NOLA Diary, 12/8-12/11; Long and Boring
I want to start this post by expressing our appreciation to the locals, ex-pats, and visitors, regular posters, sometime posters and onetime posters, who have shared their knowledge and experiences on the myriad choices in food, drink, and entertainment in NOLA. We tacked on a 3 night, 3 day visit to NOLA at the end of a 3 week Thanksgiving trip to North Carolina, flying in on Tuesday night, 12/8, and leaving on Friday night, 12/11. A lot of our trip planning came from this board, and we had a great time. BTW, this post is long and boring. I enjoyed writing it, though, because now I’ve got a written memory of a really great visit. Blow by blow:
Night 1 – Checked into the Omni Royal Orleans (chosen partially because of a post on this board) and got a great room on the 7th floor. Plan A for dinner was Galatoire’s, but, since it was raining on and off, we decided on a shorter walk and went to the Pelican Club instead. On a wet night, the restaurant was a cheery sight with its holiday decorations. The restaurant was less than half full, and we were seated in the center dining room. Really liked the understated décor with the local artwork on the walls. We started with a cucumber julep (very good drink with the Hendrick’s gin) and vodka martini, then split turtle soup, scallop stuffed artichokes, crab and shrimp cakes, an entrée of paneed drum with lump crabmeat, and a white and dark chocolate bread pudding. Everything was good, but the scallops were sensational, with a nice, light crust, full, sweet flavor, and a perfectly complementary lemon beurre blanc. The crab&shrimp cake was all shellfish with a magic binder to hold it together. The bottle of Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc we got turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to all our dishes. The bread pudding was a nice ending.
The rain let up, so we stopped in at Carousel Bar. Eddie was tending bar and made perfect recommendations, a rusty nail for me and a nutty Irishman for DW. After awhile, three guys sat down next to us. They turned out to be local musicians who, like us, had just come from the Pelican Club. The one next to me lived about 5 minutes away, and was semi-retired, playing only when he felt like it. His new hobby was food, and he and his buddies raved about the quail, duck, and lamb chops from the Reveillon menu. Sounded really good; we’ll have to try it next December. We started talking about restaurants, and he said we had to go to Stella! and MiLa before leaving town.
Day 2 – went to Café du Monde and got a bag of beignets and 2 hot chocolates to go. Beignets were a little doughy and heavy near the center, not what we were expecting. Then it was a streetcar to the Garden Room at Commander’s for lunch, which turned out to be the best overall dining experience of our visit. The hospitality couldn’t have been better if we’d been well-liked family members. We split the soup 1-1-1, crab cake, citrus salad, oyster absinthe dome, shrimp&tasso henican, and a meyer lemon flan, accompanied by 3 martinis each. I lobbied hard with DW for the bread pudding, but the flan won out. The soups were turtle, shrimp and mirliton, and gumbo ya-ya. The gumbo was a real winner, with a delicious smokiness and baconiness throughout. The oyster dome and shrimp henican were right up there, too, but the gumbo was my favorite. Martinis were excellent. Again, the hospitality by everyone was genuinely warm, not the least bit forced. Can’t wait to return and capture the magic again.
After lunch, we wandered through the Lafayette Cemetery across the street and a few blocks around the restaurant, then hopped the streetcar down the rest of St. Charles and back downtown before it got dark. Then happy hour at the Rib Room Bar and a brief rest before heading to Galatoire’s for dinner.
We loved Galatoire’s, but I made a serious mistake not having our waiter order. I had tunnel vision on having the goute and pompano meuniere amandine w. crab, not thinking that we’d done pretty much all seafood for our last 2 meals (excluding beignets). Our dinner also included potatoes soufflé (delightful), oysters en brochette and a seafood salad (again with the seafood) , along with a sazerac, martini, and a couple of very good pinot grigios recommended by Robert, our waiter. He also recommended the banana bread pudding with ice cream for dessert, which proved to be a great ending after the seafood orgy. I really should have let him order dinner for us. Anyway, we’ll be back.
Back to the Carousel Bar after Galatoire’s. I was pretty full, so just drank port. DW stuck with the nutty Irishman. Parker was the bartender and was great. A guy sat down next to us, who turned out to be a local attorney. He’d flown in from Houston that morning, had a 4 hour lunch at Commander’s, then a business dinner downtown. I mentioned that we were thinking of walking down to Frenchmen St., and he recommended Snug Harbor, but definitely not walking. He said walking outside the boundaries of the Quarter at night was asking for trouble. Even in his neighborhood, about 3 blocks from Commander’s, there was a definite boundary between safe and not safe. We talked about where we’d eaten, and when I asked his preference between Commander’s and Galatoire’s, he said Galatoire’s without hesitation. He also told us to try the Reveillon menu at Broussard’s for something a little different.
Day 3 – the front page of the Times-Picayune had a story about the announcement on Wednesday of a surprise purchase of majority ownership of Galatoire’s by mayoral candidate John Georges from Todd Trosclair, who’d come to an agreement with the Galatoire family on his own purchase of a majority share from them on Tuesday. I had no idea of the implications of either of these deals, but I thought it interesting that the article said that the general manager didn’t find out about Mr. Georges’s involvement until Wednesday afternoon.
Clear and sunny today, but cold with a stiff breeze. A brisk walk to August for the 3 course lunch special, without a doubt the best food of our visit. While Commander’s was our best overall experience, nobody’s food was better than August’s. We each ordered and split separate starters, mains, and desserts, so we ended up with a 6 course tasting. The menu contained 3 choices each of starters, mains, and desserts. Our starters were pate de campagne with toasted brioche and wild salmon tartare (the tartare was actually from the a la carte menu; ours should have been wild smoked salmon crunchy roll, but miscommunication with the server). The mains were stewed green lentils with bacon and duck schmaltz crostini, and shrimp and okra stew over risotto. Desserts were cheese crepes with pumpkin ice cream and 3 sugar crusted, dark chocolate fritters, on top of quince, satsuma, and crabapple puree, respectively. We started with an amuse of fish sabayon topped with caviar served in an eggshell. Wow. Pretty to look at, eggy, fishy, rich, and creamy. Every dish was as good, if not better, than its description on the menu. The only slightly unexciting dish was the cheese crepes. Service was very good, if not warm. Not bringing us a list of sparkling by the glass when we asked about them, but instead, reciting the choices, was a little irksome. Interestingly, when I commented to the server picking up our dessert plates how consistently good and creative everything was, he said that if we had an open meal left on our trip, we had to try Stella! Hmmm, two recommendations for Stella! BTW, at $20.09 per person the food was a heckuva value, the drinks less so.
Walked to Snug Harbor after lunch to see how far it was and to read the night’s menu at Stella! The area around Frenchmen St. did look a little sketchy. When I got back to the room, DW really wanted beef for dinner. There wasn’t anything really beefy on the Stella! menu, so we came up with an idea for a progressive dinner. As we were leaving the room for dinner, I made a reservation at Dickie Brennan’s for 45 min. later. We went to Mr. B’s, which was all dressed up for Christmas and really festive. We got the last 2 seats at the bar and got served right away. We ordered a martini each, then a gumbo ya-ya and a small bbq shrimp. As busy as things were, the bartender was terrific, setting up our ”table” and turning around our orders lickety split. The martinis were overflowing and good. The gumbo was really good, but not as good as the one at Commander’s. The bbq shrimp was also very tasty, but I’ll have to try others’ versions to see if it’s best. The starter course was cheap for what we got; $7 was a great deal on the martinis. Went across the street to Dickie Brennan’s and were glad we had a reservation; there were at least a dozen people waiting for tables. The steaks passing by our table looked and smelled great, but DW was feeling like prime rib. So we split a large prime rib, chopped salad, potatoes au gratin, roasted asparagus, and an inexpensive, but what turned out to be a really good, bottle of Napa cabernet. The beef was okay; it was cooked perfectly, but nothing special. The salad was very good, and the potatoes were heavenly. Lots of gruyere, butter, cream, perfectly cooked potatoes --- you could just stick your face in it. The asparagus was also outstanding, with a savory smokiness in every bite. Service was really good, especially given how crowded they were. Our server had just returned to NOLA 3 weeks before, after spending 3 years in Tennessee getting it back together after Katrina.
No room for dessert, so did our last nightcap at…. Carousel Bar! The bar was packed, and we had to wait for seats at the bar. Eddie and Parker were both working and remembered our drinks. I switched to sazeracs, DW stuck with nutty Irishman. We sat next to a couple that live about 7 miles from our place in San Diego. They were visiting their two daughters, who share a tiny apartment across the street from Brangelina’s mansion in the French Quarter. We told them we were envious that they had an excuse to visit regularly.
Day 4 – plane didn’t leave until 7 pm, so we had brunch at Brennan’s. Cloudy day and colder than yesterday. There was a business reception in the courtyard; they had to be freezing. Bloody marys and mimosas to take the edge off, then we split a full breakfast. Only 1 starter was included (we got creole onion soup), but I wanted turtle soup as a side order. The server just threw it in, no charge. Our main was eggs Sardou, and our finish, of course, was bananas foster. The turtle soup was the best of the 3 I sampled (Pelican Club and Commander’s, too), with a hearty stock, but I actually liked DW’s creole onion better, with its rich, beefy, thickened stock. Must have been in the mood. The Sardou was fantastic, perfectly poached egg and some of the best creamed spinach I’ve had, not drowning in cream, like a lot of steakhouses do. The bananas foster is the original, and worth the price of admission. Service was fabulous, what we’re starting to think now is the norm in New Orleans. I wanted to have grilled oysters at Acme for late lunch, but ran out of room. Just got a muffuletta at Central Grocery, half of which we ate on the plane, the rest after we got home.
Glad I read kukubura’s and hazelhurst’s comments on jacket and tie. I haven’t worn a jacket this much since before the days of business casual. Can’t say we got better treatment because of it, but I felt a lot more comfortable in it than I would have in business casual. This was a really special trip. We can’t wait to do it again. Thanks, chowhounds, and thanks, NOLA.
Great report! We're heading there on Friday and this definitely puts me in the mood! Next time, do explore Frenchmen St. and the Marigny. It is a wonderful area; keep your wits about you, like you would anywhere, but I always feel safe over there; there are often tons of people around on Frenchmen esp. on the weekends. We do take a cab BACK to the quarter if we stay out late though.