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Review of Recent Foodie NO tour

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Hello all...pretty new to these boards but over the past few weeks I had been using CH extensively to plan a trip to New Orleans. So I thought I "owe" the board a review...maybe someone else can benefit like I did. I'll apologize in advance for the length and detail.

We were there Nov. 7-11 2009. For reference, it was my first trip to NO and my wife's 3rd.

Got in late on 11/7 and went straight to Cafe Du Monde after dropping our bags at the hotel. I've had beignets before, but these were my first "official" ones. Very nice. Light and fluffy - kind of like a well cooked funnel cake (and I mean that as a compliment). We later tried from Cafe Beignet - and those were different. Maybe a little more "bready" and tough. Not bad, but different. More like a zeppola for those that are familiar.

Breakfast day 2 at Stanley. I ordered the Pastrami and corn beef hash with poached eggs with creole hollandaise and my wife had the Eggs Stanley - basically the same but Canadian Bacon instead of pastrami and corn beef plus fried oysters on top. Also a Bloody Mary.

Really nice breakfast. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the meat large chunks, and the oysters fried delicately. I'm not a bloody mary person, but my wife said it was the best she's had.

Skipped lunch as we had a reservation that night at Restaurant August. After reading many reviews, we were very excited to try the degustation and pair with the wines.

Overall, I think my expectations were a little too high going in. But repeatedly I read that it was one of the top meals in NO. For reference, when I'm hearing "top meal" I'm thinking back to experiences at French Laundry, Per Se, Susur in Toronto, Inn at Little Washington in VA...not that I expected that level exactly, but that's where my mind wanders. I thought is was a good meal, but kind of clumsy in many ways. Maybe an off night based on reviews but I'm not sure I'd go back to find out.

Amuse - a truffled egg cream topped with caviar served in an eggshell. Really a beautiful presentation and nice delicate flavor. But really rich and for an amuse, a pretty big serving. But a nice start.

Tartare of line caught salmon - nice balance between the salmon, the cream, and the pickled cauliflower garnish on top - plus the roe. But again, a very big serving for something so rich. And two rich, creamy dishes in a row started to coat the palate. Plus caviar and salmon roe back to back dishes started to feel like a bit of a repeat, though I'm sure some would argue it was a nice thread between the dishes. Wine paring was J. Dumangin Brut 17, a NV Champagne from a "grower." BEAUTIFUL paring.

Agnolotti of Louisiana blue crab with porcini mushroom and tomato confit - really nice flavors here but over-salted. Again, another very rich dish from butter and at this point I'm really looking for something a bit understated. A big awkward porcini mushroom in the bottom of the dish. Paired with a Chardonnay - JM Boillot 2007 - again, another BEAUTIFUL pairing.

Crispy Seared Scallop larded with La Provence bacon, braised green lentils, poached marrow and sauce Bordelaise - a much heavier dish with good flavors. Again, over-salted, as was becoming a theme. And not just over-seasoned, but actually salty tasting. Scallop was cooked perfectly with a nice sear. Lentils were very nice as was the sauce. But we both thought the poached marrow was odd in texture - kind of like congealed fat. one of those bites I wish I didn't have. And the bacon under the scallop was sort of "raw" - the fat wasn't rendered and it was more fatty and chewy than anything else. Again, awkward comes to mind. Paired with Beniot Germain Pinot Noir - not a good pairing. I think the wine might have been fine on its own, but it just couldn't stand up to the Bordelaise. Our captain even said he didn't think it was a tough pairing.

Cane syrup lacquered pork belly, corn bread stuffing, black eyed peas and pot liquor - overall, wonderful flavors and perfectly cooked pork belly the cane syrup was an amazing touch and set off the pork. But once again, very salty. And not just "hey it's pork belly, what do you expect" salty but the kind where you are reaching for your water faster than they can keep the glass filled. Paired with a Grenache/Syrah blend from France - good, solid pairing.

Petite filet of beef with slow cooked oxtail and ragout of baby root vegetables - good flavors except again, too salty. Oxtail was really intense in a very good way. But a filet on a degustation? Not very imaginative nor inventive. While a good solid dish, I'm left feeling like it was a throw-away default kind of thing. Paired with a CA Robert Foley Cab/Petite Sirah/Merlot blend. A very nice wine on its own and a decent pairing. But the wine had a bit of a funky "blue fruit" edge to it that didn't seem to fit with the dish. Not bad, but I was left thinking of a bunch of wines in our cellar that would have paired better.

Warm poached pear terrine, candied walnut, herbed goat cheese and tarragon. The terrine seemed kind of bland but all the sauces and walnuts/cheese around the plate were outstanding. Paired with a NV Moscato D'Asti from Italy. Didn't care for the wine alone, nor as a pairing.

Chocolate prepared 3 ways. Very nice way to end the evening. But again, the wine pairing...a late harvest Grenache from France - served I believe way too cold. We asked the captain about it but he said the sommelier had left for the evening. Odd we thought for her to leave before 9:30 - and in fact, we saw her buzzing around to other tables a couple of minutes earlier. But she never stopped by and we never bothered to follow up. Once the wine warmed up, we understood why it was served so cold. Really a harsh edge to the wine that I guess was being masked by the cold. Again, not a wine I would have served alone nor a good pairing.

Service was awkward all night. The kitchen was way too fast paced for the service and for the dining pleasure for those enjoying a degustation. They were clearing and bringing the next dish as soon as we'd put our silver down. They skipped a course and we had to correct them (they bring the menu for the degustation so you can follow along). Our captain was very friendly and casual - we were comfortable, but it wasn't what you'd expect from one of the best restaurants in town. As if to explain some of the service issues, our captain told us it is "a kitchen driven restaurant." And it felt that way, and not in a good way.

Since this is now longer than intended, I'll give quick hits on the rest...

- had breakfast at Mother's simply due to convenience. Great atmosphere and everyone is really nice. But nothing we ate had any taste. Wouldn't go back, wouldn't recommend.

- Acme oyster company - my wife loved the raw oysters (not my thing) but the grilled oysters were like an epiphany. They were so perfectly cooked with the cheese and garlic on top! On the french bread topped with some chipotle Tabasco (and a Turbo Dog on draft)...Oh my goodness was that one of those perfect pairings we are always looking for!!!

- As good as Acme was, Felix's across the street was equally bad. For a number of reasons, but basically I wouldn't recommend, nor would I ever go back. Sad I think, because friends and family had high praises in the past.

- Back to Stanley for another "brunch." Banana's foster french toast split between the two of us and then shared the Korean BBQ Beef Tenderloin and house kimchee poor boy - again, amazing!! Especially that poor boy - very rare beef with the kimchee...almost went back AGAIN for that dish...

- Way out of our way for Parkway Bakery and Tavern po boys. And well worth the effort! Had a surf and turf (shrimp and roast beef)...neat combination but next time I'd skip the shrimp part. The roast beef was out of this world, call home to mother kind of good. Wife had an oyster po boy that she thought was very good. Clearly the roast beef stole the show. Sweet potato fries were also outstanding - perfectly crisp on the outside.

- Muff from Central Grocery - a classic.

Again, sorry for the length, but maybe someone will enjoy it.

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  1. It surprises me to hear of a "captain" in a restaurant...I have not seen a Grand Platoon of staff in a US restaurant in thirty years

    1. Thanks for the review. Unfortunately, we don't have anything that's in the same ballpark as per se, french laundry, etc. Stella and August are the closest we have, but I agree, they're nowhere near the caliber of places you listed. We just have lots of solid food. Thanks again!

      7 Replies
      1. re: N.O.Food

        I mentioned those other restaurants more as a point of reference based on what I was reading and hearing. I didn't really expect that level of experience, however if you are going to charge that much for the dinner, I expect more.

        over $400 for 2 people. That's right up there with those other restaurants.

        It certainly wasn't a bad meal at all. I'd say "very solid" is a good way of putting it.

        1. re: purplefiggy

          I agree with you 100%. No one should expect that kind of experience in nola.

          1. re: purplefiggy

            August: $400 for 2 w/wine pairing.
            Per Se: $550 for 2, without wine.
            As I recall, wine pairing at August runs $75pp. Conservatively adding another $150 to Per Se's tab brings you to $700 for 2.

            1. re: JazzyB

              Based on what you were expecting You would have been much happier at Stella!
              Stanley's posh sister.
              http://www.restaurantstella.com/

              Mother's is a tourist trap and hasn't been good in years....

              1. re: Suzy Wong

                The OP doesn't say what he had for breakfast at Mother's that he couldn't taste, and I haven't been there since just before the hurricane, but on my last visit (and on several-dozen trips before that) the black ham, biscuits, grits, and coffee made for an outstanding breakfast with great taste and satisfaction. I'd hate to think their ham has fallen down or that thousands of New Orleans tourist "traps" no longer offer good food. Incidentally, at Mother's I've always seen lots of (what appear to be) local people quietly reading the paper at early breakfast and have never felt trapped.

                -----
                Mother's Restaurant
                401 Poydras St, New Orleans, LA 70130

                1. re: Suzy Wong

                  Please, don't anyone reading, go to stella! UNLESS you want to eat in a library atmosphere. I don't even remember the food there because it was so stiff and cold and un-fun. You will understand when I say it is a "whisper" place.

                  1. re: Ambiance

                    afraid ill have to disagree w/ Ambiance's warning -- Stella! is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city right now, and food is the #1 consideration. if you dont remember what you ordered...well, thats a shame, because some of their dishes are amazing.

                    while it is quiet in the smaller dining room, that is by no way a bad thing -- sometimes i like loud spaces, and sometimes i like private conversations. whats wrong with choosing one over the other?

                    tho to further challenge the library assertion, one visit was with a group of 6 or so and we were seated in the front dining room, where a party could be a bit louder without distracting other diners.

          2. We had a great meal at August (not the degustation) in April, but I have to agree about the service/pacing. We started with a half bottle of champagne with our appetizers and ordered a bottle of red to go with the dinner - the appetizers were cleared and the dinners arrived and the wine was not yet opened! We sent them back. Apologies were profuse (including from the manager) and we had new dinners prepared and served about 20 minutes later, so they made up for it - but I was really surprised they'd err with service like that. (It was not overly crowded or at the end of the evening's service). The food however, was not overly salted during our meal.
            Also, we ate at Stanely for our last brunch and realized - at the airport gate - that we had left a package at our table. We called. They called back. They found it. I explained our situation and low and behold about a week later our package arrived at our home. Talk about service!

            1. This is a great review, however it seems that you were disappointed particularly with the salt level. Personally I think that salt and seasoning is a matter of taste. Perhaps it was over seasoned for you, but perfect for another guest. Unfortunately in restaurants you just can't please every palate that comes in the doors. Next time you come to town you should try Irenes, it's Excellent and they tend to go a little lighter on the salt.