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Jun 21, 2010 02:59 PM

Weekend eats: Upperline and Stanley

We decided to go to Upperline Saturday night in light of Chef Smith's impending departure. It has been quite a while since I last ate there and, in fact, I can't remember if it was pre or post-Katrina. The restaurant is running several specials including a 3 course dinner for $35 (which I chose) and a 7 course tasting menu for $38.50 (the boyfriend opted for this) which includes some of the more popular appetizers, the duck entree and a choice of dessert. I had the fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade to start. It was excellent as I remembered. The shrimp, however, were sliced in half lengthwise, which I don't recall. Not sure if this is how it's typically prepared or whether this is in response to shortages/price increases in shrimp. It didn't make much of a difference in the dish though. I had the filet, topped with lump crab meat for an extra $10 for my entree. It was also very good, but a little tough, even though it was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Dessert was the pecan pie, which was just fantastic. Light, not-to-sweet whipped cream and rich, buttery home-made crust. Mmm! Boyfriend's tasting menu started with the duck etouffee with jalapeno cornbread and pepper jelly, turtle soup and the chicken and andoille gumbo. The soups were fine, but not great. The duck etouffee was excellent and probably my favorite thing of the meal. The etouffee was rich, creamy and dark and was well paired with the savory jalapeno cornbread. The pepper jelly gave the dish just the right amount of sweet and tart to balance out the richness of the other flavors. For the entrees, fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade, duck with garlic sauce and a peach sauce and a spicy shrimp dish. The duck was dry and lackluster to me, but the boyfriend loved it. Neither of us cared for the sauces which didn't add much. The spicy shrimp was essentially sauteed shrimp and onions with a blend of spices. I think the kitchen must have missed something on this batch - it was greasy, the seasoning didn't quite work and the shrimp were overcooked. Not really that big of a deal considering the other items were plenty of food without the shrimp. For dessert, the bread pudding. I may have liked this better if we hadn't also had the pecan pie, but the tastes were indistinguishable. The bread pudding was also very firm - I prefer it softer. Although it wasn't the best meal I've had, there were some very good dishes and it was overall a nice meal. Great service. Very reasonably priced.

We made it Stanley on Sunday around noon in search of a hangover cure after our post-Upperline drinks lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Despite the long line outside, we managed to walk right in and sit at the bar. I have been wanting to try this place for ages and have not yet managed to muster the energy to make it down to the quarter. We skipped cocktails. I had the eggs Stanley which is essentially eggs benedict topped with fried oysters. Boyfriend had the Boar's Head corned beef hash with poached eggs and french bread. Both were satisfying, although I would say that the hollandaise lacked just a touch more acidity. The corned beef hash was slightly more chunky in texture than usual, but very good. We both indulged in ice cream cones for dessert - strawberry and peanut butter chocolate chip which were excellent. I have one gripe about the place though - the frozen fries and onion rings. I realize most diners use frozen products, but this is Stanley, owned by Scot Boswell of Stella! not your average diner. What gives?

Upperline Restaurant
1413 Upperline St, New Orleans, LA

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  1. i completely agree on the frozen fries and rings.

    i was shocked when the waiter confirmed they use frozen product. if fast food joints like In-N-Out burger can make fresh fries to order, why cant an expensive diner owned by one of the city's top chefs?

    12 Replies
    1. re: kibbles

      Hey there...

      First, I'll introduce myself. My name's Daniel, I'm the Director of Ops for Chef Boswell's restaurants. I've spent a lot of time on Chowhound over the years but never posted much. I've seen a few questions in the past about our places and decided that it's probably better to start answering them directly than leave people wondering. So it looks like I'm throwing my hat into the ring...

      Second, I'm glad you enjoyed your meal latasche, I hope you guys come again next time you're in New Orleans.

      Anyway... to answer your question... these two products (the fries and onion rings) have been a matter of debate since we opened in the new location. You have no idea how many conversations we've had about them because they're really the only two complete products that are pre-prepared... and that's always kind of bothered us.

      In the beginning we did our homework, we tasted over a dozen onion rings and a dozen styles of fries from multiple vendors and stores, we even tried to make them ourselves. The problem we've run into with making them in house is consistency--especially with onion rings. Truth be told, I actually like the onion rings we serve... a lot--to the chagrin of my waistline--and they were better and more consistant than anything we could come up with based on the volume we were serving. I'd honestly love to sit here and say everything can be made better in house, but I don't believe that to be a universal truth. Sometimes certain companies find their niche and perfect their consistancy and formula in such a way that's it's hard to replicate, and dare I say these onion ring people have done it. If all that company is doing is making onion rings... thousands of pounds a day, you better believe they're going to be pretty darn good at it.

      Which leads me into this: I'd rather *know* that we're serving up a delicious, consistant product you can count on--forzen or not--than something that has the *possibility* of not being absolutly consistant (they also taste really good, imo). I don't think calling something house-made is automatically going to make it better. I mean, we could probably make up some really good cola, but is it going to be as consistant as original Coke with the volume requirements? Probably not... so I'm going to default to our friends in Atlanta.

      The fries are always being revisited to see if we can make them better, but I think what we've got there are pretty delicious and consistant as well. Anyone can press a potato and drop it in oil... to me those don't taste GREAT, to me, ours do.

      If you can, put aside the fact they were frozen at one point and please let me know how you think the onion rings and fries tasted? I grew up in San Francisco, with an In-n-Out 15 minutes from my house, but I never liked the fries and to me the fries we serve at Stanley are much more tasty, but everyone's taste is different, ya know?

      I hope that gives you a little better idea of the reasoning behind those two things. If either of you have any other questions about Stella! or Stanley, please ask. I'm happy to answer them.

      1. re: Daniel_D

        You can't compare your frozen fries to either La Boca's or Luke's. Nor do your onion rings stand up to Charlie's. We're not talking about just anyone dropping potatoes/onions into oil. You mean Boswell can't make great fries and rings that are better than frozen? I'm not buying it. Whatever the reason, you guys are copping out.

        La Boca Restaurant
        857 Fulton St., New Orleans, LA 70130

        1. re: JazzyB

          I get your point, I really do. The point I was addressing was never about if he could make a great onion ring (or fry), he can... Can we make sure they (onion rings) come out perfect to every customer on days where we're serving 800+ people? That's the problem.

          At Stanley, it's not just about making something that tastes good, it needs to be replicable on a large scale in conjunction with everything else that's going on in the kitchen. We can make the best Whozit in the world, that makes your face explode because it tastes so good, but if there are 35 steps to the process and only Chef Boswell can execute it and sometimes it comes out good and sometimes it comes out just OK, then we have to visit other options.

          Is it impossible? Not many things are. Is it something that's always going to be that way? I don't have the yes or no answer for that... but the fact we're here talking about it, I hope says that it's something that's on our mind.

          I'm open to ideas, I'm going to Charlie's (are we talking about Charlie's Steakhouse on Dryads?) this week and try the rings and see if I can get a peek at what's going on in the kitchen, maybe the folks there have some insight from a logistical point of view (that's the real issue we have).

          1. re: Daniel_D

            You may on occassion serve 800 a day but, not 800 at a time. Additionally, not all customers are ordering fries/rings. This doesn't seem like an unsurmountable problem. Call it crazy, but when I order 2 poboys ( softshell Korean beef), 1 order of fries, 2 cokes and I've dropped $50, I expect more.

        2. re: Daniel_D

          "house made" infers other virtues as well -- no nutient loss thru preservation, no emissions spent on inefficient refrigerated trucking supply lines across the country, no hydrogenated oil in the breading, etc..

          I agree with Jazzy -- if Boswell cant figure out how to make tasty fries or rings at Stanley (which is less busy than every In-N-Out in San Diego I've ever set foot in), then it doesn't speak very well for his talent.

          local ingredients. fresh preparation. thats the crux of the issue.

          this isnt cola, or condiments. this is a *menu item*. using pre-made food products for an expensive soda counter menu is not acceptable.

          1. re: kibbles

            Let me take issue here - I go to a restaurant for great food. If great food is more consistent from local sources, so much the better. If making an item in house yields a better product, terrific. But the bottom line is not the locavore nature of the meal, nor the home-made provenance - it is the quality of the finished product.. If the chefs at Stanley really feel the onion rings they obtain from an outside source are consistently better than those they can make in house, I am with them. Afterall, for me, at least, the bottom line how things taste, not where they came from.

            1. re: paz5559

              ...we may have different prerogatives. if i were eating at MacDonald's then i wouldnt expect local, fresh ingredients. but if im eating at a local top chef (known for his high-end menus) then you better believe i expect local & fresh.

              but in addition, i *also* believe local & fresh produce taste better than frozen. want proof? try the onion rings at John Besh's American Sector -- they taste the pants off the frozen product!

              so Besh has solved this problem. yet Boswell (one of my favorites) cant? hmm.

              even w/i true fast food -- IN-N-OUT Burger has solved this problem too -- every single order of fries is made to order of fresh-cut potatoes. they are insanely popular and their volume dwarfs Stanley. it is a very surmountable challenge.

            2. re: kibbles

              To kibbles, re "local ingredients" I didn't know potatoes and onions were widely grown in the New Orleans area? Just curious, Do you inquire when you're dining out the original location and method of preparing everything you're consuming? Comparetively speaking Stanley's prices aren't very high.

              1. re: Suzy Wong

                As a point of clarification, both onions and potatoes grow quite well in south Louisiana. I've grown both myself, and I routinely purchase both products at area farmers' markets.

                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  As a native and lifelong resident of Orleans parish, I had no idea there was such an abundance of potatoes and onions. Idaho better sleep with one "eye" open....

                2. re: Suzy Wong

                  yup. as a conscientious consumer, its a point of pride for myself and many others. buying local means lowered carbon emissions and fresher ingredients. my favorite chefs work with local farmers, whether we're in LA or CA.

                  and IMO, yes for a diner Stanley can be high-priced. how often do you pay $4 for a soda? or $14-17 on poboys? just curious :)

                  dont get me wrong, i like the place and just ate there last weekend...but the fries/rings thing has always bothered me from the first week. probably because i love onion rings.

                  1. re: kibbles

                    I am a conscientious consumer as well, that's why I don't eat land animals or use their skins.
                    I go for the (Stanley) eggs benedict po boy w/o c.b. and that's 8.75, oyster po boy, 11.50. Charles seafood I heard has (had) pretty high priced oyster po boys, Mandina's isn't cheap either. Not much is anymore....No, I don't think 4.00 is high for an Italian soda...I'm all for buying local, never said I wasn't....

          2. As a general thought, too much alcohol can affect the taste of food during or the next day especially.
            More than a few items at Ruth's Chris are made beforehand in "Ruth's kitchen" not even on site!!! That said, no one knows here (unless they currently work at an establishment and are privy to all goings on) if every single item a restaurant serves is locally sourced and prepared from scratch on site, especially if the chef/retstaurant has a chain/mulitple places in other states.

            Mandina's hads great onion rings.

            I think of Stanley as a casual specialty sweetshop/diner ish place. I don't believe fries/onion rings are the focal point of the menu. Unless something is promoted otherwise (that would be a different issue) it's not a culinary crime IMO. Comparing it to Stella! is silly. They are 2 different types of dining experiences.

            There will always be people that have an ax(e) to grind...

            14 Replies
            1. re: Suzy Wong

              I certainly wouldn't compare Stanley to Stella! foodwise. The point is that the same chef/proprietor is running both places. At least in my view, the idea behind Stanley is a more causal, diner-style restaurant that tries to incorporate better ingredients and a slightly more upscale edge. For instance, I haven't seen fried oysters on many diner menus (outside New Orleans, esp.). Also, Stanely does homemade ice creams, which isn't rocket science, but is also a lot more effort than most diners. The fact that they go through the trouble on the ice cream but not the fries/onion rings doesn't make sense to me. While I totally understand the consistency argument, I think it's a bad excuse. Consistency is an argument to be made for high-volume chain restaurants. (The fact that Ruth's Chris prepares things at an outside location to supply their restaurants is not at all surprising - it is after all a chain restaurant these days, even if it's a high priced one). Plenty of local places - charlies and mandinas are good examples - do great onion rings in a high-volume setting with no problems. I was just pointing out that I found it strange that Boswell wouldn't do the same with his place.

              1. re: latasche

                There are some important differentiators in food prep that we're overlooking with the ice cream issue and that's that it can be made ahead of time, battered items (onion rings) can't, from my experience they have to be wet battered and dropped on the spot, otherwise they don't form properly and turn into a gooey mess. One also needs a decent amount of fry space to do a large volume as, generally, the rings have to be laid in a single layer, or again... you get a gooey stuck together mess. Based on the equipment we have, our volume requirements, and everything else going on in the kitchen, we're unable to turn out a product that we feel is completely consistent if done that way. I hope that gives you a little better picture...

                Now, it's not an impossible feat to accomplish, I'm just honestly letting you know, based on our trial runs, that when we tried it, other aspects of the kitchen suffered (consistency) and that this trade-off of using pre-prepared onion rings and fries was something we viewed as acceptable to maintain the consistancy of the rest of the menu. It didn't hurt that the items we chose tasted really good, too.

                Finally, the only thing I can do is relay my first hand experience and the thought process behind it. I can't control how you feel about my explanation or try and convince you otherwise, the only thing I can do is assure you that I'm being honest and leave the rest up to you...

                1. re: Daniel_D

                  Much credit to you for coming onto the board and explaining the thinking in the kitchen. People can decide whether frozen onion rings and fries are a reason not to eat at Stanley. As a restaurant patron, I'm glad to see that you're reading the boards and interacting with customers. It reflects well on the restaurant.

                  1. re: Daniel_D

                    I actually enjoyed the onion rings at Stanley and could care less that they're frozen. However, I must say I was quite disappointed that the yolks in the poached eggs on my Breaux Bridge Benedict were cooked solid. I should've mentioned something to my server, but I was too hungover and needed to eat pronto.

                    To be fair, I've been to Stanley about a dozen times, and I really love the place. The gumbo is outstanding, the Reuben is one of the best I've had anywhere and their po-boys and burger are all well above average.

                    I endorse the place wholeheartedly despite the hard yolks. That was a surprising abberation given that poached eggs are all over the menu and aren't difficult to prepare. Next time, I'll ask the server to gimme my poached eggs on the runny side - a request that shouldn't have to be made.

                    1. re: Daniel_D

                      Thank you for your input. Too often food reviewers don't take into account what it takes to run a successful restaurant. (That's OK as part of the business is making the customer happy so the customer has a right to an opinon)

                      Even "good" restaurants get ingredients from vendors that are processed or partially processed. I don't know how many restaurants get whole garlic and have someone spend hours hand peeling and chopping.

                      Stanley could do any thing they want but one of the things they want is to make a profit. They have decided to use two vendor provided products and invest time and money somewhere else. It is possible for them to fry from scratch but such a procedure might make them feel that the cost of the product has to go up several dollars a serving. Or the facilities in the kitchen might be such that if they put more time, space and labor into frying something else would have to be cut.

                      Stellas concern may not be food costs but I'm sure it is a concern at Stanley as they are in a more competitive class.

                      So, feel free to voice a complaint but also listen to and understand the reasoning behind what goes on in a kitchen. You don't have to agree with it and as always, vote with your feet.

                      1. re: collardman

                        I have an idea. The people that are so critical of Stanley for serving frozen fries and onion rings should submit recipes to the owners so they can make a better product. I like the fact also that a chef actually replied to a post. When you are in the service business you can never please everyone all of the time. I have only been to Stanley once but I liked it.

                        Bigray in Ok

                        1. re: Bigrayok

                          Daniel D is not a chef, he's the director of ops. His employer is Scott Boswell (owner, executive chef of Stella! and Stanley). He is one of the finest chefs in the city, requiring no instruction from anyone here.

                          1. re: JazzyB

                            I don't know if Daniel D is a Chef or not. As an ops guy he may have come up in the kitchen or FOTH or both and may be called Chef if he did his kitchen time and had that post.

                            But the belabored point is not that they can't fry well but they choose not to make that a major point of the kitchen. For me, knowing that fact has no bearing on whether or not I will go to Stanley as I wouldn't be going there solely because they fry in house.

                            It would be interesting to know which high end restaurants do their own butchering, and dressing of seafood. I would guess there will be some in house and some delivered prepped by vendors.

                            1. re: collardman

                              not butchering in-house is not equal to using frozen, commercially processed side dishes. one can procure fresh, regional meats that they do not butcher on site -- which doesnt prevent the meat from remaining fresh and local and unprocessed. (for an example of non-local, non-fresh, processed meats rent "Food Inc." fascinating).

                              i dont think one chooses or doesnt choose Stanley based on the frozen fries. i havent read anyone suggest that on this thread. i have only seen a discussion on whether one expects more from a local top chef w/ an esteemed reputation (ie non-frozen, fresh ingredients).

                          2. re: Bigrayok

                            @BigRay - ah, the old "love it or leave it!" argument. so if we cant cook professional dishes we have no right to complain, eh? thats like me saying, "If you can't program bank teller software better than mine, then you shouldn't complain about the banks!" sorry, doesnt work that way...its my job to program the best bank teller software. its chefs jobs to make the best food. division of labor makes the world go round :)

                            i think the entire point of this website *is* to talk about restaurants. the good, the bad, the ugly. and that includes frozen french fries.

                    2. re: Suzy Wong

                      who has an axe to grind? >looking around< nobody here.

                      but i do disagree w/ you on the menu focal point -- as a diner/soda fountain, the fries is a big part of "burger & fries".

                      as for "from scratch" restaurants, i think youd be surprised how many make it a point of pride. ask around. even Brennan's Palace Cafe makes a point to say they produce everything in house, and i have no reason to doubt them.

                      1. re: kibbles

                        Sorry, I don't think anyone goes to Stanley with french fries as the main point of their meal or just for the fries etc. From "scratch" is swell !!!!, (again, is their echo?) just kidding, never said it wasn't....I totally understand everyone has their own opinions and are of course entitled to them...I just don't think the fries/onion situation at Stanley is a mortal sin. Not even a venial one...(insert a winking eye here)

                        1. re: Suzy Wong

                          Expectations are raised when a top chef is the owner. I expect frozen from Johnny's but not Stanley.

                          1. re: JazzyB

                            I expect great tasting meals, regardless of source of the ingredients

                    3. I must further commend Daniel D for clarifying the rational behind the use of frozen products at Stanley, and giving us Hounds some insight into the difficult (if imperfect) decisions that management must make in running a successful business. I am a HUGE fan of Stanely's, having eaten their approximately a dozen times with friends from out of town who would appreciate a nice walk around the quarter. The restaurant is in a great space and has excellent execution of its Benedict dishes' (I am surprised to hear of over poached eggs). We must also remember they have one menu they serve all day, which reemphasizes the importance of being able to prepare any dish, at any time of day, at a high level consistently

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: NolaSilverFox

                        remembering the important of that is a given, tho -- people do it every day, thats part of the gig. i spent my early years in our family restaurant and thats the name of the game....prolly why im a bit desensitized, management merely stating the challenge doesnt give me reason to excuse them from the challenge.

                        again, see Besh's American Sector (housemade rings there are da bomb), or visit any of a hundred In-N-Out fast food joints slamming out the volume on the west coast.

                        1. re: kibbles

                          The teenage fry cooks (okay, a few look a bit older than teens) at Flamin' Burger in Kenner manage to turn out excellent, thin-cut, from-scratch fries.

                      2. Kibbles:

                        It doesn't matter if there are 75 restaurants in New Orleans that make onion rings in house. Everyone's facilities are different and are equipped for different things, serve a different volume etc... onion rings don't exist in a vacuum, there are myriad other considerations that come into play before they get to your table. Each establishment has a finite set of resources (land--space, labor, capital) and can assign those resources to complete the "total package." Our facilities at Stanley aren't equipped to do the volume we require in conjunction with everything else we have going on to make onion rings here. If we had another 500+ sq ft of prep/fry area in that historic, pre partitioned space, then you'd probably see house made onion rings. That's been my point since the very first post... it's not a recipie issue, it's not a laziness issue, it's not any issue except logistics; making the onion rings there--given our constraints--isn't practical. The fries, though... those are something we're always messing with, which I mentioned.

                        Other than that, short of saying "Ok, this weekend we'll switch to making them in house." There's nothing I can say or do that will allay your concerns--nor was it ever my intention, I just wanted to offer an explaination. I'm glad you enjoy everything else, and we appreciate it. I really am listing to everyone and truly understand what you're saying specifically, but you seem to already have your mind made up... and after re-reading the guildelines I think I've overstepped how far I'm supposed to get involved in the discussion. So, thanks everyone in the thread, if you have anymore specific questions, please let me know.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Daniel_D

                          that is correct, restaurant management are not supposed to get into debates over their food on Chowhound. surprised our often zealous moderators have not stepped in like they do over dress code discussions.

                          as for having my mind made up: yes, it was made up before id ever heard of Stanley or even -- im a guy that expect fresh ingredients (read: not frozen, not from a can) from top kitchens. surely Boswell qualifies in my book, so its natural for me to feel that way here.

                          i didnt see the kitchen-space point in your orig post, only the challenges of Consistency and Recipe. and as a restaurant worker and customer i very much still believe those are the two natures of the beast for anyone in the game. but if its the kitchen space (which i see now in a different post) then i guess you are indeed limited if theres not enough room to lay out the wet rings. dont follow that logic to fries, tho, which are "chop and drop".

                          1. re: kibbles

                            It's my fault for not making the clear connection between consistency and space issues. By now it's all run together for me insofar as we need the space for proper prep to make sure they'll be consistent. When I said "consistent" it was some all-encompassing logistical idea, I should have been more descriptive originally.

                          2. re: Daniel_D

                            Daniel D,
                            You are truly a gentleman for explaining your situation and what you believe is best for you and your company. Its a real tricky situation. Marco Pierre White never made his own bread in house at his 3 michlin star restaurant. "Why would I make anything that I could buy and it is better than what I could make?"
                            There are a million different answers and none of them are 100% correct. If it were my choice--Instead of 2 frozen items, I would just do one fresh one. But Im a french fry fanatic. At this point too many customers are coming expecting onion rings, so you cant give that up.
                            Above all else, you have to make money. I would expect Stanley to have fresh fries and not expect Dragos to have fresh fries. Why is that? Both are casual. The public expects more from some places than they do others. It's not fair, but hey, neither is the world.
                            Just do what your happy with at the end of the day. Thats all that really matters.

                            1. re: Davebr

                              the fact the the boz cant do fresh fries is a joke. or onion rings, its just a example how hype and pr will get you covers.