Thanks to all you great NOLA Hounds - Reviews of my Mardi Gras Trip.
- uhockey Feb 19, 2010 02:55 PM
First of all, a big thank you to all of you hounds in the New Orleans area - from restaurants and specific dishes to parking advice and traveling information my trip was a resounding success.....aside from a wicked sunburn from the Zulu Parade and some Cole Haans that'll never be the same after a trip down Bourbon. :-)
From the first Who Dat (out of ~7,000 heard during my 4 days in town) while ordering a King Cake at Haydel's to the breakfast pecan pie with icecream at Camellia Grill before I boarded the plane to Chicago the food was largely excellent and the service usually gracious and solid. Sure there were some lowlights, but diningwise they were touristy joints I was warned against and people-wise it was entirely tourists - the locals were absolutely delightful.
Reviews will be coming (plethoric in number, pictures, and wordiness) in the coming days and I'll add them here along with links to my blog as I write them. Places visited, in a somewhat chronological order, including full meals and bites are:
Café Du Monde
Stay tuned and thanks again!
Haydel's and Central Grocery: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/h...
…I woke up at 3:30am to hit the gym, shower, shave, and eat a vegetable laden breakfast before meeting a colleague at work to drive me to the airport – a quick layover in Chicago and I would be in New Orleans by 10:30 central time. Surprisingly the trip went without a hitch despite the ugly Midwestern weather and we made better than expected time arriving at MSY by 10:20 and obtaining my car by 10:45 – a few quick taps on the GPS and I was off to experience New Orleans.
My first stop en route to the French Quarter was to Haydel’s Bakery on Jefferson Highway – easily found in the light Saturday morning traffic I reached the small bakery around 11:00am only to find a line snaking out the door – right up to the famous bead dog where a nice local fellow later volunteered to snap a picture. Waiting in the line for less than 20 minutes (if only Café Du Monde were so efficient!) and hearing the Black&Gold song followed by the Superbowl Shuffle I loved the energy of the store – 99% locals talking about their Mardi Gras plans, how many years they’d been coming to Haydel’s, and what parades they were looking forward to most…and those Saints.
Making my way to the front of the line I was greeted by a young man who offered me samples of the plain, cream cheese, and cherry King Cakes from a small tray and when I asked him which he suggested he stated “oh, the praline filled version for sure.” Taking his advice I received a medium (supposedly enough to serve 20) that was still warm from the oven, paid, and made my way to the street. Getting back into my car I tore off a small piece – then a little more…and then a little more until I’d finished almost 1/6 of the cake.
Having never had a King Cake before I was surprised by the buttery croissant-like texture and shocked by the amount of nuance in a simple cake – notes of cinnamon and vanilla plus nutmeg clearly notable under the hefty dose of cinnamon sweet frosting. Filling the cake was a thick caramel pecan filling that tasted unmistakably like a creamy praline. Knowing there was a lot of eating to be done I wrapped the cake up and placed it in the shade of the trunk before making my way to the quarter…I would subsequently finish the cake over the next 2 days and found the baby (clearly meaning I needed to buy the next one…for myself) on the morning of Lundi Gras.
Arriving in the Quarter around 11:45 and finding a great free parking spot on the corner of Elysian Fields and Royal I next made my way to Central Grocery where there was surprisingly no line and only a couple of folks standing outside enjoying their muffaletta. Entering the surprisingly dark and shabby store I browsed around at some of the cheeses and meats – nothing really all that surprising, and also the packaged pies, Zapps Chips, and sodas. Making my way to the counter behind one other couple I ordered my half muffaletta, paid the tab, and made my way to the street to indulge.
Examining the sandwich, freshly made and wrapped while I waited, I have to say it smelled excellent – garlic, olive, and onion most notably. With oil only slightly soaking through the bread I took my first bite and was immediately shocked by the overall saltiness of the sandwich. Taking a second bite and again noting only the flavor of salami, olive, and salt…for a sandwich with so many ingredients I guess I expected more subtlety. A few more bites and I was finished with a fourth of the sandwich and left rather uninspired. Placing the other quarter back in the bag I sampled parts of it individually later in the day while I watched the Tucks parade and I believe the flaw was actually in the quality of the meats – each was entirely too salty and quite frankly none tasted all that different from the other...even the cheese was too salty. On its own the olive salad was quite good, but in total I ended up discarding most of the second half of the sandwich somewhere along Canal. While New Orleans certainly has its fair share of foods I’d love to bring back to Ohio, I’ll pass on the Muffaletta – while I can somewhat see the appeal, it just isn’t my style.
4037 Jefferson Hwy, Jefferson, LA
Despite the warnings about service, prices, and experience my first proper meal in New Orleans was at Antoine’s – the oldest continually running family owned restaurant in the United States. Inventors of the Oysters Rockefeller, featuring more rooms than some restaurants have seats, and old school with waiters clad in tuxedos – if nothing else I was going for the experience and the oysters. Making my way in the front door a few minutes before my 2:00pm reservation the restaurant was largely empty – only three tables filled in the brightly lit front room. Greeted promptly by a waiter who did not even inquire as to whether I had a reservation I was led to a table near the front window – at least until I asked of there were any tables available in back. “Oh, sure, one minute” I was told – a quick exchange between two waiters and I was led towards the back – a huge room, elegantly lit, where more than 2/3 of the tables were filled.
Taking my seat I was handed the menu and a wine list. Deferring on the wine and stating tap water (as opposed to bottled) would be adequate my glass was filled and I sat and waited nearly 8 minutes before anyone appeared at my table to discuss the menu or to take my order. Starring at the stained white tablecloth on my table and the photos from the 1800s lining the walls next to me I felt like I was dining in a museum. When my waiter did arrive, a short elderly man who walked with a limp and introduced himself as Sterling, he asked if I had any questions about the wine list and I again explained I’d not be drinking – he then filled my water and disappeared for another 5-10 minutes. Finally returning I placed my order and then stood up to browse the multiple rooms of Antoine’s – none of which were seated but all of which were set up elegantly and full of pictures and history.
Returning to my chair I heard Sterling tell another server to “put the bread on him” – a phrase I’d hear thrice more on my trip to New Orleans. Shortly after this a large loaf of French Bread was brought to my table by an African American server who insisted on calling me “young man” throughout the meal – as this too would be repeated at multiple restaurants during my visit I rather imagine these phrases are something common to the south. Tasting the bread I was impressed by its crisp crust and delicate airy crumb. While the table butter was quite dull and the table could have used multiple crumbing I easily finished the loaf of bread before meals end and was brought another loaf without even requesting it.
Waiting nearly 20 minutes for my first course to arrive I decided to order coffee to go with my food and the “young man” server brought it and kept it filled without hesitation – I rather wish he’d have been my server, actually, as he was taking care of multiple tables and vastly more efficient than Sterling. A thick and nutty coffee with strong hints of chicory atop a somewhat floral base I found Antoine’s coffee to be quite good and the fact that it wasn’t charged for was also excellent, especially since I drank a good 4-5 cups.
When the food finally did begin to arrive things got better – the Oysters Rockefeller absolutely lived up to the hype with 6 plump and juicy oysters swimming in their own briny liquor and topped with a golden bronzed puree of garlic, anise, spinach, bread crumbs, and what I believe may have been parmesan cheese. Hot and bubbling atop a bed of salt rocks I slowly indulged on each oyster and wiped the shells clean with the bread – while I can’t say I’ve tasted every Oysters Rock out there, this one was certainly the best to date.
Following the Rockefeller – another 6 oysters, this time the Oysters Foch. Starring six succulent oysters flash fried in cornmeal breading and served atop toast smeared with a pate of foie gras the dish was topped off with a rich sauce that tasted almost as if it were a hollandaise spiked with tomatoes and vinegar or sherry. Wonderfully crisp and not as briny as the Rockefeller oysters I was quite impressed at how the salty and smooth oysters served to balance the unctuous liver while the sauce added some spice and acidity to the dish.
Following the Oysters I received my main course – not truly a main, but rather a bowl of shrimp and andouille sausage gumbo and a side of soufflé potatoes. Thick and featuring a dark and spicy roux the overall body of the gumbo was actually quite nice – unfortunately the small bowl contained far too little seafood or andouille and far too much overcooked white rice. While certainly decent and better than any gumbo I’ve tasted up north this was definitely the most disappointing gumbo of my trip. The soufflé potatoes – well, to be fair, I guess I just don’t get the appeal. Crispy on the outside and hollow/airy within they were essentially a less salty form of a house-made potato chip and the fact that my wait staff once again disappeared for long stretch and failed to supply me with the béarnaise sauce that I saw other tables enjoying left me largely underwhelmed.
When it came time for dessert I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I was told (via E-mail when I made the reservation that they never confirmed when I arrived) that they wouldn’t make the Baked Alaska for one – even if I agreed to pay the full price. My disappointment was only because I’d wanted to taste this famous preparation, not particularly because I was at a lack for better options – specifically bread pudding – my favorite genre of dessert and something I’d be consuming frequently on my trip to NOLA. Arriving only a few minutes after I placed the order the cinnamon raisin bread pudding was paired with a large serving of crushed pecans, a dollop of whipped cream, and an ample dose of thick and buttery rum sauce. Amply soaked, perfectly baked through with a spongy yet toothsome texture this is exactly what I expect when I think of classical bread pudding and the dish did not disappoint at all.
Looking back on my trip I have to say that service gaffs aside I really enjoyed my trip to Antoine’s – it a relic of the past and while they certainly aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel they really don’t have to – they invented it in the 1800s. A fan of modern…and even “hypermodern” cuisine (I’d be eating at Alinea only 4 days after Antoine’s) it is comforting to know that there will always be places that stick to their roots and do what is tried and true – though I must say I expect that their service was once better and their competition less excellent. While I can’t say I’d return to Antoine’s solo, I’d definitely consider going back if I was with other first time visitors to New Orleans – I’d request Sterling not be our waiter, they’d get the experience and I’d get the Baked Alaska and some more Oysters Rockefeller.
713 Saint Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130
You probably picked up on the herbsaint...the green stuff noone can identify is widely rumoured to be watercress. If you get the escargot bourgignonne, you can see the foundation of the Rockefeller sauce. There is also a lot of parsely and green onion top in it. And just a hint of butter...not much, only a pound or so.
Good recap of Antoine's. It's definitely a place worth visiting for the history etc... but not necessarily worth revisiting. We had a great time there 3 years ago but when we got the bill we were a little floored (It didn't help that we discovered the next day that there was an extra entree on it and we had to go back to correct it!)
Brigtsen's - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/b...
To cap a day that had begun at 3am EST I watched the Tucks parade in the Garden District and then made my way back along St. Charles to watch the first half of Endymion near the end of the route – sunburned and heavily beaded I cut out midway through Endymion and made my way to my car, caught the highway, and found myself at Brigtsen’s five minutes early for my 8:00pm reservation. Parking only 20 feet from the door I made my way up to the eponymous eatery, smiled at the rustic feel of everything from the doors to the decorations inside, and introduced myself to the hostess – a pleasant elderly lady who would come to check on myself (and the rest of the restaurant – all locals, no tourists from what I gathered) multiple times throughout the meal.
Seated at a comfy two top in the corner of the main room I noted the heart shaped confetti at the center of the table and realized that nearly everyone in the room was celebrating Valentine’s Day a day early because Brigtsen’s was to be closed on Sunday – the couple next to me even announced that this was their 25th consecutive Valentine’s Day at Brigtsen’s and Chef Frank came out of the kitchen to personally deliver them their dessert later in the meal. Presented with my menu and a few off-menu specials by my waitress, a lovely lady whose name I unfortunately do not recall, I was left with her recommendations as she went to get my water and coffee. Returning shortly I placed my order – an order that both she and (later) the elderly hostess approved of whole heartedly.
Sitting and sipping my coffee – another bold and floral blend with less prominent chicory than that of Antoine’s – I read about Chef Brigtsen’s training, ideals, and contributions to the local economy while I waited…to say the least this is an impressive man who loves his community. Finishing my first cup of coffee the glass was immediately refilled (and remained this way throughout my stay) and I was brought a loaf of French Bread along with a salted butter. Crispy and buttery on the outside with a light and wispy interior the bread was on par with that at Clancy’s and August for best of the trip and I consumed a whole loaf before my main course even arrived.
My first selection of the evening was one of the soups du jour – and apparently something served quite rarely according to my server. Entitled Oyster Soup with Spinach and Brie the soup was an absolute show-stopper and amongst the top 5 savories I consumed during my visit to New Orleans. Similar in texture to a thick New England Clam Chowder, the soup featured 5 large and juicy oysters swimming in a creamy broth with subtle hints of garlic and chives complimenting the smooth and subtle brie with only a mild vegetal component lent by the spinach - imagine if someone dissolved oysters Rockefeller in the best chowder you’ve ever tasted – it’s kind of like that, but better.
Having sopped up all the left over soup with my bread I talked with my neighbors and my servers for a bit while I awaited my next dish – honestly, I was dumbfounded by how friendly everyone was from the moment I arrived until the moment I walked out the door (stuffed!) Arriving after approximately ten minutes, Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads with potato leek cake, mushroom, capers, garlic lemon cream was another resounding success, but in a completely different manner from the soup. Not subtle in the least, three enormous (and perfectly pan-seared) sweetbreads sat atop a crunchy and pungent potato cake and the vertical presentation was subsequently topped with a ragout of fried mushrooms and a sauce of capers, garlic, and lemon. Not a fan of capers in most cases I was quite pleased at hoe the garlic and lemon acted to temper their bite and everything about the dish served to accent the creamy gland without hiding its signature flavor.
More coffee, more chat, and more bread preceded my main course and the hostess stopped by to chat about how I’d heard about their restaurant, where else I’d be visiting while in town, and why “such a handsome young man was dining alone so close to Valentine’s Day.” Telling me that my main course was her favorite dish in all of New Orleans the plate arrived almost as if on cue – and it was enormous. Entitled Roast Duck with Cornbread dressing and Honey Pecan Gravy the dish was certainly not pleasing on the eyes – quite frankly it was presented quite haphazardly. What the dish lacked in visual appeal, however, it made up for in flavor with a roasted half of a duck presented skin on, moist, and savory. Flanking the duck on the upper portions of the dish were smashed buttery potatoes and perfectly steamed fresh vegetables without salt and accented with only lemon and garlic while the plate beneath the duck was covered by a sweet and toothsome cornbread dressing sauced with a sticky sweet honey and pecan gravy. While I can’t say the duck was my favorite of the trip – it actually ranked as the fourth best duck of the trip – it was delicious and its companions were superb.
Though my server strongly recommended I try the pecan pie I deferred and instead opted for the bread pudding – a decision I most assuredly do not regret. Entitled simply “banana bread pudding” the pudding itself appeared constructed of a buttermilk biscuit accented with cinnamon, ginger, and banana liquor and was topped with an ample dollop of whipped cream. Flanking the bread pudding were three chunks of caramelized (Fosters-esque) banana and the entire dish sat in a rum-laden banana cream sauce with a drizzle of caramel. As I’ve said before, bread pudding is my favorite dessert and this version absolutely wowed – quite possibly the best fruit based bread pudding I’ve ever experienced.
Finishing yet another cup of coffee my server and the hostess stopped by and asked if they could get me anything else. Jokingly I stated “how about that pecan pie?” to which they both chuckled as though they didn’t think I could still be hungry (I wasn’t, but there is always room for pie – right?) Chatting a little while longer with my neighbors I was brought the modest bill and after paying was bid farewell by not only my server, the hostess, and my neighbors – but also two other servers and a few people in the lobby.
Thinking back on my visit to Brigtsen’s after experiencing much of New Orleans fine dining scene during the subsequent three days I still think of it very fondly as an overall experience. No pretense, no “show,” no “fussiness” - from the old house and the somewhat dated food to the local feel and indescribably friendly demeanor of everything about the meal Brigtsen’s felt like eating dinner with family in the home of your grandmother – if your grandmother were a Beard Award winning chef.
723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118
Brigtsen's cream of oysters Rockefeller soup
Makes 20 servings
5 cups oyster liquor
3 cups heavy cream
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 cups diced yellow onions
5 cups diced celery
6 cups coarsely chopped spinach (stems removed)
8 cups sliced green onions (white and green)
2 ½ cups finely chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoons finely minced garlic
3 tablespoons Chef Paul Prudhomme's Seafood Magic Seasoning
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups Herbsaint liqueur
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
40 medium or 60 small shucked oysters
In a 2-quart saucepan bring oyster liquor to a boil; turn down heat and keep warm. In a 5-quart saucepan bring the whipping cream to a boil; turn down heat and keep warm.
In a 10-quart saucepan melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, spinach, green onions, parsley, garlic and seafood seasoning. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
Lower heat to medium and add the 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Let mixture stick to bottom of pan, scraping and stirring constantly.
Add the warm oyster liquor and the Herbsaint and cook 20 minutes more, scraping and stirring constantly.
Remove vegetable mixture from stove and puree. Return to saucepan and bring back to a boil. Add the warm cream and let simmer 40 to 45 minutes. Correct seasoning with salt and cayenne
To serve, poach 2 medium or 3 small oysters per serving in their liquor and cover with 4 to 5 ounces of the creamy soup base. Serve in pre-heated 8-ounce soup or bouillon cups.
. . . . . . .
Cafe Du Monde and Croissant D'Or - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/c...
With my circadian rhythm still set to life as a resident I awoke early – really early given the difference in time zone. Lacking a gym in my hotel I got up for a run around Metairie just before 4am and made it back to my room for a shower and some leftover King Cake with my vitamins by 5:30am. Hopping into my car I made my way to another great parking space at Elysian Fields and Royal by 5:45am and decided to start my day’s eating at Café du Monde before the lines got long…little did I know there would already be a line of ~15 people at 6am and the window staff would be busy texting and flirting with one another thus making the seemingly short line take nearly 35 minutes.
Considered by locals and tourists alike to be “an institution” I figured the experience would be worth the wait and stood talking to an elderly gentleman who apparently went to Café Du Monde every Sunday before church and had been doing so for “as long as I can remember” because he loved the coffee – not so much the beignets – and sure enough, he bought a large café au lait and bid me farewell when he finally reached the front of the line. When I reached the small window the server was pleasant and my order of 3 beignets and a medium black coffee was filled rapidly. Paying the modest bill I made my way to the just-unstacked outdoor seating and emptied my bag onto a pile of paper towels.
Beginning first with the coffee – sweetened with artificial sweetener as is my custom, all I can say is “I don’t get it.” Having had a couple of excellent chicory accented coffees the day before at Antoine’s and Brigtsen’s I found CDM’s version to be sour and lacking any semblance of nuance – I actually prefer the Folgers’s in the hospital break room….even when it is lukewarm and left on the burner too long. Perhaps café au lait is the way to go, but that isn’t how I take my coffee – chicory or not.
Setting aside the coffee and moving onto the main event I was happy to find that the beignets were piping hot, minimally greasy, and absolutely loaded with powdered sugar. Crispy outside and relatively light to mastication I have to say I enjoyed the beignets somewhat, but the overall texture was more doughy than I expected – especially compared to the sublime (cheap) versions at Brenda’s French Soulfood in San Francisco and the ethereal (expensive) dessert version at Manresa in Los Gatos. Decent, sure – but nothing I’d wait 5 minutes for in the future, let alone 35 or longer.
Walking away from Café Du Monde after tossing the rest of my coffee and about a cup of powdered sugar in the waste basket I decided to check out another renowned pastry shop before heading to St. Louis Cathedral for mass. Heading north-east I found myself standing inside of Croissant D’Or around 7:00am and was greeted by no line, friendly service, and a wide selection of croissants, cakes, brioche, and even Bavarian cream beignets.
Already regretting my stop at CDM given the plethora of items I wanted to try I opted for a single item – the standard by which I judge a bakery of this sort – the almond croissant. Paying the modest fee I made my way to the street to enjoy and was quite pleased by the crispy and golden exterior with ample notes of butter, vanilla, and almond gracing my palate upon first taste. A solid croissant I must say I was somewhat disappointed by the interior which was less wispy and airy than I’d hoped, almost as though the preferment hadn’t been allowed to rise for long enough. Good enough that I tried to return for further tastes on Lundi Gras only to find them closed, and good enough that I’d definitely come back on a future visit to New Orleans.
Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand
800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116
I will say that getting it black might have been your mistake. While you might not have liked it either way, you might have liked it more. The cafe au lait is half hot milk, half coffee and (I think) is really good unsweetened (especially accompanying the sweet beignets). But of course your mileage may vary.
re: Hungry Celeste
I am REALLY enjoying these write-ups and many of the comments have been spot-on but I am still wondering how soeone who drinks hot coffee (with artificial sweetener) while eating these thoughtfully seasoned dishes can possibly have functioning tastebuds! But I guess it can happen.
I'm just teasing, of course. Although I think it would be funny if there were a tasting menu with coffees with different sweeteners paired to the courses... ;)
I'm uncertain as to how to judge this comment - I drink my coffee the exact same way everywhere I go.....and given that I'm more/less a gymrat/health nut at home I'm certainly not going to flavor it with sugar. I don't think coffee blunts my tastebuds at all, either - if anything it works (along with ample water, which I also drink) to cleanse the palate between courses (I don't drink the coffee DURING a particular course.)
I think a coffee tasting menu would be superb, btw. :-)
not sure about the almond but i feel D'or has the best croissants in the city. they are crisp & flaky on the outside, and soft & almost gooey on the inside, very flavorful. a far cry from most of the dry, "dinner roll" croissants served around the city/country, they are the only ones remind me of the bakeries of europe. probably because the pastry chef is a frenchman.
and at $1.20 ea they are the cheapest. (by contrast, Antoine's Annex charges $4 a pop for theirs...what!!?)
Arnaud's - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/a...
My parents always used to tell me that if I couldn’t say anything nice I shouldn’t say anything at all…well, if I chose to follow that advice 24/7 I wouldn’t even be writing my review of Arnaud’s “Jazz” brunch that I experienced on Valentine’s Day 2010. Present in New Orleans since 1918 and billing itself as the ultimate New Orleans experience I at least figured I would get some good Creole food in a nice setting along with some pleasant Jazz – what I got instead was mediocre to bad food, lousy and rushed service, and approximately 8 minutes of Jazz before I was hurried out the door.
Arriving three minutes early for my 10am reservation the doors were still locked – they remained so until 10:05 when they let myself and 5 other couples in. Greeted by the server my opentable reservation was confirmed and I was led to the dining room along with another couple while others were seated in the Jazz bistro section - a section that was decorated with heart shaped balloons (ours would later be decorated by a particular dining room attendant who had a scowl on his face throughout my meal at Arnaud’s.) Taking my seat a young man approached me, filled my water, and asked if I’d like a cocktail. Declining the cocktail and opting for coffee another waiter, my captain (I guess,) presented a menu and explained to me as though I were about 5 years old how the 4-course prix fixe worked. Thanking him I perused the menu until my coffee arrived.
Preparing my coffee in my standard style with artificial sweetener I hadn’t even managed to tear open the packet before my captain arrived, pad open and pen in hand, asking “so, what can I get you.” Thankfully I’d already looked at the menu online and knew what I’d be ordering, but this event let me know straight up that we were on a clock – turnover time was of the essence – and as such I began keeping track of time. Orders placed I finished preparing my coffee – a decently nutty and thick blend that lacked the chicory so prominently featured at most of the other restaurants in New Orleans.
With a “put the bread on him” I received an admirable loaf of French Bread with a peculiar design but excellent flavor, crisp and golden crust, and fluffy interior. While it wasn’t as warm as other presentations during my visit, the butter was salted and more pleasant than that at Antoine’s. Unfortunately, the bread would serve as the best thing I ate while at Arnaud’s.
Quickly following the arrival of the bread was Shrimp Arnaud – approximately 7 shrimp that were no larger or better than the flash frozen and bagged versions I can get in Ohio. They were served over a tomato and some iceberg lettuce and accompanied with lemon slices. Topping the dish was the “famous” tangy remoulade sauce – essentially a thick and pungent orange sauce that tasted largely like curry, paprika, and capers – perhaps some horseradish as well. Poorly conceived and featuring inferior ingredients all I could taste was the sauce – a taste I could do without having experienced.
Finishing the shrimp and the tomato the surly man I mentioned hanging the balloons appeared with my second course in hand and “swapped out” one plate for the next. No presentation, just one plate collected with right, the other deposited with left. Now less than 10 minutes after being seated I was on course two and there was no jazz in sight or hearing range. Dish two was a lettuce salad topped with Creole vinaigrette – decent but nothing to write home about. Feeling again as if I was being rushed I picked at my salad and ate some bread only to have the surly man come back 7 minutes later and ask if I was “all done” with his hand already on the rim of my plate. Stating “no” he retracted, walked away, and stood eyeing me from the doorway. When I did finish the plate I moved it to the opposite seat so that he would know to come collect it. At this point my coffee stood empty and I had to request a refill.
My third dish, the “main course” arrived only moments later – and it was cool to the touch. Once again presented without explanation, this time by the young water boy, the Crabmeat cheesecake featuring “Fresh Louisiana lump crabmeat, Brie and cream cheese,eggs, cream, fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Served with a sherry-infused Cream Sauce” was approximately the size of a wedge door-stop – and being both undercooked and questionably fresh it was flattened and soupy. Taking a bite (one of four that it would’ve taken to finish the dish had I not been babying it waiting for some/any jazz) I was greeted by a decent crab flavor and the heaviness of the cream sauce – no real detectable essence of brie or any spice other than parsley. I will say the asparagus was good – crisp and buttery with a nice texture.
Finishing my main dish by 10:40 and requesting another cup of coffee, the jazz finally started…and then stopped…and then started again. It wasn’t good jazz, not even close, but at least it was something. At 10:44 my dessert arrived – Bread Pudding Fitzmorris described as “Arnaud's famous cap bread, rum-soaked raisins and custard with warm Walker's Imperial Bourbon Sauce.” Again a miniature portion and clearly made in advance the dessert was definitely more “bread” than pudding or custard and the dish lacked not only sweetness but any semblance of nuance – it was essentially day old bread baked with eggs and cream and doused in a bitter and liquidy shot of bourbon. By 10:50 I’d eaten all I wanted (yes, I left bread pudding on the table – unheard of) and requested the check.
Paying and leaving the worst tip I’ve left since I was unapologetically elbowed in the head at Spiaggia I made my way back out to the street and to the Aquarium of the Americas followed by Krewe of Okeanos Parade – both of which cheered me up significantly. Looking back on the whole debacle that was Arnaud’s Jazz brunch it is my personal belief that this is potentially the worst dining experience in my last 3 years of eating and I can wholeheartedly say that there is absolutely no circumstance under which I would return or recommend anyone do so. Bad food, bad service, high prices, and bad jazz…in New Orleans? That sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident, it takes effort to be that bad.
813 Rue Bienville Street, New Orleans, LA 70112
How dispiriting..and how typical. The late Archie Casberian "rescued" the place thrity years ago after Germaine ran it into the ground. He tried to put on airs and I never cottoned to it....I only went there from time to time because I knew some of the waiters and I liked the original bar (not the one by the main door). The last meals I had there a few years ago were decent but I wished I had spent the money at Commanders or Galatoire's. Don't know who is running the place today--maybe Germaine's descendant(Archie leased the place). How unfortunate that it was not good.
By the way, presentation is not a forte of New Orleans..nor, in my view, should it be.
Good thing you didn't order the creme brulee! Someone on here suspected that the filling was just Cool Whip... and the server confirmed!
Such a shame. In 2007 we had a nice brunch there. After recent reports I doubt we'd go back. Some of these old places really need to just get some cojones and poach a great chef who can bridge the old and the new and breathe some life into the place. I know it's easier said than done but it can clearly happen!
A couple of years ago we had Shrimp Arnaud at Remoulade, their cheap around-the-corner joint. The shrimp were big and the sauce was spicy and lively. A year later we had it again as take-out and the shrimp were what you described: The little tiny ones and the sauce had lost its kick. I wonder what's going on over there.
thank you for your excellent reviews. we had drinks several times in the little side bar because we needed to use restrooms before and after viewing parades, the bartenders were very pleasant and efficient. i wondered about the restaurant. i know now i will never eat there. there are far too any good places to go. we had jazz brunch at commanders palace on our trip. it was wonderful.
The Kupcake Factory, Mr. B's Bistro, Sucre - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/k...
After a decent time at the Aquarium of the Americas and Riverwalk and a great time at the Okeanos parade my fair skin was getting quite red, my throat quite dry, and my belly quite hungry. With most restaurants having already finished breakfast or brunch hours I originally had planned to swing by Johnny’s for a Po-Boy. Making my way from Canal to St. Louis I was met by a line of more than 50 people and opted for plan B – a trip to the bar at Mr. B’s. Heading up St. Louis I stopped short when I saw a small sign in the street indicating a store called Kupcake Factory and advertising a butter pecan cupcake.
Making my way into the small cupcakery I spoke to the friendly clerk and was informed that they were sold out of the butter pecan – as well as three other flavors. Explaining to me that they are actually a chain I asked him for a recommendation and he suggested the Red Velvet - an option I’d have purchased whether he recommended it or not. Deciding to save room for other delicacies I paid the modest $2.25 (a steal compared to LA or NYC) and made my way to the street.
Featuring what was reported to be cream cheese frosting I have to say I didn’t sense much of the tanginess I’ve come to expect from a cream cheese frosting – nor did I catch the cocoa high notes that I expect from a red velvet. Moist and sweet for sure, the taste was pretty much standard hostess chocolate – no better, no worse. Browsing their website I must say some of their other flavors intrigue me and I’d consider checking them out again, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
Heading up to Royal I was surprised to see Mr. B’s was still full of people chatting over their brunch in the dining room shortly after 3pm – asking the host if they were still seating I was told “no, but we serve most of our best stuff at the Bar all day.” Content with this I made my way over to the bar where I was seated next to a friendly fellow from Mississippi who insisted I “must” try the BBQ shrimp – his pick for the best dish in all of New Orleans. Explaining to him that I had every intention of doing so the waiter/bartender must’ve overheard our conversation and chimed in that the shrimp wasn’t his favorite dish, but that it was very good. When I asked him what his favorite was he stated “The Gumbo Ya-Ya.”
With water filled and my choices already made by my neighbor and the bartender (the two item’s I’d had every intention of getting anyhow) I sat back and chatted with my neighbor while watching the basketball game at the bar. Arriving without much delay was a hot loaf of crusty French bread with a great crisp exterior and pillowy soft interior – perfect for eating but moreso for soaking. Shortly following the bread was my cup of Gumbo Ya-Ya – the best gumbo I’d have on my visit to NOLA. Served piping hot and featuring a thick dark roux, light on rice and heavy on spicy andouille and shrimp – plenty of bite without blunting the nuances of the individual ingredients – wonderful.
A short time passed and I reflected on the delicious gumbo before my second dish arrived – a half order of the famous Mr. B’s Barbequed Shrimp. Three enormous shrimp – head and tail on, served with two pieces of grilled country bread and resting in a sauce that may as well have been 1/3 butter, 1/3 pepper, and 1/3 garlic with a bit of Worcestershire and lemon – the first time in a while that I’ve had to work so hard for food (shelling) but thankfully entirely worth the effort. First devouring the tender yet snappy shrimp that were accented but not overwhelmed by the sauce – and then soaking up the sauce with the remaining bread – I’m glad they publish the recipe online because it is definitely something I plan to do at home. To be fair, I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour and $20 than the meal I had at Mr. B’s.
Following Mr. B’s was more shopping, walking, browsing, and people watching – having heard that Bacchus would be the event of carnival I made my way down toward the garden district around 5:00 and wandered the mansions while snapping pictures before heading down to Magazine to find a restroom and another destination on my food radar – Sucre – any place serving King Cake Macarons was certain to catch my attention. Entering the small shop I immediately noted the smell – cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, chocolate – a good sign to be sure. I next noted the temperature – warm to the point where I had to take off my blazer to avoid sweating.
Browsing the selections while a couple of groups in front of me placed their order I was greeted by one of three friendly youngsters who asked me if I’d like a sample of any of their gelato. Affirming I tasted the southern peach (yum,) praline (okay,) and sour cherry (fantastic) before I placed my order for one “Southern Bread Pudding” and two Macarons plus a glass of water. Explaining to me that the bread pudding would take a few minutes to warm up and dress I took my water and went to a table near the door (where it was cooler) to wait.
A few moments passed before my server arrived with the Bread Pudding – warm and gooey, topped with chocolate, and alongside a scoop of King Cake Gelato as well as the Macarons on two separate long white plates. Beginning with the bread pudding – a small piece for $6 – all I could do was sit back, smile, and be impressed. Rich and buttery brioche, beautifully sweetened custard, and topped with a melted square of sucre chocolate and an ample amount of caramel and fudge – light on the tongue but heavy in flavor and buttery cinnamon texture – a flawless bread pudding. Moving onto the slowly melting Gelato – creamy and smooth, accents of cinnamon and pecan, plus chunks of glittering king cake speckled throughout.
Moving on to the Macarons, they were unfortunately sold out of the chocolate, coffee, and pistachio so I opted for a caramel to go along with the King Cake version. While I found the caramel to be rather plain and moreso a “vanilla” than caramel, the King Cake version tasted precisely like the gelato and my King Cake from Haydel’s. Featuring a crisp shell that gave way to fluffy but somewhat overly dense cookie (compared, say, to La Maison du Chocolate) I do believe that Sucre would benefit from refrigerating their Macarons to avoid any moisture gathering as the day goes on. Good, but not “great” macarons – at least not as good as the Bread Pudding.
Sitting and taking in the scenery my water was refilled without needing request and despite the busyness of the store I was not rushed in any way to give up my seat after finishing. Browsing the selection of cookies, candies, cakes, and confections – many Valentine’s Day themed – and subsequently reading about the owner and pastry chef I have to say that of all the bakeries I visited in New Orleans Sucre was my favorite and the one I’d return to first on subsequent visits. With that stated, however, compared to the bakery scene in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco Sucre has plenty of room to grow…thankfully it appears they have the talent and clientele to support doing so.
Mr B's Bistro
201 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Commander's Palace - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/c...
…and on Valentine’s Day evening Bacchus rolled, Drew Brees threw, and the city of New Orleans went crazy… fans and celebrators standing shoulder to shoulder at least 10 deep lining every inch of St. Charles Avenue…even New Years Eve in New York lacked the energy of the Garden District that night. Starting just after six with the last float moving past my location slightly west of Washington St. at 8:15 I was happy I’d pushed my reservation at Commander’s Palace back to 8:45 – the parade was absolutely worth eating late for and if the energy of that evening could be bottled there would be a lot more happy people in the world.
Making my way into what may be New Orleans most famous restaurant approximately 10 minutes before my scheduled reservation I was greeted with all smiles and questions about how the parade was – I almost felt bad for the service staff that didn’t get a chance to experience it. Taken quickly to my beautiful two-top in the main dining room my chair was pulled out for me, my water was filled, and I was left to wait for approximately 10 minutes before my server finally arrived to introduce herself, explain the menu, and offer her suggestions – including the suggestion that 3 appetizers, a main, and a dessert was probably too much unless I went with the tasting menu (which she noted had smaller portions, but was still quite a bit of food.)
Orders placed, including coffee to go with my meal, I was left to wait and browse the room – mostly locals celebrating Valentine’s Day at that point, but later to fill up substantially with well dressed beaded folks who talked excitedly of the parade – clearly this was a Sunday night when dining late was expected and the servers never missed a beat. Coffee served, a rich and nutty blend with notes of cocoa and chicory, I actually had to request that they slow down on the refills of it because I was having difficulty balancing my sweetener with the frequent warm-ups.
Shortly following placing my order I received Commander’s Palace’s famous garlic bread – essentially a pan grilled French bread soaked in garlic butter, parmesan, and chives – it was excellent and I managed two plates without difficulty. Later in the meal (with the main course) the garlic bread was replaced by a crusty and buttery French bread – a tad tough and chewy on the interior, but certainly not bad – and a grassy salted butter.
For my first dish of the evening – my first experience with Turtle Soup. Requested as merely a taste my server informed me that it would be no problem to receive a portion from the “Soup 1-1-1” for a mere $3 and I was thrilled. Splashed with some sherry table the stock itself had a spicy yet sour flavor that I quite liked – what didn’t work, however, was the turtle meat itself…dry, gritty, almost “sandy” if you will. Having heard similar reviews from a couple of respected gourmands I assume this is largely what turtle meat tastes like and while it was certainly an experience I think I’d have much preferred the turtle soup sans turtle.
My second dish of the evening, another CP classic, was an absolute winner - “Oyster & Absinthe Dome.” Similar to clam chowder in texture the creamy and hearty soup featured heavy hints of cream, garlic, oysters and their liquor, artichokes, and what I do believe was a smoky bacon. Topping the amalgam and adding even more texture to the already complex soup was a large puff pastry that I chopped into the soup carefully to avoid spillage. While I can’t say I tasted much of what I could identify as absinthe or anise in the dish, what I did taste was sublime.
Dish three – well, dish three and four were the reason I elected to dine at CP’s for dinner instead of lunch or brunch. Described beautifully by both my primary server and the young man who delivered it to my table, the chef’s take on the classic beignets and café au lait entitled “Foie Gras du Monde” was another of my top 5 savories experienced in New Orleans. Featuring a perfectly cleaned 2-3oz portion of unctuous foie gras served over top two light and airy beignets stuffed with an admixture of pecan and foie mousse and topped with warm sugarcane chicory syrup on the left half of the plate while the right half of the dish displayed a glass of sweetened café au lait and foie gras foam – it was every bit as decadent as it sounds. An admitted fan of sweeter foie gras preparations I’d say that this was my second favorite seared foie gras preparation to date – an absolute must order, especially at the bargain price of $18. (for reference my favorite seared preparation was $35 at L2O and my favorite cold preparation the $30 supplement at The French Laundry.)
For my main course – once again it was the duck – and it was my second favorite duck of the trip. Entitled “Cracklin’ Crusted Duck” the evening’s preparation featured a quartered duck that perfectly pan seared medium and coated with crisp and salty pork cracklins’. Complimenting the smooth and meaty duck was a ragout of sweet and sour caramelized onions and roasted pecan duck jus along with Jack Daniels buttermilk coush-coush (crispy, sweet, delectable) and a smear of Tabasco jelly. Sweet and spicy, savory and sweet, plenty of texture variation – a beautifully executed dish.
Wiping my plate clean my server stopped by with a big smile on her face – it must’ve been pretty obvious how much I was enjoying the experience. Asking if she could “tempt me” with dessert there wasn’t even a question – “the Bread Pudding Souffle, please.” Refilling my coffee for the…I don’t know, probably tenth time…I sat and waited while taking in the sites and was greeted by one of the dining room managers who told me some of CP’s history and their current participation in multiple charitable organizations around New Orleans and the Share our Strength program to benefit Haiti – always nice to see a restaurant who gives back. Bidding me farewell and thanking me for coming to visit Commander’s Palace the manager stepped away and was quickly replaced by my server who was carrying a little cloud of heaven. The Queen of Creole dessert to say the least, the dish was indeed exactly what it stated – both a bread pudding and a soufflé. Featuring an airy dome of cinnamon meringue soufflé standing tall and proud over the edge of the ramekin and a dense, heavy, custard soaked bread pudding with heavy notes of cinnamon and nutmeg beneath the dish was punctured tableside and filled with a hefty bourbon custard sauce. While not the best soufflé I’ve ever tasted and not the best bread pudding I’ve ever experienced the dish was everything I expected and possibly the best dessert of my trip to New Orleans.
Making a quick visit to the restroom while I awaited my bill I noted the other rooms in the enormous dining space and was surprised at how busy the room remained at 10:30pm and how everyone, both diners and servers, had a smile on their face. Paying the bill (quite affordable for the quality of the experience) I was bid farewell by my server and given a copy of the menu to take home. Making my way back to my car through the quarter I watched the cleaning crew shovel the streets of the Garden District and encountered multiple folks still out celebrating, singing, smiling, and having fun – while I’m not a big “Valentine’s Day” guy, this is one that I will definitely remember for years to come.
Commander's Palace Restaurant
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
La Boulangerie and Brennan's: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/b...
Lundi Gras began on a sour note – I’d slept great after my meal at Commander’s and opted to skip my morning run because the temperatures had dipped below freezing in order to get to downtown early so I could visit some cemeteries. Packing up my belongings, showering, and driving down to the quarter I decided to continue my quest for the perfect almond croissant at Boulangerie before making my way to Lafayette Cemetary – unfortunately Boulangerie was manned by a surly staff, the croissant was overcooked, doughy, and filled with an almond paste that I’m pretty sure was mixed with glucose syrup or HFCS, and I forgot the memory card for my camera. With limited space on my phone memory card I did manage thirty or so shots of Lafayette before making my way east – thankfully finding an Office Depot that opened at 7:30am and had a great deal ($14.99 minus a $5 coupon for a 4gig SD card) along the way.
Continuing my eastward path along the bead-laden boulevard I was surprised to see the streets largely empty – it was the first time they weren’t flooded with crowds since I arrived. Making good time I stopped to snap some pictures of the quarter prior to getting in the growing line at Brennan’s for what I hoped to be a breakfast that was actually worth the substantial hype (and price.) Listening to the other persons in line I was somewhat relieved to realize that most of these folks were local and not tourists – a good sign I though.
Like clockwork the doors to Brennan’s opened at 9am and we slowly filed into the large and well lit lobby with decorations harkening a time well before I was born. Confirming my reservation with the hostess a small card was filled out and I was led along with a number of other groups to an excellent two-top in the sunlit hallway just off of the main dining room. Greeted as a group by the man who would be our primary waiter the menu was explained to us as a group – at first I found this a bit odd but when I heard the EXACT same presentation five more times during my 80 minute dining experience I realized why it was done that way – it was very rehearsed.
Browsing the menu and noting the myriad up-charges (essentially every item recommended by our server) I debated the a la carte selection versus the prix fixe but eventually decided on the prix fixe. Orders placed I was brought a bold and chicory laden coffee that was filled repeatedly without hesitation, a large glass of ice water, and a loaf of crispy French bread that seemed a bit cool and dried out – without a doubt the worst bread service of the trip.
Considered as much an “Experience” as a meal I must say I was pleased by the service at Brennan’s despite it’s well choreographed nature – while certainly refined fine dining service like one expects at a Michelin Starred establishment each of the servers, captains, and ancillary staff filled their role admirably and the theater of the meal (the history, the flaming items, etc) played out well.
Arriving approximately 20 minutes after I was seated, my first dish of the meal was the famous baked apple in double cream. Consisting of exactly what was stated this was a wonderfully sweet golden delicious baked in ample amounts of cinnamon and butter and then placed in a thickened sweetened cream accented with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Somewhat akin to an apple dumpling without the shell I was actually surprised that the dish was served cold but interestingly found it to be quite refreshing and tasty – while I wouldn’t spend the $7.50 a la carte price it was certainly a nice way to start the meal.
Arriving approximately 20 minutes after the apple my main course was delivered and although some may note that Brennan’s is expensive, I fully believe that this dish justifies the visit. Entitled Oysters Benedict the dish featured a dozen plump and juicy oysters fried in a crispy panko and cornmeal coating and resting atop two slices of savory Canadian bacon. Topping off the dish was a delectable paprika accented hollandaise sauce and alongside the oysters and bacon was a wonderfully sweet and almost fruity tomato topped with parmesan and baked before presentation. A wonderful balance of flavors I rather wish I’d have ordered the dish with some poached eggs, but on its own it was still quite tasty.
Finishing the meal – well, as much as I love bread pudding I just had to see what the Bananas Foster was all about. Presented uncooked first and then slowly prepared at a small station just behind me before our sever allowed a young girl to finish the dish with rum I have to say the theater and smell of the dish definitely outperformed the presentation and the flavor. For the price I personally found the use of bruised bananas somewhat off-putting and…well, it is just bananas, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and some liquor that is burned off. While I’m glad I experienced it I can’t say I’d order it again on return and if I wanted some good caramelized bananas in New Orleans I’d sooner go to Brigtsen’s for the banana bread pudding….it’s cheaper, larger, and quite a bit better.
Paying the sizable bill and bidding farewell to my server I wandered around the large building and marveled at the fact that it was only 10:15am and every seat was full – clearly word has gotten around that this is the place for breakfast in New Orleans. Having been to many a great brunch/breakfast places around the country, many of which are touted as “THE experience” I can say that Brennan’s more or less lived up to the hype – though at a relatively substantial cost. Was it worth it – yep, but mostly just to say I did it…on future visits I’d probably just head to Camellia Grill and save more money for lunch.
417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
…so it turns out I’m one of the few gourmands who loves Emeril Lagasse…to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.” In reality my love of the “BAM” dates back to late 2002 (before I started this blog and before I had the money and inclination to go to places like Alinea or Per Se) when I took my mother to his Orlando restaurant as a Thank You for helping me with my medical school applications. Without overstating I can honestly say that it was my first experience with “fine dining” and it opened my eyes to what food and a dining “experience” could be. Since that visit I’ve been back to the eponymous Orlando restaurant as well as Tchoup Chop, Table 10, Delmonico Las Vegas, and the Fish House and liked or loved the experience at each.
Coming to New Orleans I have to say I was a bit disappointed that I’d not be able to experience Chef Lagasse’s first restaurant because of its location along the Mardi Gras Parade route but was relieved to know that not only would NOLA be open, but that they’d also be glad to prepare anything I desired off the dinner menu at lunch when I queried them via phone after making reservations. Arriving a couple minutes late for my lunch reservation (I got caught up talking Bread Pudding with the lady at the culinary school next door) I was greeted pleasantly by both a male and female at the hostess table and was told it would be “a couple of moments” before my table was ready. Standing aside I took in the unique scenery and action in the kitchen for about 3 minutes before I was escorted via elevator to the second floor where I was given an excellent table in the middle of the room.
Greeted promptly by my server, a young African American fellow who introduced himself and the rest of the team I was offered a cocktail (again I declined) and handed a copy of the menu. Selecting tap water and coffee to go with my meal he next explained the daily specials and when I asked if the dinner menu could be accommodated he said he’d check with the kitchen…and returned in 2 minutes to say that it wouldn’t be a problem at all. Pleasant, conversive, and professional without being snooty I personally loved the service at NOLA and would go so far as to say that my server could easily fit in with the folks at Camellia Grill but also could have brought a bit of personality to the team at Restaurant August equally well – no easy task.
Orders placed I sat and browsed the interesting layout of the restaurant – open ceilings, stone walls, plenty of unique art while also marveling at the overall noise level of the restaurant – energetic and lively without being downright loud or annoying…sort of like Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill or Batali’s Babbo for those who’ve been.
Arriving shortly after my coffee – a bold French blend, the kind that isn’t “memorable” but works with everything due to its low acidity – I received something unexpected…bread that wasn’t just a standard loaf of French. Two small rolls served with a complex and sweet unsalted butter, the first a tasty green onion butter roll and the second a beautiful jalapeno cornbread with just a bit of spice, I have to say I quite liked the variation and found the cornbread to be one of the best I’ve had in quite some time…if I had but one complaint it would be that the rolls were so small and refills were hard to get because everyone was requesting more.
My first dish of the meal was the NOLA Gumbo of the day – chicken andouille, shrimp, and lump crab. Featuring a thick and spicy roux with plenty of shrimp, sausage, okra, and celery I was very impressed by the minimal amount of rice and “filler” but also felt that perhaps a little more file would have been ideal as the dish was soupier than I’d have preferred. Good, but lacking that “stick to your ribs” quality of Mr. B’s.
My second dish, a main course from the dinner menu, was Hickory-Roasted Duck with Whiskey-Caramel Glaze, Buttermilk Cornbread Pudding, Haricot Verts, Fire Roasted Corn Salad, Natural Jus and Candied Pecans. Never one to lack for ingredients on a single plate I can say without a doubt that this was (by far) the best Duck of my trip to New Orleans – and the accompanying items were pretty superb too. Featuring a bone-in half duck perfectly roasted medium and with skin smooth, sweet, and crisp-yet-supple…potentially the best duck I’ve ever had. Lying beneath the fowl was a sweet yet buttermilk-sour cornbread pudding similar to the coush-coush at CP, snappy and sweet Haricot Verts, and a smoky yet sweet roasted corn salad. An enormous portion for $28 this item is clearly better served as a dinner selection, but for the glutton who is trying to make the very most of his or her New Orleans dining experience it makes a sublime lunch, as well.
Following the duck and some more coffee I watched my neighbor eat the chicken and waffles – it looked fantastic. I also made a difficult decision. You see, at each of Emeril’s other restaurants I ordered the bread pudding and was quite impressed by all but one…but the bread pudding du jour at NOLA was chocolate and raspberry with creole cream cheese while one of the alternatives was a dish with French Toast, ice cream, bananas, cinnamon, and bacon…the bread pudding didn’t stand a chance. Arriving piping hot with the ice cream slowly melting and soaking the bread, Cinnamon Pain Perdu with Sautéed Bananas, Drunken Monkey Ice Cream and Brown Sugar Bacon was a showstopper – an absolute must order. Crispy and sweet French Toast, Caramelized Bananas, the Bourbon punch of the banana laden ice cream, and the savory bacon…for some it may have been sugar overload but for me it was the kind of dish I’ll crave every time I think of a Banana for some time.
Quite stuffed and planning to go catch some Jazz at the Lundi Gras Celebration on the river I was asked if I’d like a cup of coffee to go – a nice touch that I gladly agreed to. Paying the modest bill and thanking my servers for a wonderful experience I made my way down to the elevator, through the still present (and seemingly never shrinking) crowd, and to the streets. While some “foodies” shy away from celebrity chefs like Legasse, Puck, Batali, etc claiming that the restaurants are all marketing and the chefs are largely disconnected I personally am of the opinion that great food is great food and great service is great service – if a restaurant can provide me with those two things I don’t mind if the chef spends more time at a TV studio than in the kitchen, he is clearly hiring the right people to carry forth his vision.
534 Rue St. Louis, New Orleans, LA 70130
Clancy's - http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/02/c...
Intentionally parking South of the parade routes due to my dinner reservations I did a lot of walking after lunch at NOLA – I wandered the Riverwalk and watched some Jazz provided by the Zulu folks, I went to Harrah’s and watched some terrible cover bands sing terrible Journey, I shopped the Canal Street Mall and the independents around the Quarter (Much love for tacky Mardi Gras colored antique cufflinks,) and I finally wandered down to the Avenue Café on St. Charles for some excellent Chicory Coffee – the best of the trip – because it was getting nippy out prior to Proteus and Orpheus.
With the evening getting more chilly by the minute I was glad for the warmth of the crowd as we watched Proteus pass but given my early reservation time of 7:30pm I was only able to watch twenty minutes of Orpheus before making it to my car and taking the GPS guided trip to what may be New Orleans best kept secret – Clancy’s. Arriving just moments after my reservation time I found parking in what appeared to be someone’s front yard and made my way to the comfy looking corner restaurant where I was greeted by a friendly older fellow who confirmed my reservation and led me to a nice two top in the middle of the room – handing me a copy of the hand-written menu I heard the now-familiar “put the bread on ‘em” uttered to one of the ancillary servers as he walked away.
Arriving before the bread I was greeted by my primary server – tuxedo clad, extremely professional, and with a thick southern accent – who explained the nightly specials to me, specifically the daily soup and sweetbreads prep (which unfortunately entailed mustard crusting) and fielded my menu questions. Ordering coffee, a rich blend with a good bouquet of floral and fig tones, to go with the meal I was offered a magazine – the newest issue of Food and Wine – to read while I waited (a nice touch I’d not seen since my visit to The Dining Room in San Francisco.)
Browsing my magazine and sipping my coffee one of the ancillary servers next brought me a loaf of delicate French bread still piping hot from the oven and a half-stick of salted butter. The best French bread of the trip without a doubt I had no difficulty finishing the loaf during the course of the meal and was offered more with my main – an offer which I declined but only with much restraint. Looking around the room I’m pretty sure I was the only non-local in the place and it seemed that even moreso than Brigtsen’s that Clancy’s is a place where the servers know everyone.
Arriving after about twenty minutes was a dish that came highly recommended – the Oysters and Brie. Cornmeal fried, juicy and sweet, the oysters sat atop pan seared crispy spinach and each of the four were topped with a sizable chunk of creamy and tangy Brie. A combination I’d not have thought of personally I was actually quite impressed at how the two main ingredients worked together with each brining out the subtleties of the other without masking their characteristic flavors – it is actually quite surprising more restaurants aren’t pairing this combination.
For my second dish – arriving approximately 10 minutes after I’d finished my Oysters and Brie…more Oysters…this time a half dozen. Served out of their shell and baked in a stainless steel pan the dish contained a 50/50 split of classic Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters with smoked Boudin – both topped with a creamy and buttery hollandaise. Beginning first with the Rock – a good preparation with sweet and salty oysters topped with ample garlic, onion, anise, and spinach mixed with bread crumbs. Moving next to the boudin, imagine the flavor of juicy oysters and spicy pork with a gossamer finish that tasted almost of foie gras…impressive and every bit worth the $13.95 price tag.
When it came to main courses at Clancy’s I was torn – did I want to get a few more appetizers (the crab salad, the shrimp and grits, the eggplant) or did I want to get the duck…at my server’s suggestion I went with the duck. Smoked in house and a very large portion (I’m pretty sure more than 1/2 a duck) I will admit that the Duck itself was phenomenal – it tasted almost akin to smoked pork ribs, but with the characteristic texture of duck and featuring a crispy and sweet skin…beautiful and quite different from any duck I’ve previously had. Where the duck shined its plate-mates unfortunately did not – some decent pan seared vegetables and a boring “out-of-the-bag” pasta with butter and chives – certainly not on par with the sides at Brigtsen’s, NOLA, or CP.
Finishing my duck my server returned and asked if he could tempt me with dessert. No menu available and recited perfectly from memory there were certainly some great choices, albeit no bread pudding. Suggesting the “famous” Lemon Ice Box pie but also praising the house made ice creams, a coconut cream pie, and a butterscotch pudding I decided to go with the Ice Box Pie – even though I don’t love lemons I’d heard good things. Table crumbed and coffee refilled my pie arrived quite quickly and what it lacked in presentation (hey, it’s a piece of pie on a plate) it more than made up for in flavor. Not tart like a standard lemon meringue pie I’m rather certain the secret to this dish was the use of Meyer lemons and balancing them with both gelatin and ice cream. Firm but not hard, cold but not freezing, sweet but balanced, fruity but also vanilla and creamy – very nice and certainly worthy of it’s praise.
Wandering past the bar to visit the restroom I noted a couple of folks dining at the bar while chatting with the bartender and was impressed by how quiet it was – very old school and homey, the kind of place I could imagine someone popping into after work for a drink and some appetizers. Returning to the table I settled the bill with my server and chatted a bit about how I’d heard about their restaurant. On my way out the door I was stopped by the host who thanked me for stopping in and strongly suggested I check out Brigtsen’s if I had the time – he was quite impressed when I told him I had. Requesting a copy of the menu he was very happy to pass it along and wished me a Happy Mardi Gras. Excellent down to earth food and excellent down to earth people – Clancy’s is the kind of place I expected to find in New Orleans.
6100 Annunciation St, New Orleans, LA 70118
next time if available, get their smoked soft shells. I always order at the door upon arriving for fear they will sell out. love eating at the bar as well. besides the oysters w/brie, I get the sweetbreads, the ss's, veal chop and more oysters w/brie for dessert.
not sure if you partake, but their frozen brandy alexanders are legendary.
Wow, I am certainly enjoying your exquisitely detailed reviews. But I must take issue with a couple of words I've noticed popping up in them. When you say north, south, east or west, you will see a local nearly burst into tears. Consider this: if you are in the French Quarter, you can go down to the river and watch the sun rise over the West Bank. And if you get in the river right at Jackson Square, you will travel north on your way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead, we state our directions as riverside, lakeside, upriver and downriver.
Just an FYI - apparently someone has complained about me linking my reviews here. From now on please just check the blog - I will post the text reviews here as I've been. As I've stated multiple times in the past I do this to give back - I glean no benefit from it - but I shall abide by the rules despite merely contributing free material to a free site.
…I got back to the hotel early after dinner at Clancy’s and got to bed by 10:30pm – Mardi Gras day was to be an early one as I wanted a good parking spot, early breakfast, and a good place to stand in the Garden District for the Zulu parade. Waking up at 4am I went for a spirited run, showered and shaved, and drove to my favorite parking space at the corner of Elysian Fields and Royal by 6:30. Having planned ahead in my traditional manner I knew Stanley would be opening at their usual time of 7:00am and I was waiting at the door when the servers unlocked and let myself and four others in. Taking a seat “anywhere you like” I opted for a seat along the window, but also with a good view of the kitchen.
Waiting for a good 5 minutes before I was brought a menu I checked out the interior – a decidedly nice space with a relatively nice bistro feel that was only enhanced by the large windows and great view. An open bar with the kitchen open and visible behind I saw the two cooks firing up the grill while soft new-age jazz played over the speakers overhead. Having walked by the space many times during the previous days I can’t say I ever saw it even close to full but I imagine the high ceilings and music could lend to the restaurant getting quite loud at times.
Greeted by my server, a young female who looked as though she’d just rolled out of bed – with a hangover – I was handed the “Mardi Gras menu,” something I’d not expected in that it was extremely limited and they’d not mentioned the limitations when I’d called to ask if they were open. Inquiring why this decision was made I was told that they expected to have “a lot of people in and out all day”…IE “we’re shooting for quick turnover” in my opinion. Ordering a cup of coffee – a relatively standard blend with cocoa notes – I was left to peruse the menu…all ten items of it.
No desserts, pancakes, or French toast I opted for the Eggs Stanley – a dish featuring Cornmeal-Crusted P&J’s Louisiana Oysters, Poached Eggs, Canadian Bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a Toasted English Muffin. Taking less than 15 minutes to arrive I will give credit where credit is due, the oysters and bacon were excellent and every bit as good as those at Brennan’s the day before – albeit less in number and less in price. Properly toasted I also liked the crunchy contrast of the English Muffin and appreciated the well poached eggs – creamy and clearly fresh. With regard to the Hollandaise – it really didn’t add much aside from a buttery flavor and some calories – not much nuance, no spice – but it looked pretty.
Having to request my refills, both of coffee and of water (served in what I swear was a double shot glass,) even though the restaurant was largely empty my server checked on me once again – when I was done with my meal. Asking me if she could get me anything else I stated no, just the bill, and it was delivered to my table moments later. One of the more affordable meals of my visit to New Orleans I guess I can chalk up the sub-standard experience and menu to the Holiday, but I wish they’d have forewarned me when I called.
Leaving Stanley and heading west I wanted to stop and get something sweet to eat while watching the parade and having spied Antoine’s Annex the day before I figured it was worth a shot. Entering the small shop there was no line and the server asked if I needed any help the moment I approached the register. Browsing the items I told him “just a second” and he went back to talking with his colleague who was putting out some of the freshly baked items including an individual King Cake, some croissants, and pastries such as éclairs and napoleons. Being Mardi Gras day I decided to try the King Cake and $3 and 5 minutes later I returned to my westward path arriving near the corner of 1st and St. Charles around 7:20am.
With the parade having started to roll our way I decided to step aside and enjoy my King Cake so that I could focus on taking pictures of the floats and catching some coconuts. Biting into the bagel-sized cake I must say it was quite a bit different from the version I’d tried previously (or would try after,) almost like a baked donut (but not a bagel) in texture with ample notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and butter throughout. Topped with a sugary glaze and sugar crystals in traditional colors the item was quite tasty but certainly not as impressive as the version from Haydel’s – but perhaps that is because I have a bit of a sweet tooth.
Content and full I stood back with the folks along St. Charles and watched what was certainly my favorite day parade, Zulu, roll by along with all the walking groups and other parades to follow. Receiving a phone call from Emeril’s around 11:00 stating that they weren’t sure how/why Opentable had allowed me to make a reservation on a day they were closed - apparently they, unlike the place I ended up dining, couldn’t manage to be open during Mardi Gras due to their location. C’est la vie – lunch proved to be one of the best meals of my trip to NOLA and led to more parade surprises and fun.
547 St Ann St, New Orleans, LA
…the Zulu parade went well – almost too well. I met some great folks, learned a ton about New Orleans culture and the Zulu parade…and being up front, tall, and mobile I caught (or was handed – thank God they don’t throw those things) ten coconuts and a boatload of beads. Having packed light and leaving the following morning I gave away most of the beads and two of the heavier hand-painted nuts to some of the smaller folks – elderly ladies in most cases since the little kids catch more than enough. All in all the Zulu parade was a blast and their costumes, music, and vibe plus the people in the crowd were alone worth the trip to New Orleans.
With the Zulu parade and its subsequent walking groups finishing up around 2:00pm I decided it was time for lunch and proceeded east with my coconuts packed in a large bag. Walking slowly through the crowds and piles of discarded beads I reached the Hilton St. Charles around 2:45 and approached the hostess stand at Luke sans reservations. Greeted by a rather downtrodden young lady I was told “well, there is seating at the bar” when I asked for a table – one of the 20+ that was open. Walking over to the bar and taking a seat I stared blankly at the space in front of me for 5 minutes without anyone addressing me before I stood up and went back to the hostess stand to find a much more pleasant young woman who said “a table for one? Right this way” and led me to a cozy little table near the middle of the restaurant. I really have no idea what to make of the initial interaction as I never saw the first hostess again but I can only assume she was at the end of her shift…or perhaps didn’t even work there?
Greeted almost immediately upon seating by my friendly server – a young man who managed what appeared to be the entire front room without difficulty and maintained the demeanor of someone trained under the Thomas Keller Empire – the service would be perfect throughout. Bread was timely, coffee and water refills spot on, plate descriptions accurate thorough, and all done with a friendly down-to-earth demeanor and a smile. Going over the daily special with me I was left to decide while he went to get my coffee.
Listening to the room – lively but not loud despite the parade going by in the street – I labored over the menu for some time because everything sounded quite good – essentially bistro fare with a southern twist. Returning with the coffee – a great thick blend with a bit of chicory but more prominently cocoa notes (I’m rather certain the same as that at August) I decided to go with the “express lunch” special – a $15 soup and main combo plus an added appetizer. Smiling my server told me I’d made a great choice and slipped away to serve his other tables.
Arriving shortly after my order was placed – yet another crispy and golden French loaf, this time served with a delightful and grassy salted butter. While the bread was not quite as delicious as that at Clancy’s it was my second favorite of the trip and the butter put it over the top – thankfully I limited myself to just the one loaf because it turns out Luke’s “deal” lunch is not for the faint of heart (or stomach.)
Arriving first, my soup – the daily special of crawfish bisque. Clearly tomato and cream based with heavy spicing and ample crawfish the dish was unlike any bisque I’ve ever tasted, but certainly not a gumbo either. Loaded with chunks of fresh crawfish and spicy without being “hot” I liked the bisque and as it would turn out (oddly) to be my only experience with crawfish on the trip I was glad I’d chosen it even though I likely would have preferred the daily gumbo.
My second dish, an addition to the prix fixe, was the Foie Gras – quite frankly, if a place is offering a terrine of Foie I’m probably going to order it. Presented elegantly this terrine proved not only good, but exemplary. Featuring a thick cut of slow cooked terrine painted on all sides with a Gewürztraminer reduction, topped with micro greens and a coarse sea salt, and drizzled with thick and sweet balsamic I can favorably compare this $16 preparation to the $30 supplemented version served at The French Laundry – though it wasn’t quite as airy or delicate. Served with toasted brioche (I was brought more on request) and beautifully textured I would strongly recommend any fan of cold foie to visit Luke for the experience.
Arriving next was the daily special – having looked at the menu I was surprised when it arrived because I expected a sandwich…but the surprise was the good kind…the really good kind. In describing their cochon du lait prep my server told me how the slow roast pork is reduced down similar to pulled pork and then “rehydrated” with a dairy, onion, and garlic reduction (plus the chef’s special spices) and then pan fried crispy on top. If that description doesn’t do it for you – try it…almost a sweet yet creamy pork meatloaf with a crispy and salty skin akin to pork belly. Accompanying the pork on the plate were not only the advertised stewed greens and vinegar laden cherry mustard, but also a hefty helping of cornbread dressing. Call it bistro food, call it soul food, call it comfort food – I call it one of the most unexpectedly delicious dishes I’ve had in some time.
Finishing my pork the server stopped by and since the place was less busy he stood and chatted for a bit – asking where I was from, how I’d heard about the restaurant, and just talking “food culture” in general – he also noted that this was the first Mardi Gras during which he was working and said he was disappointed to be missing the parades. Telling him about the Zulu parade he stated “I can’t believe it” when I told him about the coconuts and proceeded to tell me he’d only managed to catch one a year the previous two seasons. Feeling bad for him having to miss such a great parade I offered him a coconut – “consider it part of the tip” and he graciously accepted. Asking me if I was interested in dessert I told him I didn’t even need the menu – just bring the bread pudding.
Arriving about 15 minutes later as I read a complimentary copy of the New York Times the bread pudding was an absolute masterpiece – the best traditional bread pudding I’ve ever tasted. Described simply as cinnamon raisin bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and hot buttered pecan sauce the complexities of the dish were astounding for a bread pudding – piping hot with the smooth and creamy ice cream slowly melting the bread pudding itself was marvelous in custard/bread ratio and the sauce had minimal alcoholic kick while instead focusing on notes of caramel, pecan, cinnamon, and what may have even been honey. Having had a whole lot of bread pudding in my time this was undoubtedly my favorite non-chocolate version to date.
Settling the bargain of a bill and offering me a refill of my coffee to go my server asked where I planned to watch the rest of the parades and I told him I’d likely head back to the Garden District. At this point he informed me that if I walked out the side doors (presumably to the restroom) I’d have full access to the Hilton balcony overlooking St. Charles Avenue. Thanking him greatly for the tip I made my way out and soon found myself standing with less than 20 other people far above the crowds on St. Charles to watch the end of Rex and most of Elks before I bid farewell to the friendly people with me (mostly tourists) and making my way back to the streets.
333 St Charles, New Orleans, LA 70130
Great parades, great people, amazing food – really, the most “fun” I’ve had on a trip in the past year…and to cap off a wonderful visit to New Orleans I wanted to do something special – to go out on top, as it were. Having already done classic or refined New Orleans cuisine for most of my meals I figured a trip to the pinnacle of “haute-Creole” was in order –after the meal I had at Luke I was relatively certain that John Besh’s flagship wouldn’t disappoint. After a few more hours of wandering the quarter, people watching (the costumes are better than Halloween,) and shopping I made my way to the doors of Restaurant August approximately 5 minutes early for my 8:00pm reservation.
Entering the small lobby I felt comfortable – this place looked and felt like fine dining…not that other places in New Orleans didn’t, but this was more Robuchon or Keller than Clancy or Brigtsen. Greeted by a pair of friendly hosts my reservation was confirmed and I was led to a two-top along the wall of the front dining room – plenty of light, a great view of the street, and isolated from the sounds of the surprisingly loud bar. Water choices (sparkling, tap, bottled) were offered and I selected tap – it is appropriate to note here that twice during the meal I had to raise my glass or ask the server for water refills – a minor thing to some but a mistake that should not happen at a restaurant like August.
Greeted next by my waiter, a younger Asian fellow who appeared sporadically but was clearly working in other rooms of the large house as well, I was given a menu as well as wine/cocktail list which I declined. Going over the structure of the menu my server explained the 4-course, 7-course, and a la carte options while additionally noting that anything on either of the tasting menus could be ordered a la carte. In asking about creating my own tasting he stated that 2 appetizers, a main, plus dessert would be “probably a lot of food” – so I ordered 3 appetizers and a main with dessert to be decided on later.
Arriving first along with my coffee - the same excellent blend that was served at Luke – was French Bread and Butter. More “mini-baguettes” than the big loafs elsewhere these certainly fit the concept of fine dining, but unfortunately the exterior was a bit too crunchy and the exterior to interior ratio led to a rather dry experience. Served with the same delectable butter as at Luke I’m rather certain Besh must have this sourced for all of his restaurants and he should definitely let other local restaurants in on the secret.
My first course of the meal was my first amuse of the trip – an interesting fact given the places I normally dine. Served in an eggshell the dish was described as a seafood custard sabayon with paddlefish roe and brioche. Large in size I cannot say this amuse reinvented the wheel – in actuality it is something I’ve seen at multiple restaurants before and tasted like a less refined version of Picholine’s sea urchin panna cotta served in a yard egg shell. A nice way to start, but somewhat safe.
Arriving only seconds after I finished the amuse was my first course of the evening, for all intents and purposes the dish that has become Restaurant August’s signature dish - Potato gnocchi with Blue Crab and Black Truffles in Cream Sauce. Topped with shaved parmigiano-reggiano just prior to service and featuring an ample portion of crab and cream sauce plus small chips of black truffle the gnocchi were pillow-soft and perfectly prepared – the best textured potato gnocchi I’ve had since the French Laundry. Well complimented by the buttery sauce the crab was delectable and the cheese lent sharpness to the dish as well as some textural variation. If anything were disappointing about this dish it would be the truffles – largely lacking in both aroma and flavor I think the dish would have been just as good without their presence.
My second dish of the evening was the ever rotating (and bargain priced at $20) Foie Gras three ways. Another ever-present August item the nightly preparation featured a small dollop of mousse in “crunchy chicory crumbs” over mango puree on the left, a German inspired “Pickled Foie Gras Gateaux” surrounded by sweetened layers of cake and topped with Riesling gelatin cubes in the middle, and a pheasant and Foie pate with fig compote to the right. Served with buttery toasted brioche I absolutely loved the bitter/sweet contrast of the dollop, particularly spread on the bread but also quite liked the Gateaux which my server explained to me was pickled and slow cooked in pear vinegar. While I can’t say I loved the pheasant terrine I’ve never really fancied mixed fowl/foie outside of the version at Guy Savoy – that noted it was definitely as good as the preparations I had at Per Se and Daniel.
The second service issue of the evening occurred after the foie gras – my next course arrived literally 20 seconds after I finished the Foie Gras and it was cool – almost as though they’d not expected me to take my time with the foie (I admittedly requested a second plate of brioche and spent 20 minutes on the dish.) Aside from the temperature and rushed timing I will admit that for a mere $11 the truffle larded Sweetbreads picatta was quite excellent. Featuring two large and creamy pan-seared sweetbreads pounded flat the texture of the meat and the manner in which it contrasted with the wilted romaine were excellent while the herbed cream sauce was reminiscent of a refined ranch dressing with tones of lemon and capers peaking through and accenting the protein.
For my main I went with the trend of my trip and the timing between this course and the sweetbreads was perfect. Entitled “Sugar and Spice Duckling with roasted duck foie, McEwan’s stone ground grits and candied quince” the presentation of the dish was quite nice and I understood where the chef was going with the preparation – but unfortunately the duck didn’t live up to its complimentary pieces. Overly salted and somewhat chewy this was the first duck of the trip that I felt was of less than stellar sourcing quality – it was a tad gamey and the cane sugar sweetness wasn’t quite enough to temper the briny flavor. Where the duck lacked I was quite impressed by the vanilla and butter accented grits, perfectly cleaned and seared foie, and the sweet yet balanced quince. Consuming the duck with its companion carbs helped, but for $32 the main component of the dish should’ve been better.
It was at this point of the meal that I raised my glass (as noted above) to request a water refill and this must have been witnessed by one of the dining room captains who personally filled the glass and later pulled my server aside near the kitchen – apparently to lecture him – just prior to him bringing me the dinner menu. Browsing the dessert menu and seeing no bread pudding I decided to go with my gut and try something with Banana – in this case Pere Roux’s banana rum cake with Creole cream-cheese icing. Explaining that this dish would take “about ten minutes” to prepare I opted to make my way to the restroom and interestingly walked right past the pastry kitchen upstairs while where the chef was hard at work.
Returning to my table the captain stopped by again and apologized for the “inconvenience” explaining that they had a relatively new staff and many of their more experienced servers were off for the holiday. Explaining to him that it really was not a big deal but thanking him for the concern he told me the dessert would be “on the house” and sure enough neither it nor the coffee appeared on my final bill. When the dessert did arrive it was truly worth the wait – a hand-made layer cake fresh from the kitchen. Featuring interspersed layers of creamy banana butter cake soaked in rum with layers of creamy vanilla accented cream cheese icing and paired with white chocolate shavings, fresh berries, and a smear of caramel this dessert was truly beautiful and equally delicious.
Smiling contently the captain came to check on me again and we talked food for a few moments before I was brought the admittedly modest bill along with the nightly mignardises – two small “praline brittles” that were like crunchy pralines and two lemon accented madelines that were alright but certainly not Daniel, Alex, or Ducasse quality. As an added bonus I was given two of the nightly take-home gifts – on this day a miniature King Cake that was surprisingly moist, textural, and with plenty of cinnamon and sugar – I took the second cake home to my aunt who I met in Chicago and she noted it was still delicious 24 hours later.
Making my way out of Restaurant August I have to say that in total I was quite pleased with the meal but in reality it just didn’t live up to its (then) reputation as one of Gayot’s top 40 restaurants in America. Having had some incredible meals in New Orleans during my stay I guess I went into August expecting to be blown away but what I received was mostly great food, adequate refined service, and a very nice setting at a good price - but then again I received that at every dinner I experienced in New Orleans and in each other case the food was more rustic but just as good, the service more attentive and detailed, and the settings more “old school” but just as pleasant. While I’m glad I experienced August and I certainly respect Chef Besh’s culinary skills if I were given the option to relive one meal in New Orleans August wouldn’t be my first choice.
301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Camellia Grill -
After a late night in the quarter and some sluggish traffic on the way back to Metaire I decided to sleep in...until a whopping 6:00am. With my plane leaving en route for O'Hare at 11:20am and my car due back at the rental company by 10:00 I decided to go for a jog, get showered, and pack/checkout early and grab a bite to eat before I boarded the plane. With 6pm reservations at Alinea for The Tour and uncertain lunch plans I wanted something filling that wouldn't take too long but would also provide one last memorable experience of New Orleans...I thought waffles and pie fit the bill nicely.
Hopping into the car and heading eastward I found some sticky traffic due to construction but still managed to arrive in front of the famous Camellia Grill by 8:15. Walking into the small restaurant I found both the facade and the countertop layout to be particularly "homey" and pleasant. With four servers behind the bar and three open stools at the dead center of the action I waltzed up and sat down only to have the two chairs next to me filled seconds later by another couple and a subsequent line begin to grow - it was 15-20 deep by the time I left at 9:15.
Greeted promptly by my server, a short African American fellow wearing a badge that read "Sleepy" I chuckled at his low voice, smooth demeanor, and tired looking eyes. While the name may have fit his look, it most certainly didn't fit his efficiency as he moved quickly around the bar serving multiple persons in multiple seats without missing a beat. A menu placed in front of me and water and coffee filled I was told to "gimme a holler when you're ready" and Sleepy went off to serve other diners.
Browsing the menu didn't take long but watching the expert grill man was definitely a distraction worth watching as he worked griddle, grill, and waffle irons rapidly. Sipping my coffee I have to say it wasn't the best of the trip, but for the price it most certainly wasn't bad with it's heavy chicory notes balanced by a bold chocolate and woody undertone. Catching Sleepy with a nod of the head he came over to gather my order, checked off the boxes, and passed it on to the cook.
Sitting back and watching the show that is the waiters at Camellia I have to say I was amused - it is rare to see people look like they're having so much fun working together, especially with such efficiency...it reminded me of Dottie's in San Francisco or The Griddle in Los Angeles, but more culturally oriented and humorous....though perhaps more choreographed. Watching the look on his wife's face as my neighbor received a gigantic omelet with chili and a chocolate shake for breakfast was another great treat while I waited a short 15 minutes for my first dish to arrive.
Brought hot off the waffle iron (irons that look to have been through a war in addition to the hurricane) and placed before me with a "there ya go - and here's the cane syrup, ignore that maple stuff" my pecan waffle looked quite unlike the fluffy buttermilk waffles I was familiar with but moreso like a 50/50 mix of dough and pecans - crisp, golden, and flat. Topping the waffle with the liquid butter (recommended by another server over the hard butter) and the cane syrup and proceeding to take a bite I was surpised by the texture - fluffy and nutty to mastication and actually quite delicious on its own, but even better with the syrup and butter. Not overly filling on its own despite its large plate size I was quite happy with the waffle - though it had no chance to trump what followed.
After taking a seat and ordering more waffle I'd asked if the Pecan Pie was available so early in the morning to which sleepy said "it's never too early for pie" and while eating my waffle I watched sleepy cut a sizable slice from the refridgerated pan and hand it to the grill man who subsequently placed it top down on the hot buttered grill and allowed it to cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until the buttery pecan and cinnamon smell was evident even at my seat. Flipping it off the grill onto a plate and passing it off to Sleepy he noted "HOT PIE COMING THROUGH" loud enough for all to hear. Presenting the plate to me he said "Hot Pie - but it looks naked...what this needs is some Ice Cream!" Chuckling and nodding my head in affirmation Sleepy pulled out an icecream scoop and placed an enormous scoop of vanilla right on top of the pie exclaiming "WHOOMP - There it is!" Melting rapidly atop the scorching pie the icecream quickly cooled the dish and taking a bite I was quite impressed by both the smoothness of potent vanilla ice cream and the buttery cinnamon essences of the pecan pie. Eating slower as the pie began to cool I was more impressed by the lack of "filler" and the plethora of pecans as well as the buttery crisp crust...from now on I think pie at breakfast will be a vacation requirement.
Thanking Sleepy and his cohorts for a great experience I picked up my bill and made my way to the door where you pay a friendly lady who chalks up the tab based on the checkmarks. Given the option to tip on my credit card or pay the server cash I simply put another 20% on the card and made my way to the street with a big smile on my face – and a smile on the face of the people waiting in line for a seat. Hopping in the car and making my way to the rental car agency I was glad to have experienced Camellia Grill – a sweet ending to a great trip.
626 S Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118
Alright folks - thats it. Once again I wanted to thank you all for your contributions to my culinary experience in NOLA. I've no doubt I'll be back - between the people and food I don't know how anyone could stay away too long. If only you guys had a hockey team to further justify my travels. :-)
Then again...I guess you do have the Saints.
awesome work! you inspired me to visit Luke last nite for the foie gras terrine, delicious and smooth. will hit their tues lunch special for the cochon du lait. im also going to stop by August's bar tonite for the sweetbread.
one note -- you appear to be using a point-and-shoot digital camera sans flash (rightly so). your pics are pushing the low-light sensitivity limit of your gear. i recently researched & selected the Canon S90 compact, in particular for its low-light shooting ability (fast F/2 lens and ISO up to 3200). it is considered the best pocket-sized point-and-shoot on the market right now.
...again, thanks for the great reviews!