

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For our dinners, my wife chose carpaccio, which was presented traditionally, with the local edition of creole mustard. She pronounced it to be delicious.

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I had the charbroiled oysters, which were delicious, but rich.

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Entrees were New York Strip steak and lobster (her) and the Veal Chop (which was really a veal porterhouse) (me.

)

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Both of these were really well prepared, really getting the most out of the ingredients on the plate.

For sides, we ordered truffled risotto, which had a deep truffle flavor and was really rich and wonderful, and collard greens (!) which my wife declared as the best she had ever tasted.

We sat for a while and chatted, and decided that instead of dessert we would go to the Polo Lounge for drinks. While there, John surprised us with an unsolicited but welcome dessert plate:

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We also took a picture with John:

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We sat in the bar, listened to the wonderful jazz trio that was playing, and just enjoyed being in New Orleans for a while.

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Overall, I would certainly give the Grill Room an enthusiastic recommendation. The food we ordered was classic and heavy... but expertly prepared with obvious great care. It was a fitting introduction to our New Orleans weekend. Were I to return (and I hope I do) I am anxious to get a little deeper into the menu, and explore some other, lighter options.

Breakfast at Brennan's:

The next morning, we did the almost un-thinkable for us, and slept in until about 10 AM. We took our time getting ready and were about 1/2 hour late for our reservation at Brennan's.

http://tinyurl.com/dktt6d

Breakfast at Brennan's was something that I, as a newly regular visitor to New Orleans, felt that I should do at least once. Now that we have done it once, that will probably be it , as it was a perfectly competent meal, but we couldn't escape the feeling that we were in a tourist trap. That may be due to the fact that we WERE in a tourist trap.

First the good:

The setting at Brennan's is beautiful, if crowded. The staff really does seem to enjoy doing their thing, and they do it with humor and what seems like genuine friendliness. We had several people who were serving other tables nearby come check on us, and one even suggested a cocktail for me, and took this picture:

http://tinyurl.com/dahnuh

The cocktails were excellent. During the course of our meal, I sampled a sazerac, an absinthe suissesse, and another absinthe cocktail suggested by the waiter. All tasted great, but pretty much everything tastes good when it is noon and you are in New Orleans, with some cocktail in your tummy:

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Also special was the Bananas Foster, which of course we had to sample:

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Next the "not so" good:

The soups were pretty awful. My wife had onion soup which had a nice flavor, but was thickened to the point that it had an unpleasant texture. My oyster soup was interesting. I described it at the time as "liquid oysters Rockefeller." That being said, it was un-interesting and not very deep in flavor. I didn't even take pictures of the soups.

The egg dishes were pretty workmanlike. My wife actually sent her omlette back because it was sitting in a pool of grease on the plate. My Eggs Hussarde were tasty enough, but certainly not anything special. Also the timing was screwed up on the soup service, and my eggs came out at the same time as the soup. The food runner insisted upon taking the eggs back and told me that they would prepare a fresh plate when I was ready, but I was obviously served the same plate that had just been kept warm in the kitchen. The egg yolks were cooked too much and the hollandaise had hardened a bit.

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Am I glad we went to Brennan's? Absolutely. Will we be back? The only circumstances would be if we are in town with the kids, and want them to try the Bananas Foster. There was nothing else at Brennan's that would compel us to return, given the other brunch options in town.

Afternoon tea at Windsor Court:

We pretty much kept up the drinking all afternoon, walking around and enjoying the incredible weather and taking in the New Orleans atmosphere. At around 4:30 my wife reminded me about the afternoon tea service that she wanted to do at our hotel. The tea is served in the lobby of the hotel, which is really a beautiful room. There are two choices for service, the more expensive of which includes tea, sandwiches, pastries, and a glass of champagne.

Despite the fact that I was the only male in the room, I surprised myself how much I enjoyed this experience. It was girly and dainty, but I am comfortable with my masculinity, and all the food was top-notch for what it was. The breads were soft, the fillings and toppings tasty and well-presented, and the pastries were beautiful and tasty. We also had a great seat, being able to watch the comings and goings in the busy hotel lobby. My only complaint was that the tea was really floral, which is not to my taste, but that is more a symptom of our ordering than of the overall experience.

In any event, afternoon tea at the Windsor Court is very highly recommended if you are looking for a nice way to spend an hour or so in the afternoon.

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Dinner at Riomar:

This meal came about because I was dining solo a couple of months ago at the bar at August, and struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to me. I asked the bartender to put the couple's bottle of wine on my tab. When they found out that I had bought their wine, they finally introduced themselves as Adolfo Garcia, chef/owner of Riomar, and his wife. He insisted that I come by his restaurant next time I was in town. Boy am I glad we did.

We walked in the room to find Adolfo expediting outside the open kitchen. He warmly greeted us, and told us that we were in his hands for the night. We then proceeded to enjoy a 9 course dinner, complete with wines, that just knocked my socks off. I can't describe it any better than these pictures. I will link to the first in the series... feel free to scroll through and read the captions for descriptions:

http://tinyurl.com/ctuqpk

Suffice it to say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one for which I am eternally thankful to Chef Adolfo Garcia.

Riomar also gets my highest recommendation, and next time we go I won't even mind paying full price.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this report as much as I enjoyed writing it. Comments are welcome.

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  1. Rio Mar rocks. You should also try their steak restaurant, La Boca. Glad you had a good time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: N.O.Food

      Riomar definitely rocks. And it helps that the owner/chef is such a decent guy.

      1. re: JazzyB

        I will have to try RioMar now because of this review thank you.

      2. Enjoyed that so much, great reporting. Looks like you had a wonderful celebration.
        I'm from the Biloxi area, so I'm your neighbor to the west. On our next visit to
        NO, we'll definately eat at Rio Mar (is that the right name?).

        8 Replies
        1. re: bayoucook

          Yep, that's the right name. Rio Mar is a great restaurant. I don't see it get recommended that often on here probably because most people are looking for local creole/cajun cuisine. Rio Mar is central/south american. Lots of Ceviches, Arroz dishes, etc., with tapas at lunch. We eat there probably more than any nice restaurant in town. I just normally don't recommend it unless someone asks for something in the CBD/warehouse district. And I doubt many people go there when they find out what type of food they serve. My impression is that most visitors will choose local cuisine over ethnic. It's not the best restaurant in town, but it is very consistent and very good. My only complaint is that the menu has hardly changed in 5 years. Even their specials repeat. That said, we have favorite dishes that we get just about every time we go, so it's not that big of a deal to not have new things to try.

          My favs at rio mar: If you go at lunch, ask for a "feed me." You'll get more tapas than you'll know what to do with. 6 of us did this last monday, and everything was great, as always. For dinner: tuna wrapped in serrano ham (one of the best fish dishes in town), hangar steak, ceviche sampler, pulled pork, arroz with squid ink, zarzuela, etc. Also, don't forget tres leches and banana empanadas for dessert.

          1. re: N.O.Food

            Sounds so good. How do they cook the tuna wrapped in ham? How is their wine list?
            Their by the glass list?

            1. re: bayoucook

              They take a big tuna steak, wrap it in shaved serrano, and sear it on all sides, resulting in a crisp ham shell around a cool tuna center. Served with pureed chick peas and romesco sauce. It's one of my favorite dishes in town. Don't miss the ceviches either. Those are can't miss. Can't comment on their wine list. Sorry.

              1. re: N.O.Food

                Got to echo what N.O. Food said... the serrano wrapped tuna steak was definitely a highlight of our 9-course meal.

                He is also correct when he says that the ceviches are not to be missed, particularly the Ecuadorian, served with a popcorn garnish!

                1. re: Andrew in Alabama

                  Andrew,

                  "Enquiring minds want to know" [SIC]. how was the wine list?

                  So far, the food sounds great, but I'm an avowed wino, so that little detail can go a long way.

                  Thanks,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Rio Mar's wine list is primarily Spanish with some Chilean and Argentine mixed in for good measure and one or two bottles of domestic. It is not mind blowing but solid and works with the food. I usually order a white due to the delicious seafood dishes on the menu - an Albarino, Txakoli or something from Rueda. But don't take my word for it - see for yourself: http://www.riomarseafood.com/menu.asp...

                    1. re: bodie

                      Thank you for the report. Glad to hear about the Spanish and the Argentenian offerings. Of the many hundreds of Chilean wines, that I've sampled, I've yet to be impressed. Still, looks like a lot of alternates. Almost anything from the Mendoza Region is worht the price, and the effort.

                      Hunt

                2. re: N.O.Food

                  Stop! I have not yet eaten today, and you are making me very hungry. Sounds very interesting and good food.

                  Hunt

          2. Glad everyone likes Riomar.

            Here is a link. It is an easy walk from anywhere in the CBD (we walked from Windsor Court) and even from the FQ.

            http://www.riomarseafood.com/

            1 Reply
            1. Thanks Andrew for celebrating in New Orleans!
              Your report was interesting to read & loved the pix!
              Adolfo Garcia is a doll & I'm glad you made it to Rio Mar.

              Now, when you come back, you absolutely have to go to Rio Mar's sister,
              La Boca. As a local, I can hardly wait til my next visit to La Boca!

              Check out the pix on the website.
              http://www.labocasteaks.com/

              Trust me, Dar will love it & you will too!

              1. I showed my husband your review of Rio Mar and we plan on trying that out as well. It looks fabulous! Thanks for the suggestions. P.S. I feel the same as you about Brennans, although the Banana's Foster is impressive.

                1. Andrew,

                  Thank you for the insightful reviews.

                  Unfortunately, you did not receive the same fare, as did we, at Brennan's. What you describe was what we were used to, going back some decades. Obviously, they have not "gotten it," and we've just been lucky on our last couple of visits. For them, I did the two reviews, that I never thought I'd write, but they did manage to put it all together.

                  Same for The New Orleans Grill. Our fist visit, sounded like your drive from AL to LA. Still, they came through and impressed the heck out of us.

                  Sorry that Brennan's did not. Your meal is more in keeping with those of others on this board. Again, gotta' say that we must have been extremely fortunate.

                  Your time and reviews are greatly appreciated,

                  Hunt

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Bill,

                    Thanks for the reply. Your latest review of Grill Room was a major reason I wanted to try it, and you can see we had a fantastic time.

                    I don't want anyone to have the impression that I was unhappy with Brennan's... on the contrary, I am very glad we went. It is just not a place I would go out of my way to return, except for the Bananas Foster.