Reporting back: An eating trip through New Orleans.
Recently, I spent four days eating in New Orleans. In alphabetical order:
Mahoney' Po'Boy Shop
Parkwary Bakery & Tavern
I'll be reporting here anon with more details about the meals.
Alrighty folks, the last installment. The photos and yadayada can be found on my blog. For an online directory of this trip to NOLA: http://ulteriorepicure.com/2010/01/21...
Run by a family, Brigtsen’s feels like family.
And perhaps that’s why our meal here ranked so high up on my friends’ lists. The general consensus among them is that Brigtsen’s was their favorite among the restaurants we visited on this trip to New Orleans.
I can’t say that I agree, but only because I didn’t have a favorite.
Like Brigtsen’s, all the restaurants we visited had their highs and their lows. For me, no one restaurant on this trip stole the show.
But, after totaling the tallies on my own ledger, Brigtsen’s had a well-populated plus column. I can’t say that I walked out of the restaurant impressed, but I sure did walk out happy.
The food here is Creole/Acadian, the cuisine of southern Louisiana. It’s not fancy, per se, but it’s fancy for Creole/Acadian cooking; comfort with class. It’s the kind of redefined refinement one expects from a James Beard Award-winning chef.
By 2010 standards, Brigtsen’s food looks like it’s 15 years behind. It’s pretty clear that it hasn’t changed much, if at all, for a decade and change. But that matters little because the ingredients are of good quality, they’re properly handled, and, above all, the food here is truly delicious.
Shrimp Remoulade ($9.75
)Guacamole, Deviled Egg, & Mirliton Corn Relish
Filé Gumbo ($7.50/$8.75)
Rabbit andouille sausage.
Oyster & Artichoke Gratin ($9.75)
Lemon Parmesan Sauce
Butternut Shrimp Bisque ($7.50/$8.75)
Rabbit Tenderloin ($14)
Andouille Parmesan grits cake, spinach, & Creole mustard sauce.
House Salad ($8)
Satsuma, feta, spiced pecans, croutons, pickled onions, and cane-vinegar dressing.
Blackened Yellowfin Tuna ($29)
Smoked Corn Sauce, Red Bean Salsa, & Roasted Red Pepper Sour Cream.
Brigtsen’s Seafood Platter (Shell Beach Diet) ($32)
Grilled drum fish with shrimp & pistachio lime sauce
Shrimp cornbread with jalepeno smoked corn butter
Baked oyster LeRuth with shrimp and crabmeat
Baked oyster with fennel
Jalepeno shrimp cole slaw
Paneed sea scallop with asparagus puree
Sauteed Veal with Osso Bucco Sauce ($28)
Asparagus and Fontina cheese grits.
Roast Duck ($28)
Cornbread Dressing & Honey-Pecan Gravy
Pecan Pie ($7)
Banana Bread Pudding ($6)
Banana custard sauce.
Strawberry Shortcake ($7)
Strawberry Tres Leches Cake ($7)
Chocolate whipped cream.
Save one dish – two, if you’ll allow me to be extra picky – the entire meal was in the plus column.
The two soups – the “Filé Gumbo” and the “Butternut Shrimp Bisque” – were phenomenal. They were my favorites. The roux base for the gumbo was especially dark and immensely flavorful, a benchmark. Thickened with a touch of filé, it contained delicious pieces of rabbit andouille sausage.
The bisque had a more delicate flavor, though it was no less intense than the gumbo’s flavor. Tasting like equal parts shrimp and butternut squash, it was amazing. (The recipe can be found on the Brigtsen’s website.)
The “Shrimp Remoulade” could have doubled for a Creole fiesta. Who knew guacamole and remoulade went so well together? Garnished with corn and chayote relish, this dish could have doubled for a light meal.
In fact, most of the first courses could have been stretched with some bread to serve as a decent dinner.
There was a wonderful, breaded “Rabbit Tenderloin” served atop a warm grit cake with creamy Creole mustard sauce, and a rich gratin with meaty chunks of artichoke hearts and plump oysters (“Oyster & Artichoke Gratin“). Both were homey and delicious.
So was the “Sauteed Veal with Osso Bucco Sauce” with a side of Fontina grits, Houston’s main course. Incredibly tender, the schnitzel was smothered with an osso bucco sauce studded with what appeared to be nuggets of marrow. I quite liked the grits, which had a nice bit of texture to them.
Solely a matter of personal preference, I can’t say I was terribly enamored of the mashed potatoes here, which showed up on nearly every main course. I like mine rough-hewn and unadulterated. At Brigtsen’s, they’re butterized and pulverized. Thick and smooth, I found them a bit too dense and gummy.
I was equally disenchanted with my “Roast Duck,” the one true disappointment of the night. The sloppiness of the presentation aside, the deboned half duck with its skin on was overcooked – dry and tough.
The cornbread dressing underneath the duck, however, was extremely good. Sauced with a wonderful honey-pecan gravy, it was the one redeeming item on this “signature dish.”
Perhaps Brigsten’s most famous dish was also my favorite main course, “Brigtsen’s Seafood Platter,” a.k.a “The Shell Beach Diet.” This mini-seafood buffet-on-a-plate includes six items that change from time to time. I only got to try two of them, and they were both spectacular. Sauced with a fragrant, rich pistachio-lime sauce, the drum fish was meltingly soft. The shrimp cornbread with jalepeno smoked corn butter had a soft, loose crumb and just the right balance between sweet and savory, with a dash of heat cutting through it all.
As for being picky, there wasn’t anything wrong with the “Blackened Yellowfin Tuna.” A relic of the nineties fascination with the seared and raw, there was nothing great about it either. Accompanied by a well-rounded list of southwestern condiments, I found the dish surprisingly flat.
The service here might have been the best part of our experience. Rhonda was as sweet and thoughtful as Frank Brightsen’s “Pecan Pie.” She really couldn’t have been more pleasant or mindful – even holding my second first course – the “House Salad” – chilled while I ate my other one. Like a well-timed magic show, as soon as I made the rabbit disappear, she arrived with my salad, a wonderfully composed combination of sweet, tart, crunchy, spicy, creamy, and savory. It was a refreshing tail to a rather heavy start.
More thin than thick, more nut than filling, that slice of pecan pie appealed to my crunch-craving side. The higher crust and nut-to-filling ratio also tempered the sweetness – like Rhonda, it was plenty sweet, but not cloyingly so.
Like the food, the desserts here are homey and simple, the nostalgic kind that are able to disarm my oft-cerebral tastes. The “Strawberry Shortcake” boasted a moist, fluffy biscuit with a nice crust and a fluffy cloud of whipped cream floating in between.
The “Banana Bread Pudding” was warm with winter spices, a comforting dome rising from a delicious banana cream sauce pinned with three molten banana slices coated with a dark bananas Foster-like caramel.
There might have been a bit too much overlap between the the “Strawberry Tres Leches Cake” and the shortcake. And the tres leches cake might have enjoyed a longer bath (it was drier than tres leches should be). But, overall, it was a decent dessert. With a chocolate whipped cream hat and a scarlet skirt of strawberry syrup, it was a cake version of Neapolitan ice cream.
The most surprising thing about Brigtsen’s was Brigtsen’s itself.
The restaurant lives in old house. I won’t go as far as calling it frumpy, but the interior is certainly dated. Your great-grandmother might call it modern (and she’d probably insist on replacing the cracked glass on the front door).
But there’s a coziness to eating in an old parlor that fits tongue-in-groove with the familial food and service you’ll find here. As much as I bristle at the thought of the decor, I’ll admit that it has a charm that’s essential to the restaurant’s personality. Though it’s a world apart from how I had pictured the restaurant, now having been to Brigtsen’s, I can’t imagine it any other way.
723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118
re: ulterior epicure
Your review was spot-on and just the way I felt after eating there for the first time a few months ago: not sure what I was expecting in decor, but now having been there, could not imagine it any other way, mostly because of the exquisitely delicious food and impeccably comfortable and cozy service and surroundings. I love your term "redefined refinement". Perfect! I'm like you in that our trip to NO was wonderful in every dining way, but if I had to pick "one place" that rose to the top, my vote would be for Brigtsen's...
@ Christine: Thank you for your comments and your kind words.
I think you're misunderstanding me in a few respects:
1. I can't say that our trip was "wonderful in every dining way." Rather, I'd say that my friends and I had a great time. But we saw a few bad dishes, a lot of mediocre food, and a few gems.
2. Brigtsen's was not my favorite restaurant of the ones we visited on this trip. As I said above:
"And perhaps that’s why our meal here ranked so high up on my friends’ lists. The general consensus among them is that Brigtsen’s was their favorite among the restaurants we visited on this trip to New Orleans.
I can’t say that I agree, but only because I didn’t have a favorite.
Like Brigtsen’s, all the restaurants we visited had their highs and their lows. For me, no one restaurant on this trip stole the show.
But, after totaling the tallies on my own ledger, Brigtsen’s had a well-populated plus column. I can’t say that I walked out of the restaurant impressed, but I sure did walk out happy."
re: ulterior epicure
Coincidence is a curious thing. Sometimes, it can be a b*tch.
Just before dessert, the sommelier arrived with a bottle of Champagne, a gift from the chef, Scott Boswell.
To explain how this happened, let me rewind to the beginning of our meal at his restaurant, Stella!
While waiting for our first courses to arrive, I noticed an email drop in my inbox from an acquaintance – in another city and state – who knew I was in New Orleans. Was I going to Stella!?, he wanted to know.
As a matter of fact, I responded, I was just sitting down to dinner there. I added that service was slow. Incredibly slow. We had been sitting dry and hungry for over thirty minutes after ordering. No explanation. No apology. Nothing. It was a rough start.
The details are too convoluted to recount, but, in short, the contents of that email reached Boswell’s ears. Unbeknownst to me, Boswell was sitting right next to the email recipient.
What Boswell did not know at the time is that after sending that email, my friends and I sat another half hour between our second courses and our main courses. Again, no explanation. No apology. Nothing. And we sat another half hour between our main courses and our desserts. Again, not a single explanation or acknowledgment.
That’s when the bottle of Champagne arrived.
We weren’t the only ones experiencing slow service that night. Trouble was afoot in the front of the house, and probably the back as well; something was wrong.
Silverware was habitually misplaced. Plates were incorrectly assigned and delivered unannounced. Wine was poured erratically – sometimes twenty minutes before its paired dish arrived, sometimes a few minutes after.
And, it seemed, the worse things got, the more the servers avoided our table. I have eaten in enough restaurants to know that when mistakes start happening with a table, it can be very easy to let things get worse rather than stopping, apologizing, and trying to start afresh.
You would never have known by watching the efficiency and professionalism of the bartenders though. We arrived just before eight o’clock and comfortably squeezed in a cocktail and a half before being seated. They make a delightful French 75 and do a wonderful interpretation of a Sazerac in a dimpled glass.
To add insult to injury, a tart, cruel stream of cold air was directed at our table through the half-inch gap between the set of double doors near us. It was rainy and miserable outside. We were freezing. At one point, the doors blew open. There being no servers around, my friend got up and closed them.
Service and climate control issues aside, the food at Stella! was uneven. Inexcusably disappointing dishes, like the “Vegetarian Daily Composition,” were served alongside marvelous creations, like “Pan-Roasted Grouper.” That vegetable main course – priced at $31 – was the type of obligatory and overpriced afterthought that most vegetarians fear in high-end restaurants. It amounted to a small assortment of beautiful vegetables, a couple of croquettes, and some sauce, all of which arrived on the colder side of acceptable. It looked more like a first course.
Next to it was a gorgeous $34 filet of grouper worthy of praise. It was crusted with popcorn crumbs and draped across a mound of macque choux studded with crawfish tails and surrounded by a moat of rich onion butter brightened with sour cream. The flaky, moist fish was delicious.
The tasting menu – a $195, 7-course truffle progression – required the participation of the entire table (even though the hostess confirmed by phone that it did not). I asked to see the truffles. More impressed with the black ones than the white ones (not surprising given we were well into January), I inquired where these Italian black truffles were from. The server informed me that they were Burgundian. When I pointed out that the menu stated that they were Italian truffles, she insisted that they were from Italy but were called “Burgundian” truffles.* I demurred. The five of us ordered a la carte. And one of my friends and I supplemented a few courses from the tasting menu to share.
I know I try this group's patience with my long posts, so, I'll just describe a few dishes that were noteworthy. If you want all the pedantic details, you know where to look. :)
The best thing about the food at Stella! is the ingredient quality. It’s top shelf. Those black truffles are prime example. A little went a long way.
They perfumed a bowl of gnocchi, serving as an umbrella under which corn, oregano blossoms, and a twirl of salty Iberico Bellotta ham married marvelously, a balance of sweet, salty, and fragrant (“Roasted Potato and Truffle Gnocchi“).
A masterfully turned risotto studded with meaty maitake mushrooms was thoroughly imbued with black truffle aroma. The black truffle flecked the risotto and was shaved atop, its earthy pungency resonating particularly well with the scallions in the dish. This was my favorite dish of the night (“Caramelized Hen of the Woods Mushroom Risotto“).**
And frilly black truffle shavings sprouted generously from mouth of a hollowed egg shell refilled with finely minced lobster bound in a warm egg curd along with caviar (“Lobster, Egg and Caviar“). The scent from the truffle was worth every penny of the $25 surcharge.
Boswell understands well the nature of truffles, a friend of comfort, a delivery system for shock and awe.
He understands this of foie gras as well, which Stella! incorporates into a fancy BLT (“Hudson Valley Foie Gras BLT“). Clever and witty, the playful riff on the humble sandwich isn’t the shocking part. The shocking part is the amount of foie gras you get. Forget the the B, the L, and the T, this was was F.G. in billboard print. At least two inches thick, the sight of the slice of confit foie gras was arresting. This sandwich required a fork, knife, and a Lipitor chaser. Arriving with a stack of potato chips adhered together by sour cream and onion dip and sweet pickles, this was a millionaire’s lunchbox. Awesome...
But creativity and the best ingredients can be ruined by poor execution.
What sounded like a wonderful combination of flavors and textures, the “Local Louisiana Citrus Salad” was wan. The citrus supremes were bright and cheerful, but the crab salad was bland, mute, almost. So were the scrambled eggs in that decadent egg shell of mine. They needed salt.
Worse, there was grit in my friend's plate of “Pan-Seared Georges Bank Dry Pack Scallops,” which tempered the joy from what was an otherwise delicious truffle andouille hash that anchored the plate.
And the citrus cream ice cream, misting with liquid nitrogen in beautiful bowl made of ice, was so bitter that we wondered if it might be pith ice cream (“House Made Ice Creams“).
Chef Boswell has since been made aware of all of these issues and others. Upon his return to New Orleans, Boswell sent me a very nice email in which he apologized for the long wait we endured. In my reply, I thanked him and encouraged him to look into some of the other aspects of Stella!’s operations, both in the front and back of the house.
Presumptuous of me? Perhaps.
But, as I told Boswell, I offered my unedited and honest report of our experience to be helpful, not spiteful. The sincerity of my well-meaning response was received graciously and with a constructive mind. A wonderful dialogue ensued between Boswell and me. Our conversation and his attitude reassured me that our experience was a gross departure from the norm. Praise for Stella! from all corners seems to support this.
But I’m not the kind of diner to dismiss a restaurant easily. Chef Boswell’s persistence and upbeat attitude in the days and weeks that followed was encouraging. I look forward to revisiting Stella! under better circumstances.
1032 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70116
Here's an excerpt from my review of Galatoire's. You can find the full post and the photos on my blog.
... But one doesn’t go to Galatoire’s to diet.
Nor, as the over-broiled pompano and a cranky Sazerac that the bartender threw together attest,* does one go to Galatoire’s in search of perfectly executed and beautifully plated food.
Subtlety and sophistication Galatoire’s has not.
This is the big top, where one goes to see and be seen, to laugh and forget, and, perhaps, to make a little rain while you’re at it.
Galatoire’s didn’t take reservations when it opened, and it still doesn’t take reservations for the restaurant’s main dining room on the ground floor. This is where you want to be.
Next to a regular, or a server with whom you’ve developed a relationship over the years, patience will be your best friend. Put in your name, head upstairs to the bar, and have a few drinks.
Lucky for us, Barrel (as in a ‘barrel of laughs’) flew in from Texas to join us for dinner. A regular with a house account, he set us up with the host, and within half an hour, we landed ourselves a nice, spacious table in the center of the room.
Portions here are large and unforgiving.
We ordered too much:
Galatoire’s Grand Gouté ($32)
Oysters en Brochette
Pommes Soufflé Bearnaise ($12)
Oysters Rockefeller ($9.75/dozen)
Salad Godchaux ($12)
Poisson Marguery ($24)
Pompano Meuniere Amandine ($34)
Pompano Meuniere ($31.50)
Crab Sardou ($26)
Potatoes Brabant ($5)
Potatoes Lyonnaise ($5)
Fried Eggplant ($5)
Bread Pudding with Banana Sauce ($6)
Cup of Custard ($5)
Café Brulot ($6 each)
The food here isn’t bad. But it’s not the type of stuff I’d urge anyone to travel for.**
From what I can tell, the food at Galatoire’s exists solely as an excuse for interacting with the breezy, generous servers who work the room. Consummate professionals, they pull off one of the hardest shows in town, balancing a staggering number of plates, names, and functions. And they do it all with big personality.
What you’ll find here is “French Creole” cuisine, an amalgamation of local flavor and the type of classic French food that Julia Child liked to make. There are Pommes Soufflé, puffy, hollow, and crisp. There are mother sauces, like creamy Bearnaise for dipping and Hollandaise for smothering. And there are salads with more dressing than lettuce, more protein than fiber.
The Salad Godchaux was a thrilling romp, a heap of shrimp, crab meat, tomatoes, and iceberg laced with a bracingly tart Creole mustard vinaigrette. Topped with an anchovy fillet, it was simple and bright; my favorite dish of the night.
The presentations at Galatoire’s can be a bit slap-dash.
My plate of “Crab Sardou” looked like someone had slung creamed spinach and crab meat at my plate from across the line – replete with a skidding effect – and squirted Hollandaise sauce all over it to make sure it stuck. Served disappointingly cool, the creamed spinach had already formed a skin by the time it arrived.
And Lizzy Borden probably hacked her parents apart with more deft than the kitchen at Galatoire’s did splitting an order of the “Poisson Marguery,” which Houston and The Hair shared.
But, for the most part, the food at Galatoire’s is good, even if when it’s not perfect.
The fillet of Gulf drum – a delicate, white-fleshed fish – was kept warm and moist under a thick blanket of creamy mushroom sauce rich with flavor (Galatoire’s version of sauce Marguery is a mix of Hollandaise and Béchamel). And beneath the dry surface of the broiled pampano, you’ll find a nice layer of fluffy meat with which to run through the attending lake of brown butter à la meunière.
“Galatoire’s Grand Gouté,” a crowded sampling of some of Galatoire’s most celebrated dishes, was a table favorite.
The oysters en brochette were, perhaps, a touch over-fried, and the oysters were puny. But the crab maison and shrimp maison – both coated in a light creamy dressing punched with capers and Creole mustard – were fantastic. Boasting large, meaty lump crab meat, the crab maison was awesome.
The Grand Gouté also included the restaurant’s famous shrimp remoulade. Tangy, and a shade sweeter than the maison dressing thanks to a touch of ketchup, Galatoire’s remoulade dressing is spiked with spicy paprika, Creole mustard, and horseradish. (The shrimp remoulade recipe can be found on the restaurant’s website.)
The “Oysters Rockefeller” are de rigueur. They’re like none other I’ve had. Whereas I’m used to a bubbly, buttery topping, the Galatoire’s version is more like a spongy spinach breading. I especially like the strong, spinach flavor of the topping here. The oysters beneath were warm and plump, swimming in a shallow pool of their own liquor.
The “Fried Eggplant,” too is well-celebrated, as it should be. These batons of breaded eggplant are crisp on the outside, molten and creamy on the inside. Let them sit for a few minutes and they deflate, turning limp and lifeless. Eat them while they’re hot.
No meal at Galatoire’s would be complete without a bucketful of “Café Brulot.” We ordered a big one to cap off our meal.
The huge silver bowl full of liquor, fresh citrus, spices, and sugar was set alight in front of us. Our server, a true showman, drizzled the flaming liquor around our table, making a ring of fire, and over our desserts for a flambé. Extinguished with a pot of coffee and served in demitasses, the Café Brulot smelled like mulled wine and tasted like heaven; warm, smooth, and fragrant.
A more rustic version of bread pudding, Galatoire’s “Bread Pudding with Banana Sauce” is wonderful.
The magic is in the sauce, a brown sugar caramel heavy with praline liqueur. Ours also benefited from a good shot of brandy from the Café Brulot that our server poured over it. (The recipe for the Bread Pudding can be found on Galatoire’s website.)
The “Cup of Custard” here is milky and mildly sweet, a fine crème caramel.
With such an injection of fat and alcohol, it’s no wonder that diners at Galatoire’s are prone to socializing. Indeed, it’s the restaurant’s main sport and spectacle.
I thought that only regulars (or tipsies) would be milling about and table-hopping. I did not expect that I, too, would be pulled into conversation with diners at tables around me.
I think I met everyone within two tables of ours, collected about a dozen business cards from all over the country, and swapped thrice as many stories.
I’m sure I joined the entire dining room in singing “Happy Birthday” a hundred times, including to my friend Iggy. We even sang a “Happy Bachelor” song to a fellow whose friends had dragged him out to drown his love woes in cream, butter, and alcohol.
These are things that I’ll remember the most about my first dinner at Galatoire’s, an experience so hauntingly captured by General Manager Melvin Rodrigue in the Galatoire’s Cookbook that I can only believe that they’re everyday.
“People come here to eat and drink far more than they ordinarily would. They visit with friends at nearby tables and they visit with virtual strangers, turning them into afternoon – and even lifelong – friends. In a world that’s become too serious, Galatoire’s is a place where frivolity rules and adults are given license to leave their cares at the door, act foolish, and have fun. So those who dine here keep coming back. They tell their friends and families about Galatoire’s, and they come too. The pleasures have continued for 100 years.”
209 Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA 70130
re: ulterior epicure
re: ulterior epicure
Y'know, after various threads and the final paragraphs of your review I am now 100% convinced that our own infamous experience at Galatoire's was due in part to our not knowing what we were getting into (but only in part, because the people who were acting up were REALLY acting up.) I've gone from saying I would never go back to actually looking forward to getting another chance to go... And you can expect that I'll report back every detail when we do.
re: ulterior epicure
Regulars often complain that someone didn't "get it" but it appears that you did. I, on the other had, most certainly would travel for the food...it is, as I have remarked before, honest. That's one of the things the devotees of teh place love. And teh consdiemtn bottles on the table, which haave horrified more than one soi-disant "sophisticate."
re: ulterior epicure
re: ulterior epicure
Well, you had the right idea going in, plus a regular..but you can always adopt one anytime if you don't have one with you. Crystal is a good choice--we like teh Baumer family too. BUt I have seen complaints on that--and busing the table as a customer sits down. "Eek! this is not Fine Dining!" Hell, it's a neighborhood joint with better food than many Highly Rated Places and, as I said, honest.
This post, excerpted from my blog, is long. But my original write-up includes some other really great information I decided to cut out here. The photos from my meal can be found there:
“He’ll play it extra schmaltzy,” said the leader of the jazz trio, nudging the trumpet player.
Indeed, he did. He played my song real nice like, smooth and sassy.
It was my first time at Commander’s Palace, and our jazz brunch couldn’t have been a more quintessential experience.
We ordered cocktails – a few too many.
Thick, rich, and sweet, the restaurant’s signature Milk Punch was my favorite ($7.50). The “milk” refers to the half-and-half that is mixed with sugar and brandy (or bourbon upon request)*, the “punch” is for the smack it laid on me after a few sips. Served cold and topped with a dash of freshly grated nutmeg, it’s like the lighter, more refreshing cousin to eggnog.
A couple (few?) Mimosas ($8) passed our way, along with a seasonal cocktail called the “Drunken Pumpkin” ($11), which, though it supposedly contained pumpkin juice, tasted almost entirely of citrus.
And because our double-fisted cocktailing wasn’t enough, our wonderful server – Jennifer – brought us all shots of their “Holly Berry” cocktail ($10.25; Stoli Citrus vodka, Chambord liqueur, Pama pomegranate liqueur and fresh lemon).
So, it was with Jennifer’s big smile, extra schmaltzy music in the background, and a table brimming with cocktails that we turned to the menu.
With the exception of supplements, which are clearly marked, the price of the three-course prix fixe brunch is the price assigned to the main course you choose.
Most who are familiar with the restaurant’s menu will tell you that the short list of required eating at Commander’s Palace includes the Shrimp & Tasso Henican, the Oyster & Absinthe “Dome,” the Bread Pudding Souffle (for dessert), and, last but not least, the legendary Turtle Soup.
We ordered all of these. And, sadly, none of them, save the “Oyster & Absinthe ‘Dome,’” was particularly memorable. (And sadly, Evelyn, the crab cakes weren't on the menu.)
Of the first courses, that “Oyster & Absinthe ‘Dome’” was my favorite. Creamy and rich, this warm oyster chowder was laced with a subtle hint of anisey Absinthe and capped with a round of puff pastry. Performing a little table-side surgery, Jennifer sawed the floating “dome” in half and submerged the two halves in the velvety soup. The oysters were fat, the flavor was complex. Together with the flaky puff pastry crumb, the chowder was magnificent..
The turtle soup was my least favorite of the three house soups (“Commander’s Palace Soup Trio 1-1-1“). Actually, it was my least favorite taste of the entire meal. Splashed with some sherry table-side (my splash was more like a dribble), it had a nice flavor (I was told that the broth is made from veal stock, not turtle stock). But the turtle meat in my demitasse was dry and mealy, overcooked. That was a turn-off.
Having tasted what was probably the last word on seafood gumbo the night before, the one at Commander’s Palace was flat by comparison. The soup was disappointingly thin, the flavor shallow.
The vegetable bisque (the soup du jour), on the other hand, couldn’t have had been more flavorful. It was hard to believe that it contained no animal-derived stock. Fortified with a touch of dairy, it managed to be relatively light. It was, by far, my favorite of the three soups.
To my friend's disappointment, the “Foie Gras Pain Perdu” wasn’t on the menu. So, I asked for it. Jennifer made it appear (with a $10 surcharge).
This decadent breakfast creation could have been a meal on its own. Houston claims that there was a bit of vein left in the slice of pan-seared foie gras (though the corner I tried was fine), which was a bit troubling. But, I needn’t tell you how sinfully delicious the rest of it was. Just look at the ingredient list above and imagine it for yourself.
Perhaps, like the Turtle Soup, the “Shrimp & Tasso Henican” is a Southern specialty that I’m unable to fully appreciate. I’m sure that a restaurant of this size can’t possibly cook shrimp to order. And it shows. These shrimp had clearly been pre-cooked and over-cooked. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t great. Coated in a Crystal hot sauce “beurre blanc” they sat on a pool of sweet five pepper jelly, a sticky, warm syrup who’s sweet-hot flavor was quite addictive. Along with pickled okra that garnished the plate, the strips of house-made Tasso ham stuffed into the vein canal of the shrimp were my favorite parts of this dish. Tasty though it was, I failed to grasp why it was so popular.
“Small” is not a word associated with New Orleans cuisine, and “portion control” is a concept foreign to Commander’s Palace.
If the first courses were large, our main courses were over-generous. All of them were good, even Iggy’s “Vegetable Puff,” which Jennifer offered as an off-menu vegetarian option. Though it was served a touch cool, the buttery and flaky puff pastry box was filled with a flavorful tumble of roasted vegetables – a large format ratatouille of sorts – topped with a fluffy dollop of whipped mascarpone.
I can see why the “Pecan-Crusted Gulf Fish” is a house favorite. The fish was moist and flaky; the nut crust on top, toasty – magnificent, really. And the crushed corn sauce – think corn chowder meets gravy – was creamy, thick, and delicious.
Similarly, the popular “Eggs Cochon de Lait,” which Jennifer plucked from “Chef Tony’s Jazz Brunch” prix fixe for me, was worthy of its favor. The biscuits were fluffy and soft, bound by a wonderfully flaky crust that held their own against runny yolks and a rich gravy. The ropey strands of pulled pork were moist and flavorful.
The grits here are sturdy but not stiff, the kind I like. They have just enough texture so you don’t feel like you’ve regressed to infantile pulp. Unlike the shrimp on my Shrimp & Tasso Henican, the giant gulf shrimp that came piled on top of the grits seemed to be pan-fried to order ("Wild Gulf Shrimp & Grits"). But like the shrimp on my first course, these were just a smidge overcooked as well. However, glazed with a spicy barbecue sauce and tossed with sliced garlic, rosemary, and smoky grilled onions, the flavor was wonderful.
Desserts here are classic, large, iconic. And here again, the most famous one failed me, a victim of unreasonable expectations, I suspect.
The name “Bread Pudding Souffle” conjured in my mind a tall confectionery cloud pocketed with soft nubs of custard-soaked bread. Instead, the ramekin held a dense, heavy bread pudding base topped with an airy meringue dome. Punctured and filled with a boozy bourbon custard (truly a milk punch eggnog), we ate the top and left the bread pudding behind.
Those fluffy biscuits enjoyed a stunning encore in my “Strawberry Shortcake.” Moistened slightly with fresh strawberry syrup and stuffed with sweet, ripe berries (locally, they’re in season in January) and a generous piping of whipped cream, this dessert was everything I could have hoped for. It was simple and straightforward, every component perfect.
Both the “Bananas Foster Sorbet” and “Pecan Pie” were well-made, though perhaps a bit forgettable. Nestled in a finely crafted caramel tuile cup, the sorbet tasted of ripe bananas; I can’t say that there was anything particularly “Foster” about it. The pecan pie filling was thick and dense, a dark caramel jelly. Criss-crossed with chocolate and caramel sauce, this slice of pie had a turtle like effect. Perhaps an instance where less might have been more, it wasn’t for me.
The food here isn’t the reason why our brunch at Commander’s Palace was my fondest one of the half dozen or so we had on my latest trip to New Orleans. Though most of it was good, none of it was any better than anything I could find in a very nice restaurant in a handful of restaurants around the country.
The Commander’s Palace experience is a special one. And lucky for us, every ounce of magic promised was delivered to our table.
The service was wonderful – Jennifer sprinkled plenty of fairy dust on us.
The atmosphere was festive and fun – every table a celebration, including my table of very good friends.
The migrating jazz trio took requests along the way – they even played my song, extra schmaltzy.
And I walked out with a milk punch mustache just as a Hollywood star walked in for his late-afternoon brunch reservation.
Abuzz from the pork fat, butter, cream, sugar, and booze, we walked around the corner to admire the big, white, porch-lined house where Benjamin Button was filmed (it was for sale, we noticed). And right across the street, we caught a glimpse of a stately Victorian house that had just been bought by Ms. Bullock.
Starry-eyed and full, off I went with my angels to walk off our glut around the neighborhood, all the while plotting when I’d be able to return to Commander’s Palace next.
Commander's Palace Restaurant
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
re: ulterior epicure
re: ulterior epicure
i agree w/ you on the tasso shrimp app. i tried it on my last visit but i dont think ill be doing so again. its considered a specialty item (surcharge on the prix fixe), but it didnt grab me like the Oyster Dome.
"Though most of it was good, none of it was any better than anything I could find in a very nice restaurant in a handful of restaurants around the country."
(figured you mean handful of cities) - this sentiment gives me pause. i guess my take is this: CP's may not be the absolute, #1, best food in the city. but i dont think its billed as the best (that goes more to the Stellas and Augusts). yet it is still a very nice restaurant. i think the experience is as you noted a big factor -- taking the street car down, the service, the fun, the cocktails, the history that has come out of its kitchen, the gorgeous neighborhood... and if you can do all that, *and* still be among the best from a handful of cities? well shoot, thats hard to beat.
and the bread pudding souffle is amazing :)
No disagreements about CP not being billed (nor billing itself) as having the best food. Had it done so, I'm pretty sure I would have walked out a lot less enthusiastic. As you say, CP is mostly about the overall experience.
I guess we'll just have to disagree on the bread pudding souffle.
re: ulterior epicure
I am reading this entry on the blog and I highly recommend that everyone head over there. I can't believe the photos you are able to get in a restaurant (although, of course, the lighting in the garden room is better than average!) And I've never seen so much detail and info. Insane!
Also noticed you had Jennifer as your server. We got her last time and thought she was awesome and a lot of fun.
At Mahoney’s, you stake your own table and wait.
And, wait. And wait. And wait.
They take their time making po’boys here. Having just experienced the machine-like efficiency of the Parkway Bakery & Tavern, our half-hour wait at Mahoney’s seemed like an unreasonably long time. We thought they forgot our order.
But in all other respects, this is one instance where the consensus seems to have gotten it right: Mahoney’s Po’Boy Shop makes good po’boys.
I haven’t had nearly enough po’boys to declare theirs the best po’boys in New Orleans*, but the two we tried were both very good.
Mahoney’s wasn’t the most practical sequel to our two-part po’boy crawl (from the Parkway Bakery & Tavern, we had to taxi across town to Magazine Street), but we were thankful for the extra time to digest.
Arriving quite full and staring down a predictably large meal that evening, the five of us split two 6-inch po’boys (they also sell them in 12 and 30-inch sizes).
Although we were tempted by the many delicious-sounding and creative po’boys on the menu (cochon de lait with Creole slaw; fried chicken livers and Creole slaw; cheese liver; and French fries, roast beef & cheddar cheese), we chose the two most traditional ones, the “Oyster and Remoulade Po’Boy” and the “Roast Beef & Gravy Po’Boy.” We also ordered a side of fried green tomatoes to share.
Like Parkway, Mahoney’s resides in a converted house. With a nice little porch and a cheerful sign, it’scute. The inside is modest – essentially a one-room outfit with a bar to one side, it’s nothing like the labryinthine Parkway.
Orders are made and paid for at the register. Food and drinks are delivered to your table by roving servers calling out names.
When we walked in, we had noticed a few people sitting on the benches at the front consumed by the paper, lost in their hand-held devices, and craning their necks to see the game on the tube. I thought they were waiting for friends. Then I noticed them slowly thin out over the course of our meal, disappearing out the door with sacks. I realized that they were walk-in take-away orders. I noticed that one gentleman who left with us had already been waiting when we walked in, about an hour earlier.
I’m not sure the po’boys here are worth that kind of wait (remember, this coming from an impatient Midwesterner).
But they were very good.
The “Oyster and Remoulade Po’boy” was my favorite of the two we tried ($9.25). The oysters were fat, encased in a crunchy shell. The remoulade, however, was the real joy – creamy and zippy, it gave the sandwich a bright zing. I don’t recall there being the usual vegetable garnishes in this sandwich other than the remoulade.
The “Roast Beef & Gravy Po’Boy” was also very good. I preferred this one to the one at Parkway ($6.75). Whereas the meat in the Parkway sandwich was pulpy and mushy, the beef here came in thick, ropey strands and pieces. More important, the gravy here was more flavorful, having an honest, hearty, and beefy flavor. Garnished with some shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, it was delicious.
The fried green tomatoes never showed up. We had ordered a couple of beers and were left chatting over a last few bites of our po’boys when I went back to the register to check on the tomatoes. The woman reminded us that the wait could be up to an hour for food. None of my friends remembered her telling us that, and I didn’t either. As we were nearly finished and ready to go, we canceled the order.
The owner’s (Ben Wick) grandmother, a tiny Japanese lady who buses tables in the restaurant, took a particularly keen interest in our table. Over the course of our long wait (she seemed to have no sway with the kitchen), she told us animated stories about her immigration into the U.S. fifty years ago and pulled out what amounted to a family album from her apron – pictures of her children, grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. A wee little thing, she was cute as a button and full of energy which I wish she could put toward helping them speed up the po’boy production in the kitchen.
A couple of local regulars at a nearby table told us that the thing to do is to call in your order ahead. I’ll pass that recommendation on to you: call ahead, the wait might kill you.
Mahony's PO Boy Shop
3454 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115
Apparently, a trip to New Orleans is an obligatory race to see how many calories one can intake, how high one can boost their cholesterol, in the course of their stay. The only prize is the satisfaction of one’s own gluttony.
My trip happened to be four days short, and it was with four days-worth of cream, butter, pork fat, and bourbon coursing through my veins that I decided to go for the whole hog.
To fortify me for my finale, a high-class stripper act for the lovely TSA officers at MSY, I swung by Cochon, Donald Link’s super-hyped gastrobutchery (that’s what I’m calling it), for a quick lunch before heading to the airport.
Having spent my friends’ appetites on a string of indulgent meals (*amateurs*), I went alone.
Arriving a bit early, I ducked into Cochon Butcher, the restaurant’s charcuterie and sandwich shop next door, for a look.
Cochon Butcher is small. There are about four high tops and a counter along one wall with stools. There’s a modestly sized refrigerated case of house-made products (packaged and ready for sale) and a walk-up cashier station beneath a giant chalkboard menu dominated by meaty selections.
Apparently, Cochon doesn’t serve any of Cochon Butcher’s charcuterie. So I talked myself into snacking on a plate of Cochon Butcher’s house-made meat products (“Charcuterie” $14).
The charcuterie selection here changes often. Thoughtfully assembled, the meats are garnished with some excellent pickles (more sweet than salty or sour); grainy mustard; fat, marinated green olives; and crispy, thin flatbread flocked with sesame seeds.
My plate consisted of about half a dozen thinly shaved slices of each chorizo and spicy fennel sausages. Both were well-made, though I liked the fennel sausage more. Speckled with pockets of white fat, it had a full, rounded flavor with an aggressive bite.
There were also just as many slices of duck prosciutto, which were cut just a little thicker than the sausages. With a full rind of soft fat, the strips of prosciutto – made from the breast – were much more tender than waxy, though shockingly salty.
The little cup of pork rillette, thick and flavorful, was also good, especially spread on the flatbread with mustard.
* * * *
Like Cochon Butcher, Cochon is minimally designed. Preferring wood to metal, the place looks like it might have been sponsored by IKEA, making it the perfect backdrop for the yuppies that filtered through over the noon hour.
At Cochon, I ordered six dishes – all first courses – and a dessert. I’m sure my server thought me mad, but played it cool. It was a considerable amount of food for one person.
The first set of three dishes that arrived were the best.
The “Wood Fire Oyster Roast” was excellent. Five to an order, these large oysters were fat and juicy, bursting with oyster liquor. Coated in a spicy chili butter and served warm, they were delicious, by far the most memorable dish of the day.
Chef Donald Link’s personal take on a Southern classic, the “Fried Boudin” yielded three large croquettes, each with a golden, crisp breaded exterior. If I’m not mistaken, Link braises pork in water (not stock) and mixes the cooked meat with rice and seasonings. I half-expected the interior to be wet and slightly mushy like an arancino. Instead, the even mixture of rice flecked with pork was surprisingly light and fluffy. It was like a very fancy version of a hush puppy, though it was a bit less flavorful than I had expected.
The lightly dressed “Bitter Greens” salad was a little over-seasoned, but otherwise very good. The greens (a variety including mizuna and arugula) were pert and fresh, topped with creamy goat cheese and dotted with soft pieces of tasso ham coated with dressing. Although there were supposed to be pecans in the salad, I encountered none. The best part of this salad were the pumpkin calas that anchored three corners of the plate. These savory fritters were wonderful. Cochon should considering adding a bowl of these calas as a side dish.
The remaining dishes ranged from mediocre to disappointing.
The chili-garlic aioli coating the pieces of “Fried Alligator” was good, but, like most alligator I’ve had, the meat was tough and sinewy. I admit that this may not be a fault of the dish, but rather a matter of personal taste.
The “Fried Rabbit Livers” were terribly dry and chalky, a reminder why so many shy from livers. It’s a pity, because everything else on the plate was wonderful, especially the sweet pepper jelly, which had a devilish bite.
A pasty with a meticulously crimped edge, the “Oyster & Meat Pie” sported a wonderfully soft, flaky pastry crust. The filling – a mixture of rice, chopped pork, and minced oysters – was more akin to what I thought the inside of the fried boudin would be like – wet and slightly mushy. Unfortunately, for having both pork and oysters in it, it was shockingly flavorless, relying on the spoonful of zesty, tomato-based condiment for excitement.
Like the Fried Boudin, the “Warm Hog Head Cheese” had a beautiful, fried crust. But the interior – a jumble of meat, collagen, and fat – was cold and stiff, not at all the melting seduction I was expecting. It tasted as if the square of pre-breaded head cheese had just been pulled from the icebox and deep-fried just long enough for the crust to cook. The creamy ravigote was bland; it lacked the balance of acidity and salt that the delicious, accompanying bean salad had.
You won’t find anything terribly creative on the dessert menu here. It’s a short and sweet survey of Americana, the type of simple desserts that I tend to like. There’s Root Beer Float, Mississippi Mud Cake, and “Pineapple Upside Down Cake,” which I ordered.
Buttery, sticky, and caramelized, the dome of cornmeal cake was very good. But there was hardly any pineapple caramelized on the turned-over bottom for this dessert to earn its name. The accompanying coconut-lime sorbet, dices of ripe pineapple, and a lovely dulce de leche sauce were fantastic together. They could have served this tropical trio in a bowl, labeled it “Argentinian pina colada,” and called it a day.
Cochon has been universally praised. Enthusiasm for this restaurant and its food seems unbridled. It has developed a cult following.
I don’t get it.
Or, perhaps, I do. In an age where the words “pork” and “fat” – especially when used together – have become a clichéd cue for obligatory excitement and cheer, it’s not surprising that a restaurant named Cochon would cause such mouth-foaming
What is surprising, however, is that I found myself at a restaurant named Cochon marveling at the oysters and accusing its pork of being bland.
It’s apparent that Cochon puts a great deal of care into its craft. There’s an emphasis on high-quality and fresh ingredietns. Everything was well-crafted, well-plated, and thoughtfully composed. I especially enjoyed the use of fresh mint to temper the spiciness of some of the dishes (it was wilted into tumble of alligator nuggets and perched atop the fried rabbit livers). What Cochon did well, it did very well.
But none of the dishes I tried was anything that couldn’t be found in dozens of good restaurants around the country, or even in New Orleans.
Although I didn’t get to sample any of their main courses, I’d be more inclined to return for the restaurant’s bread rolls, which were like a hybrid between a good Parker House and a well-crusted brioche (i.e. lots of butter), and the service, which was helpful, efficient, and warm.
I understand that mistakes happen. At my meal, unfortunately, there were a few. The head cheese could have been thawed out a little longer before going in the fryer. The rabbit livers could has used a little less time in heat. And I wish that the salt in my salad could have been redistributed throughout the other dishes.
930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA 70130
re: ulterior epicure
Not specific plates or food, necessarily. I'm talking more about the general level of food. And, as I said, nothing, save the Woodfire Oyster Roast stood out as particularly special. I can go without fried alligator and meat pies if they're like the ones at Cochon. I can find hundreds of dishes more appealing to me elsewhere.
Having had nothing to eat all day except a bag of peanuts and two cocktails, my friend "The Hair" was starving when we arrived at MSY in the mid-afternoon rain. Dropping our bags off at the hotel – conveniently, located between the two culinary Kowalskis – we met up with our friends Iggy and The Drummer, who had flown in the day before, and headed to Stanley for a snack to tie us over to our late dinner reservation at Stella! that evening.
I’ll get around to Stella! in a subsequent post. In this one, I focus on Stanley.
The circumstances under which Boswell opened Stanley are quite extraordinary. Borne out of the post-Katrina quagmire, Stanley started as a humble burger outfit next door to Stella! You can read more about Stanley’s wonderful story on its website (link at the end of this post; turn up your speakers and lace up your tapping shoes).
True to Williams’s script, Boswell casts Stanley in a workaday die. Now occupying one corner of Jackson Square, this diner-meets-cafe is as tidy as its short roster of hearty breakfast and lunch items on a one-page menu. Its food sustains.
Spartan and neat, I find the restaurant’s simply arranged interior immensely pleasant. There’s a long marble-top bar lined with stools that runs along an open service area with a view of the (kitchen) line. Two rows of marble-top deuces run the length of the restaurant’s main dining room. The ceiling is crossed with beams. A modern-day Tudor would be proud.
But, whereas Williams’s Stanley is a brutish car parts salesman, Boswell’s version is more of a food-focused yuppie on his day off: laid-back enough for tees and denim (the standard-issue staff outfit), mindful enough to toss a cornmeal-crusted soft shell crab on his eggs Benedict. This Stanley knows how to eat.
We shared a “P & J’s Louisiana Oyster Poor Boy” ($11.50) and The Hair ordered a “P & J’s Oyster, Gulf Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, and Chicken Gumbo” ($9.50).
The cornmeal-crusted oysters in the poor boy – held together by a spicy remoulade and zippy cole slaw - were plump and crispy. As juicy and well-battered as those oysters were, the dressing was the highlight of this sandwich. I wish there was just a bit more of it to soak into the bread, which though nicely toasted, was a bit too thick.
The gumbo was dark and flavorful and filled with shrimp, sausage and chicken, and just enough rice to make it a comforting meal in a bowl.
Iggy and The Drummer had breakfast here earlier in the day. Iggy said that her “Bananas Foster French Toast” was the naughtiest breakfast ever; it came with ice cream ($11,50). It could be dessert. It sounds like a dream. And so does just about everything else on the menu here. In fact, so hot and bothered was I over the all-ice cream dessert menu (yes, every dessert has ice cream in or on it) that I almost tempted myself into returning later in the week for the “Stella Uptown” – three scoops of rum raisin ice cream with carrot cake, sweet cream cheese sauce, whipped cream, walnuts, and a cherry on top ($8.75).
Despite its gruff namesake, Stanley gives good service. The staff here is efficient and friendly. Hitting the restaurant at its lowest tide (late afternoon lull, right before dinner time), the food came out quickly.
Stanley is the type of place I’d love to spend a quiet weekend morning reading the paper, or a lazy afternoon reading a book over a cup of coffee while stealing glances out the window at the tourists, street-walkers, and fortune tellers in Jackson Square.
You can find the photos from this meal on my blog.
547 St Ann St, New Orleans, LA