Trip report 9/10-9/13 (long)
First off, a big thanks to all the NOLA CHers who helped us decide what to do for those afternoons and nights we hadn't made plans. Below is our list of places and what we had, with opinions. Thanks again, and thanks for reading.
Arrived at our hotel (Windsor Court - where we were promptly upgraded to a full size suite - Nice!), checked in, and walked to Mr B's. Michael, our bartender set the stage with wonderful $1.50 bloddy Mary's (my new favorite thing is hot pickled green beans!). My wife ordered the famous BBQ shrimp, and I had the pasta Jambalaya (so we could try different things). The Jambalaya was very good, with chicken, duck, shrimp and sausage with a spinach fettucine. The BBQ Shrimp was spectacular as advertised! The shrimp themselves are very good, but what makes this dish is that amazing sauce. My wife generally doesn't eat much bread, and I'm not a big bread dunker, but both of us were dunking bread into that sauce until we'd sopped it all up. Jimmy, a lawyer who was working over lunch and cocktails near us at the bar, kept us very entertained while we were there. A great start.
Dinner that night was at Restaurant August. I've read some disparaging things about John Besh's restaurants, but I must say, this was one of the best meals I've had in ages. We went for the 7 course tasting menu, with wine pairings.
Amuse: Sabayon egg in the shell with truffle, caviar and brioche stick - yum!
1st course White gazpacho with almonds, garlic flan and foam, and muscat grapes. Truly great soup with the flan having the mouth feel of foie gras.
2nd course Mozzarella and tomato salad, where the tomatoes were turned into a mousse and then incorporated into the insdie of the cheese, very tasty and playful, Served with a basil pesto to round out the flavors.
3rd course Flounder crusted in fennell with a stuffing underneath of blue crab and gulf shrimp. Perfectly cooked fish, and great stuffing (and I'm not a huge crab fan).
4th course Scallop served with a crispy pig foot terrine above and below the scallop in a chorizo sauce. Excellent sauce, and terrine, but neither my wife or I are scallop people, so even though it was cooked very well, we just don't love the taste of scallops. Minus the scallop, and this was a great dish (blasphemy, I know).
5th course Petit filet of beef in oxtail jus with shredded oxtail on top. I moved the small disc of anchovy butter off my steak (please keep your stinky fish away from my beef!), but otherwise, perfect.
6th course Stewed figs over a fig cake. Indescribably delicious.
7th course Chocolate three ways, a dense dark chocolate mousse, with white chocloate cream, and a beignet like item with chocolate melted inside. My wife isn't a big fried food fan, so I got most of hers ars well.
Check came with two nice pieces of peanut brittle and 2 blueberry financiers. Perfect end to a perfect meal.
In addition, during the day we had Sazeracs and French 75's at the Carousel Bar - very cool, and the mandatory one Hurricaine at Pat O'Briens- great room, but why would anyone drink more than one of these sugar bombs is beyond me. We wanted to have one crappy drink on Bourbon St, and that was it!
Stared off with coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Always good (we've had them in Atlanta). They didn't have quite the mound of powdered sugar on them in Atlanta, however! It was fun listening to the tourist couple behind us wondering what those "donut thingys" were, and complaining they didn't have eggs. Walked along the riverfront and took in the aquarium, very nice, very logically set up. Glad to see it came back well after Katrina.
Lunch: Herbsaint. Another stellar meal, another excellent Sazarac. I had a delicious duck and sausage gumbo, followed by yellow fin tuna with a soft boiled egg, baby spinach and onion salad and a crostini with black olive tapenade. The wife had a salad with blue cheese and bacon, and the gnocchi with ham, asparagus, and parmesan. I liked how the gnocchi were lightly seared. I had roasted peaches with honeysuckle ice cream and delish corn madelines for dessert, and my wife had an amazing ultrasmooth butterscotch caramel with cofee flavored cream and sugar cookies. Just great.
Dinner: Met some friends who live in the city, and they took us to a place near them called Cafe Atchfalaya. My friend had a shrimp and sausage gumbo that I tasted which was good, though not as good as the one I had at Herbsaint. My wife had fried green tomato salad with crabmeat, which she liked very much, and I had an amazing red bean and chorizo soup. Our friends wife had the scallop special, which she raved about, my friend had redfish which he liked very much, I had a very good bourbon glazed pork chop with mashed potatoes and collard greens (excellent), and my wife had shrimp and grits, which were sublime, especially the creamy cheesy grits. I finally understand why people like grits now!
Drinks earlier at Napoleon House (Pimm's Cups) very cool room, and a beer after dinner with our friend at Le Bon Rouler Temps in his neighborhood.
Saturday 9/12, our 22nd anniversary.
Breakfast was at Eat in the quarter. My wife had a cheddar mushroom omelet with amazing biscuit and plain grits (still don't see the appeal of those), and I had fried green tomotoes with fried eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit. Truly awesome biscuits, and great coffee - thankfully a recurring theme in NOLA. I love coffee, and hate getting crappy coffee. Went to the Presbtyr (sp?) for an amzing exhibit on Mardi Gras and the Zulu krewe. Disapointed that the pharmacy museum was closed all weekend, as that is my profession, and it looked really cool through the windows. Stopped by Central Grocery for a shared half muffalatta (wish we were hungrier then, as I would have loved a half for myself), excellent, and I'll make sure to get a half for myself next time. Stopped at Arnaud's for French 75's and then the Hotel Roosevelts for Sazeracs, the best ones on the trip.
Dinner: Commander's Palace. Decided on the 6 course tasting menu with wine pairings. This was the first misstep on the trip.
First course was vodka and caviar beignets, which were nice, thouugh not very hot, more luke warm to cool, and the paired wine didn't arrive until after we had almost finished the dish.
Second course: Roasted Peaches with seared fois gras and fois gras ice cream. Not a bad dish, but again, it arrived cool (I expect the ice cream and peaches to be cool, but not the seared foie). The ice cream was by far the best part of the dish.
Third course: A shot of Starbucks coffee liquor mixed with almond liquor. First off, this isn't a "course". It's a too sweet drink for the middle of a meal (would have played much better with dessert) and I think it's disingenous at the least to call it a 6 course tasting when one course is a shot.
Fourth Course: Pork cheek rillettes. This was probably the best dish of the meal, but again didn't come to the table hot enough, like it had been sitting waiting for a server to bring it out.
Fifth Course: Bouef Bourguignon with Kobe beef. Finally a dish that arrived piping hot! Very tasty, but I question why you would take such a delicate style of beef like kobe and then use it in a preparation where it cooks forever. This dish would not have tasted any different if you used a cheap cut of beef, that's kind of the point, isn't it?
Sixth course: Peach "pie" with vanilla ice cream. Pie was a cresent of dough stuffed with peach filling and deep fried, more like a Hostess fruit pie than an actual pie. Accompanied by one of the worst cups of coffee I've ever had, certainly the worst cup I had in all of NOLA.
I understand that it's a classic place, with a rich history, and we loved the setting, but I expect so much more when you charge what we paid (second most expensive meal after August) and when you expect me to wear a jacket, for a meal that was so lacking, especially when compared to every other dinner (or lunch for that metter) that we had. Perhaps lunch/brunch is better as some had suggested, but we thought a nice dress up place would be good for our anniversary dinner, and I still would have been served that terrible coffee at brunch. The only down note in a long weekend of high notes.
Breakfast: We had booked an early tour to see parts of the city we would have missed otherwise, so we trekked out in the seemingly endless rain to get some breakfast at The Old Coffee Pot. Arrived at 7:40 only to find the restaurant closed. We were about to leave when 3 older guys pulled up in a cab. We asked if they knew when the place opened, and they said 8, and suggestecthat we really should wait. We are so glad we did! The wait staff let us all in a bit early for drinks, and we had a nice bloody mary (with 3 of those delish string beans!), and awesome coffee as we waied for the kitchen to open. We loved the older ladies who were waitresses, as they were very funny, chiding the guys about not all of them ordering bloody marys, and at one point picking up one of the guys forks and feeding him a piece of fruit off his plate! My wife had eggs creole which had a great creole sauce (though they did give her grits instead of the ordered home fries). I had the Lost Bread which was French toast made with po-boy bread with powdered sugar and maple syrup. I paired this with some corned beef hash. It was canned hash, but they made up for it by adding green peppers and scallions to it, so it was better than your average canned hash.
Lunch: Johnny's Po-Boy Restaurant. The wife had a roast beef po-boy, and I had the Johnny's special roast beef, ham, and two types of cheese. Both really good, though, I'm not a huge fan of soggy bread (and boy does it get soggy!). It was too much bread for my wife (she barely eats any bread), but she worked around it. I also finally got some nice red beans and rice, which were very good, but I still prefer the ones at Popeyes! We both preffered the muffalatta to the po-boy, though I think a less soggy one would be fine with either of us. In between lunch and dinner we stopped at the Ritz bar for drinks, and also at The Intercontinental (as we were a bit early for our reservation at Luke).
Dinner: Luke. Another Besh restauant, another great meal. I had the fried pig foot starter which was perfect. My wife had a frisee salad with soft boiled egg and bacon. For dinner she had their version of a Cuban sandwich which was very good (she gave me half) with yummy fries that the waiter said were blanched in water for 30 days. I'm not sure they need to do that, but they were quite tasty. My dinner was the winner, however. I originally ordered the Charcroute Garnie, as the guy sititng next to us was eating it, and it looked great. They didn't have any more, however, and I was forced into my second choice, the vanilla scented duck. This arrived as half a duck in a cast iron oval skillet with potatoes, green beans, and squash below it. This was phenomenal! I love duck, and order it frequently, and I can safely say, this was one of the two best duck preparations I've ever had. My wife, who generally doesn't like duck, proclaimed it her favorite single dish on the entire trip! Yeah, it was that good! I had a simple creme brulee for dessert which came with a sugar cookie and some Maine blueberries.
All in all a truly spectacular visit, and wonderful people , drinks, and food. We can't wait to return to your fair city to try some of the places we didn't get to, and to hopefully experience some sunnier weather! Thanks again everyone, it was a phenomenal trip!
Glad to know this for the next time, as we knew going in that we weren't going to love the scallop course, but everything else sounded so good (and the sauce the scallop was with was fab), so we went for it. If we had swapped out the scallop, this amazing meal would have been perfect! Thanks for the info!
fyi, the coffee at Commander's is very strong chicory - the strongest drip coffee that I've been served in nola (not counting vietnamese varieties). If you don't like chicory, I understand your reaction. I agree that, for some reason, Commander's isn't as good for dinner as it is for lunch. I have no idea why, but that seems to be the pattern. For me, lunch hasn't been anything less than spectacular since Katrina.
I know that Cafe Du Monde's coffee also uses chicory, though obviously not as much, as I love their coffee, so Commaders must use an amount of chicory that's too over the top for my tastes. I have no problem usually with strong coffee (and I drink it black), but CP's was just bitter and bad tasting to me at least.
I remember many people diluting coffee beginning in the late 1960's, when such offenses af F-----'s and T-----'s C----e began their inexorable assaults and perverted tastes. My mother diluted our classic Creole drip-pot coffee(well, she was f'um Miss'ippi). My father drank it straight--I added sugar until I was 12 and have had cofffee black since then. But restaurant coffee got thinner, that is for sure. The CP stuff I've had that was bad was just plain burnt. When it is not burnt, it is fine black. No matter what, it should "stain the side of the cup"
You obviously made excellent choices, except perhaps for the dinner at Commander's. I'm in a minority that has never thought the food experience at Commander's is all that wonderful (some people get real exercised when one says that!), so for me it's lunch or brunch if I really need the rest of the Commander's experience, which can be great. But I agree, not worth the dinner bucks.
I'm a great fan of John Besh so I'm glad you enjoyed his restaurants. And I'm glad, but not surprised, to hear that Herbsaint delivered. And I think The Coffee Pot is perfect for breakfast though I somehow always manage to forget about it when people ask for suggestions.
Hurry back, 'cause y'all sure know how to do New Orleans!