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A temporary reprieve for Brennan's

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  1. I suspect this is a temporary reprieve. How they got $4 million in the hole amazes and I can only think they were mortgaging to finance expansions. If that is true, I wonder about the stability of other chefs in town who preside over Empires akin to Tamerlane's. Moreover, when a place like Brennan's (whether one is a devotee of it or not) can be imperilled, it says much about the Dining Public and what They Want (or think they want)today. In twenty years, will we still have our grand warhorses? Or will everything be a pale copy of a pale Trendy Restaurant in New York?

    20 Replies
    1. re: hazelhurst

      As a native New Orleanian living in New York, I see Manhattan becoming simultaneously trendier and more homogenized with every passing year. So I do fear for New Orleans. (There are days when I think homogenization is the future of the world, and am glad I won't be here to see it.)

      Without changing a thing on the menu, I think Brennan's may need to step up its game since, from what I can gather, the kitchen has gotten sloppy. A restaurant needn't be "innovative" if the food and service are solid.

      1. re: hazelhurst

        You make some great points. Phoenix had some great, chef-driven restaurants, and then the corporate bean-counters decided that they all needed to be replaced by absentee-chef, expense-account steakhouses. Now, 80% of the fine-dining in Phoenix is at a very expensive steakhouse, where the "chef" has never visited the property. I fear that some of New Orleans dining might follow suit?

        Guess that we need to get back, and do the "culinary trail," before everything becomes a Jean Georges steakhouse, where the average dinner, and wine, for two, is US $1,000, I thought that such restaurants had run their course, in the 1990's, but maybe I am wrong.

        OTOH, what I see from the traveling, and dining public, is a dozen Hard Rock Cafes, and Margaritavilles, where the diners can come in cut-offs, flip-flops and sleeveless T-shirts, and get the same food, that they can find in a dozen cities around the globe.

        With several 2 and 3 starred (Michelin) restaurants, the longest lines that I see in London/Mayfair, are for the Hard Rock Cafe. Such is life, and New Orleans cannot be too far behind.

        No, it is now time for us to do a last "grand tour," and just bid farewell.

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt

          I'm not going down without a fight.
          (channeling my inner Blutarsky) Hard Rock: dead! Margaritaville: dead!

          The medium/medium-high places in San Francisco are pretty vibrant. Los Angeles has recently adopted the same formula. This is a good trend and will only spread.

          1. re: steve h.

            We are trying to book a "Grand Dame" NOLA tour, as I type.

            Time to get with the program, and support the restaurants, that we have come to love.

            Hunt

          2. re: Bill Hunt

            i wouldnt worry about new orleans, bill. despite never landing a season on Top Chef, we have more incredibly talented chefs and entrepreneurs per capital than anywhere in the US. there are more amazing local restaurants today than before katrina, and i dont see it slowing. the number of high-quality offerings opening up in our residential neighborhoods, far from the tourist quarter, is pretty inspiring.

            1. re: kibbles

              I hope that you are right but I am still worried. Often I see reviews of locally cherished places by people who seem to expect something else. I just read "Au Revoir to All That" and "The Table Comes First" about the seismic changes in French restaurants...this suggests there could be trouble on the horizon. Sometimes a visitor will complain about the fish "Swimming in butter," an unimaginative complaint that suggests the old, richh food standards are under assault. Ella Brennan made effors at CP years ago to invent "haute Creole" and they try to come up with"innovative" items (and the present lamentably descriptive menu drives me crazy)... WE have already lost the legion of regular diners who ate at the great houses after shopping at "Holmes's." Times change and I doubt if Maylie's, e.g., could survive at all today even at the top of its game. I still think there should be a place for the great repositories of our food culture, the restaurant equivalent of the Moors keeping cilvilsation alive. BUt folks don't seem to want to make an effort to dress and behave in public and my world is the worse for it.

              I remain suspicsous of the trends, too.."Sliders" show up everywhere and then other tricks that are supposed to appeal to the visitor..andouille-encrusted something gives the exotic kick many are looking for but it seems contrived to me.

              1. re: hazelhurst

                Great points, and one that need to be addressed. NOLA is unique, across the globe, but too many do not recognize that, and do not appreciate that.

                Too many want to be able to grab a lite-bite, in cut-offs and a tank top, and cry like little wiener dogs, if all NOLA restaurants are not some sort of "Margaritavilles." That is what the masses seem to want - same old, same old, and consistent with a hundred other places.

                To me, it is the "adult McDonalds" syndrome, where people want to dine at Morton's ____, because they get the same "stuff" whether in NOLA, or Chicago.

                To us, it is always about a chef-driven restaurant, and always hoping that we will get something, that we cannot get in Phoenix. Same with my wines. I do not want to have wines, that I have cases of, in my cellar. I want to be exposed to something new - a new Region, producer, varietal, or other. I beg the sommelier to take me on a "tour," and to NOT offer wines that I have en masse, back home. All of the good one, agree, and pull out all of the stops.

                Maybe that is why we are just not "steakhouse people." When I can do better, than 99% of the steakhouses around the globe, why bother. I want what I cannot do better at home.

                Enchant me!

                Hunt

                1. re: hazelhurst

                  @hazelhurst - well, im not defending grand dames. im just saying we are still so far from the national-chain average that im not worried about the ocean of "Hard Rock Cafes, and Margaritavilles" that bill mentioned. new orleans has so many local chefs who work in their restaurants and produce a great product. their product isnt the same as the old houses, but i didnt gather that as being the problem...

                  as for style of dining, it is probably true that tastes change over time. if the Antoine's of new orleans are replaced w/ the Coquettes or MiLas, what can one say? people are less impressed w/ waiter captains these days and more impressed w/ fresh, excellent food.

                  1. re: kibbles

                    I don't think we are far off each other's wavelength. I agree that the newer places are going a long way towards keeping people honest. And I certainly applaud the efforts to get top hogs or chacurterie in general. I can remember when we had the good stuff--or it was, to me good stuff--and then even the big houses got lazy. Used to be a restaurant could get fish from a customer but "The Interests" got together and banned that. So someone like Besh can make Antoine's pay attention. My generation and older wants those places to make the stuff our great-grandparents ate but no one argues against someone in the kitchen having fun. Every one of teh Big Boys has always come up with something odd..Galatoire's had a "Russian Redfish" off the menu for years until Immigration caught up with the ship-jumping soviet cook. I don;t think one need choose between waiter captains and good food. But the younger generation does not seem to want to have the occasion--slovenly in a comfortable way though it may be--and to embrace a redfish with scallop creation(which seems to go against the 'local" idea to me although I adore scallops). And I don;t think the waiter maitre d' game in New Orleans was ever played in the fearsome Henri Soule way. Folks here always know their staff and even the cooks.

                    Not that Brennan's is worth defending in and of itself..I've not been there in forever and preserve my cash for my favs with occasional forays elsewhere. I prefer to have an effect where I go or at least a "say." But I recall regualrs at Antoines etc avoiding Brennan's as the Nouveau and not in a Advanced Way. It was, when on Bourbon Street, a fairly straight-forward creole style place...they got the breakfast trick from Francis PArkinson Keyes "Dinner at Antoine's" which spiked curious tourists the world over. An old man Alciatore took trick of giving you a card with teh Order of Rocefeller Number (the 1,000,000 serving) from Tour d'Argent's duck..its a gimmick. And even more forgotten today is the howl of derision by gourmets when Antoine's put out Rockefeller in teh first place. Purists roiled against putting anything on them other than a mignonette (recently rediscovered).

                    So it all changes. I just think that the places that represent the great 19th/early 20th C. style and belief in dining should be preserved. It was good food then and it is still good food now.

                    I agree that the Margaritaville horror is not likely to get to us but, then, I thought once that Poydras would always look like, say, Oran.

                    1. re: hazelhurst

                      Personally, in a culinary mecca, like New Orleans, I feel that there is room for several styles - both the old, plus the new. At least I hope so. We enjoy both, when in the City.

                      We love the traditional dishes (though after a tour of the Grand Dames for a full week, my wife did ask our server at Galatoire's "what can I get without butter... ?"), but also enjoy some of the "newer" styles, and try our best to support the chefs on both sides.

                      We get a ton of "cutting-edge cuisine," so are not looking to dine in the dark, being fed by blind eunuchs, but do appreciate "creativity." Still, when heading to NOLA, we are not looking for a kitchen, that is deeply into molecular gastronomy. We get enough of that elsewhere.

                      Now, and not just in NOLA, I see a major shift in dining habits. A younger crowd wants glitz, lots of noise, being able to dine in pajamas, or whatever they find comfortable, and could care less about the actual food, and especially about the history of that food.

                      It is not just in NOLA. We just came back from London, and dined at three of the highest-end spots, plus some others. The crowd was basically wearing black, glitter t-shirts, and studded jeans, and looking for a "happening vibe." Heck, i can recall one night at the Ritz on Piccadilly, where we ended up in the bar. I wanted a Cuban, along with my Port, and took off my blazer, so that the cigar smoke would not ruin it for my next four nights. I was politely informed that "gentlemen are not allowed to take off their jackets here." Now, no one, other than me, even has a jacket. The era of the totally informal diner has arrived. Even the Dorchester does not enforce their once strict dress-code. Not sure how Wilton's is handling things?

                      We are planning a NOLA "Grand Dame Tour," before it is all gone, and hope to complete that trip, before so much, that we grew up with, and loved, is history. I hope that WYES is planning a "Forgotten Restaurants" program, with Galatoire's, Antoine's, Brennan's (yes, we became fans, over the last 8 years), and the rest.

                      While we love Restaurant August, MiLa, and possibly R'evolution, when things are sorted out, we basically travel to NOLA for NOLA cuisine.

                      I hate to think that all of our favorites might soon be relegated to a special on PBS, along the lines of "remember when." Heck, I still miss Kolb's.

                      Now, I still remember Poydras, before it was redeveloped...

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Bill, I will enjoy hearing which restaurants make your final cut in the planning for the Grand Dame tour, and I look forward even more to your thoughts after said tour has taken place.

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Bill

                          I am not sure that you need to panic just yet..the current platoon will probably see us both through three-score-and-ten. The time to start ordering sackcloth-and-ashes is when you see televisions popping up. Constant external stimuli is part of the needs of the hip crowd you described or, as a friend in England says, "These are people who cannot entertain themselves." Might be too harsh but the decline in standards is reflected in the appalling behavior and general thoughlessness. And such thoughtlesness is likely to be impressed by some food item with "zap!" and "pow" factors. As suggested elsewhere, the "new" has always been a trick of cooks but only some of the New Items have stayed over time and to cast overboard the classic foods of New Orleans for "modern twists" is premature and short-sighted. I don't know that it will or could happen but I see warning signs already.

                          Wilton's is sticking fast to the coat rule but it has abandoned the tie so it cannot be too long now. On the happier side, a Mega International Lawyer friend in Texas, who loves the place, reported that his teenaged sons asked to celebrate a brithday there: my friend did not need to tell the boys coat & tie..they did it on their own.

                  2. re: kibbles

                    I agree with you, but now I feel that some places, with history, need my support. Hope to do so, though it might be too little - too late.

                    Hunt

                2. re: hazelhurst

                  The difference is that somewhere along the line, Brennan’s decided to rip their customers off, charging $40 for eggs, onion soup and dessert- more if they light your dessert on fire. At Commander’s, you still get a fair deal, better service and people actually dress accordingly. One will be in business in 20 years, the other will not.

                  1. re: shanefink

                    I'm no expert but I was thinking this as well. As long as CP isn't making bad business decisions ( maybe passing on taking over Tavern on the Green and shuttering Las Vegas and Florida were good moves) then CP should be fine. Do great work and don't screw it up on the ledger and things should be ok for a while. Owning the building helps, I'm sure, and rolling with the punches (offering cheap lunches etc...)

                    1. re: kukubura

                      Looking at CH, as a baseline, about all that I see is that CP has US $0.25 martinis. I seldom see any good comments on the food - just the martinis. Maybe that is all that people are seeking - mediocre food, but plenty of cheap martinis? Unfortunately, that is not what I come to NOLA for.

                      Once CP was near the top of our list, but then, Chef Jamie Shannon died, and to a big degree, so did CP, at least for us.

                      Hunt

                    2. re: shanefink

                      I'm no expert but I was thinking this as well. As long as CP isn't making bad business decisions ( maybe passing on taking over Tavern on the Green and shuttering Las Vegas and Florida were good moves) then CP should be fine. Do great work and don't screw it up on the ledger and things should be ok for a while. Owning the building helps, I'm sure, and rolling with the punches (offering cheap lunches etc...)

                      1. re: shanefink

                        Actually, my experiences fly in the face of your statement.

                        Over the last 10 years, I find that CP has been resting on its laurels, and not providing what many had come to expect. Personal tastes? Yeah, probably, but I have charted each restaurant, and Brennan's has come through, where CP has dropped the ball on many levels.

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          I've had some excellent food at CP under Chef Tory McPhail, most recently in October where we ordered the "Chef's Playground," a 6 course meal based on seasonal ingredients and the chef's imagination. It was phenomenal and I happily recommend it for lunch and dinner to anyone who asks. I don't care for their 25-cent martinis but I think their wine by the glass menu is pretty good.

                          1. re: noradeirdre

                            That is great to hear.

                            I should be able to tell you the chef, when we last dined there (not so good), but cannot.

                            CP still holds a very special part for us (wife had maybe 10 birthdays there, and mostly at the old Table #8 - now #308, if I recall correctly), so we always wish the best - just have not encountered that, in far too long. Once, they were featured on EVERY trip for us. Now, they are maybe once every five years. Maybe it is time to go back, and test them, with an open mind?

                            Thank you,

                            Hunt

                    3. NOLA will be better off without Brennan's. Tourists show up to eat there, thinking it's emblematic of NOLA cuisine, and they get served crap and go away wondering what all the buzz was about. 20 years ago, I ate there and it was wonderful. Last year I ate there and it was dreadful. Let it go.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Spoke to a friend yesterday who had a large gathering at Brennan's just before Xmas. He said it was fine if rather quiet. Said the courtyard fountain was rather desperate (it is winter but the intimation was cost-cutting). No one else was there, though..he said it was almost abandoned. Quite a few of his confreres are connected in town and the rumors were flying, including one that Besh would take it over---that would, I think, extend him pretty far. Another story line getting some vigorous betting was that the restaurant is in negotiations with a "national chain" that would step in with cash. [This reminds me of a swell rumor back in the 1980's that Burger King was starting a Luxury Restaurant wing and was out to buy the Big Trophy shops.] Anyway, that's the latest take among the railbirds..take it f'what its worth.

                        1. re: hazelhurst

                          I guess that we "rediscovered" it too late.

                          When we lived in NOLA, we were not big fans, and only went, when guests insisted that we do so. We moved, and never looked back, until about 8 years ago. On a fluke, we returned, and were impressed. Then, we kept coming back, and back. Not only were we impressed, but our guests insisted that we take THEM back, as well. Such is life.

                          Hunt