Last Updated on Friday, 16 November 2012 11:07
Ralph's On The Park
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
One of the few fine-dining in the neighborhood of City Park, Ralph's is historic and beautiful. Across the street is the oldest part of the park, with the biggest live oaks and an ancient bayou. In the past few years the food has equaled the environment. Chef Chip Flanagan is creating the most distinctive food Ralph's has ever had, while remaining solidly in the contemporary Creole vein and employing locally-raised foodstuffs almost exclusively. Among the dozen Brennan restaurants here, only Commander's Palace is better.
Ralph's style is very much in the Brennan Creole tradition. A little traditional, but entirely up with the times. The kitchen and dining room operate in the style of a bistro--uncomplicated and familiar, yet inventive. Ingredients of fine intrinsic merit fill every plate. During Chef Chip's regime the menu--always too short in the past--has expanded to offer an abundance of choices. The small-plates section is particularly strong, and well able to support an all-appetizer dinner.
More a bar than a restaurant for most of its history, the building can claim a more or less continuous career of food and beverage service dating back to 1869. Its recent career as a major restaurant began in the early 1980s as Tavern on the Park. Ralph Brennan took over in 2001, and spent almost a year and millions of dollars renovating the place. In 1979, he was the first Brennan of his generation to jump into the family business with both feet, opening Mr. B's. He ultimately went his own way, and now operates four restaurants around town (Red Fish Grill, Cafe B, and Heritage Grill). Ralph's on the Park was the luckiest restaurant in the Katrina disaster. Entirely surrounded by some of the deepest floodwaters, the restaurant's location on the Metairie Ridge limited its damage to one broken window.
The two dining rooms on the first floor are heavily windowed, the better to let the marvelous park view in. The whole place has an antique style. A mural depicting a historically-accurate 1800s faceoff between the high-end call girls of the time and the wives of their customers is amusing. The bar is the better dining room. It's smaller, quieter, and on some nights sports a piano player. The private dining rooms upstairs are sometimes used for a la carte service; they have balconies that take even greater advantage of the setting.
»Truffle fries, black truffle mayonnaise
»Blue crab beignets, spicy pepper jelly cream
»Grilled lamb spare ribs, ginger-root beer glaze
»Jumbo lump crab pasta, peas, brown butter, shaved truffle
Roasted butternut squash soup, satsuma-nutmeg cream
»Tuna two ways (tartare and pepper seared),avocado, sweet chili
Cane-glazed shrimp, cornmeal tempura batter
City Park salad, baby red oak lettuce, apples, Stilton, bacon
Cheese plate, white truffle honey, hazelnuts and water crackers
Chilled lobster salad, watermelon, Champagne-herb vinaigrette
»Crabmeat ravigote napoleon, Israeli couscous, corn
»Grilled bone-in filet mignon, wild mushrooms, demi-glace
»Fried chicken wrapped in country ham, collards, red eye gravy, red bean purée, boudin balls
Gnocchi, Swiss chard, shiitakes, black truffle, sweet potato
Rib-eye-wrapped scallops, port wine sauce, foie gras, cauliflower purée
Lobster thermidor, glazed ribeye filet, shiitakes, asparagus, gruyere cheese, veal reduction
»Roasted whole fish, soy-jalapeño glaze, fresh herbs, green bean and sweet onion sauté, artichoke butter sauce
»Lamb T-bone, braised lamb belly, lamb sausage, white beans, pomegranate demi-glace
»Barbecue shrimp New Orleans style, wild mushrooms
»Visiting fish, seared in olive oil, miso glaze, shrimp dumplings ginger-lemongrass shrimp nage
»Chocolate grasshopper (chocolate custard, whipped crème de menthe cream)
»Coconut milk tart, fresh mango & pineapple, guava gelée
»Chocolate duet (molten chocolate cake, chocolate & hazelnut macaroon ice cream sandwich)
»White chocolate banana bread pudding, cinnamon ice cream
Ice cream and sorbets
»Cheese plate, quince paste, white truffle honey, hazelnuts and water crackers
FOR BEST RESULTS
Ralph's seems always to be running some sort of promotion. They are never gimmicky, always a good deal. They also regularly stage special dinners at the other end of the price spectrum, too.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
While Ralph's has never served better food than it does now, and while the execution of the dishes is solid, I always leave feeling that it could be better still, with a little more taste and imagination. When full, the acoustics of the main dining room get uncomfortably loud.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Service +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +3
- Balcony tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Early-evening specials
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open some holidays
- Good for children
- Free valet parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
With the Celebration in the Oaks ready to begin, Ralph's on the Park comes immediately to mind. The beautiful premises are matched only by their setting. Few restaurants seem more naturally in tune with the holidays. And the cooking continues its long-term train of increased delectability and interest.
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