Happier Hour At Commander's Palace.
$3-$6 At 3-6 p.m., SoBou, Cafe Adelaide.
Some of the summer specials we're hearing about are little promotions in big places. This one grabbed my attention. For the first hour that Commander's Palace is open every evening (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.), you can have two appetizers and a cocktail for $20. At a dining room table, no less. But since this is Commander's, they're asking you to make a reservation. And as long as you're there. . . well, the rest of dinner would be hard to resist.
The Commander's Brennans are doing something similar at their other restaurants, too. Both Cafe Adelaide and SoBou have $3-$6 appetizers and cocktails from 3-6 p.m. Get it? Who sits around thinking up this stuff? All of this will be around through the end of August.
Commander's Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221.
SoBou. French Quarter: 310 Chartres St.. 504-552-4095.
Cafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St. 504-595-3305.
Friday, June 14,2013.
Good-Bye And Good Luck To Pearl.
I guess you first draw back from the cold hand of change when you're quite young. Friends disappear, for reasons wonderful or awful. But lately that touch seems chillier to me, even when it arrives warmly. As it did today.
My wide investigations into the restaurants of New Orleans began in my late teens. A college friend introduced me to a restaurant he felt contained all the charm we associate with old New Orleans. The Coffee Pot had already been on the scene for some thirty years, near the corner of St. Peter and Royal Streets. They served everything I loved--a welcome resource, now that I had moved away from my parents and their inevitable weekly red beans and gumbo.
The Coffee Pot also served a lot of dishes I would soon learn to love. Both in my eating and my writing about it, my regular meals at the Coffee Pot added dimensions to my life. It was the subject of one of my earliest print restaurant reviews, and the first one ever on the radio.
One of the inspirations was a waitress named Pearl Jefferson. I quickly learned that a meal served by Pearl would be noticeably better than one served by any other dining-room staffer there.
I would not have guessed that over forty years later, I would go to the Coffee Pot and find Pearl still working her half of the front dining room. But there she was. Until about a month ago when, after fifty-four years, she retired.
We had to mark this passage. The Eat Club held a brunch this morning in Pearl's honor. Pearl always worked the morning shift. The Coffee Pot was reputed for its breakfasts, and still is.
We sold out the brunch in nothing flat, and probably could have sold another thirty. Everybody there to see Pearl one more time. (She was dining with us, not waiting on us.)
We began with lost bread, fresh fruit, mimosas and bloody marys. Then a big platter with the Coffee Pot's famous red bean omelette or the less well known but more elegant eggs Jonathan (like a benedict, but with shrimp). A side of corned beef hash, one of the few served hereabouts made fresh in house. I will remember this for my next breakfast over there. Grillades and grits were also present. We wrapped up with calas, the old Creole rice cakes that the Coffee Pot almost single-handedly kept from extinction all these years.
And the light, wonderful bread pudding. My big sister Judy Howat told Pearl that our mother was rolling over in her grave to hear this, but she thought Pearl's pudding was better than Mama's. Pearl reminded us that her pudding would live on at the Coffee Pot. In retirement, she will continue making it for the restaurant.
What a wonderful lady. Even though I don't go to the Coffee Pot often anymore, the idea that I will have to do without Pearl is not the happiest.
But Pearl certainly seems to feel right about it. Well she should. She's a hall-of-famer.
Coffee Pot. French Quarter: 714 St Peter. 504-524-3500.
To browse through all of the Dining Diaries since 2008, go here.
The Beer Dinner You've Been Waiting For
Crescent City Brewhouse
Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
French Quarter: 527 Decatur. Map.
$55, inclusive of tax, tip and beers ,
Almost since our Eat Club dinners began twenty years ago, many would-be guests have asked us to slip in a paired-beer menu between our usual wine menus. What better place to do that than the Crescent City Brewhouse? Owner and brewmaster Wolf Koehler--a sixth-generation brewer and native German--makes beers in house. Literally. You can see the copper tanks and the other apparatus as you walk in. Beer is brewing as you inspect it.
Wolf is also a big fan of New Orleans food and music, which explains the oyster bar (a good one, at that) and nightly performances by jazz bands. We'll enjoy all this with four courses of Crescent City Brewhouse food and brews. The price is good, too: $55 for the whole package, tax and tip included. How about this as a Father's Day gift?
Hand Passed Hors D’oeuvres
Mini Meat Pies (pork and beef, potato and debris dip)
Hot Wings, blue cheese dip
Baby Back Ribs, house-made BBQ sauce
Wine: All five house-made beers
Fresh mint, sherry vinaigrette, balsamic, watermelon
Wine: Pilsner Beer
French pistolette, pickled melon relish, housemade sauerkraut, creamy potato salad
Wine: Red Stallion Beer
Housemade pepper jelly BBQ sauce, stuffed bell pepper (shrimp, andouille, cornbread), Creole tomato and cucumber salad
Wine: Black Forest Beer
White Chocolate Beignet Bread Pudding
Abita root beer float, souvenir pint glass
The Garden Café
Uptown: 2727 Prytania, In The Rink.
The Garden Cafe was the first in a series of restaurants in the Washington Avenue-Prytania Street corner space of The Rink. A newly renovated boutique mall in 1981, The Rink actually had been a skating rink for a long enough time that the building was an antique. It was considered a very cool restoration.
The Garden Café soaked in some of this vogue, and added to it the style of the nascent gourmet bistro. That trend would reshape the dining-out scene in New Orleans during the next few years. Even then, the Baby Boomers who would fill the bistros were numerous enough to keep the Garden Café busy.
Some dozen marble-topped (but unclothed) tables were surrounded by a light, high-ceilinged space with floral wallpaper and large windows. The table settings were unusual, with heavy, irregular, emerald-rimmed drinking glasses and oversize forks and spoons.
Although the name of the place sounded like that of a generic hotel café, the presence of many French bistro dishes--not common in New Orleans in those days--gave the Garden Café a cache that Uptowners found very agreeable.
The restaurant was managed by two people I didn't know before, and haven't encountered since. Jack Bolaños and Jean-Pierre Schwetzer-Lagesse (a French guy with both names hyphenated!) assembled a menu that started with a semi-Euro-style breakfast, then moved to a an assortment of dishes ranging from saucisson en croute to red beans, charcuterie and pate to fried oysters, croque monsieurs to club sandwiches.
The focus at lunch was the plat du jour, with good reason: it was always remarkable. The best I remember was Tuesday's tarragon chicken, good enough that I remember its day even now. It came with fresh-cut fried potatoes and a fresh vegetable for $5.95.
The Friday trout meuniere was also memorable, toasty and buttery, reminiscent of Galatoire's. One day they substituted for this a stuffed trout, moistened with a sort of veloute. I usually avoid this kind of thing, but it was in a league with the stuffed trout at LeRuth's.
The menu was full of original touches. The red beans came out with a sausage still sizzling from the grill. Chunks of ham gave the beans a sturdy flavor. But also here were some dishes from out of the fine-dining past. I think this was the last place I saw chicken Kiev and chicken Cordon Bleu.
Breakfast was remarkable for the excellence of the omelettes alone. The fines herbes omelette was astonishingly good, with nary a scorch. Croissants were wonderful. Belgian waffles--the kind with the big squares, which were only then becoming popular--had people talking. Fresh strawberries!
The Garden Café tried to open for dinner, but that never took off. They were more successful with their Sunday brunch, which was more along the lines of what they did.
After a bit less than two years, the owners sold the business to Frank Bailey, whose Indulgence in the Warehouse District (wasn't called that then, and was a serious backwater) needed a more accessible spot for graduating from a catering operation to a full restaurant. The place is now a coffee shop, much liked by the young women from the nearby Louise S. McGehee School. Who, I think, would have liked the Garden Café. If the same restaurant were to open today, it would be a much bigger hit.
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Boucherie--French for the place where the butcher works--slipped into a hot spot in the local dining continuum. Already legendary for the food its chef had been selling from a truck around town, it tapped into the new local taste for barbecue and Southern cooking. Both of those are different from Creole cooking, but similar enough. But the chef's abilities led him to build upon those basics, resulting in a new gourmet bistro with a unique flavor palette.
Although smoked meats, vegetables, and seafood loom large on the menu, this is not a barbecue house. The menu used the smoked foods as a leitmotif. The plates that come to the table have the complexity of the food in the other bistros, but with strikingly original and different flavor compositions. But if you like barbecue, you'll love this place.
Boucherie grew from a unique seed. Chef Nathaniel Zimet, after working in a number of estimable local restaurant kitchens (Ralph's, Stella!, and Iris among them) found a big purple van and used it to cook highly advanced street food. It had a strong barbecue influence, and became best known for selling its goods outside the music club Tipatina's. When Iris moved to the French Quarter in 2008, its chef advised Zimet to move into its vacated Uptown space on Jeannette Street just off Carrollton. The renovated cottage has hosted numerous previous restaurants, all of which left because of the tight, undersize spaces inside. Zimet and partner James Denio thought it would be perfect for an enhanced version of the purple van's menu. In fact, the chef got ambitious with the menu from the outset, and in concert with a surprisingly low price structure caught on to a cult degree among Uptown diners--particularly at the lower end of the age spectrum.
The cottage has no large spaces, but is built so substantially that no tenant has ever knocked walls out wholesale. This results in small tables jammed into some inconvenient corners. And in a seat count much smaller than the number of diners who show up of an evening. Even with a reservation, you may spend some time on the porch or the sidewalk. But enough others are out there that a social scene results.
Grilled heart of romaine caesar salad
»Arugula & mizuna salad, Creole tomatoes, red onions, herb vinaigrette
»Blackened shrimp, grits cake, bacon vinaigrette
»Corned lamb ribs, sauerkraut, green beans
Boudin balls, garlic aioli
»Steamed mussels, collard greens, grits crackers
»Hamachi sashimi, pickled vegetables
Collard greens, grits fries
French fries, garlic butter, parmesan reggiano
»Vichyssoise, crabmeat, roasted ramps, pickled ramps bulbs
»Fried duck confit, corn maquechoux, grilled cantaloupe
»Smoked Wagyu beef brisket, garlicky parmesan fries
»St Louis-style ribs, grilled ramps, crispy shallots
»Pulled pork cake, potato confit, purple cabbage cole slaw
Pan-seared duck breast, duck ragout, pappardelle, fava beans, preserved egg
Blue cheese gnocchi, spinach, radishes & beet juice beurre rouge
Grilled swordfish, fennel, broccoli, puffed parmesan, Chilean olive oil carrot vinaigrette
»Applewood smoked scallops, roasted baby squash, tarragon rosti potatoes, sauce gribiche
»Thai chili chocolate chess pie
Krispy Kreme bread pudding
»House made ice cream
Seasonal chocolate ganache terrine
FOR BEST RESULTS
Boucherie is unexpectedly adept at creating cocktails, and you should begin the meal with one of their many originals. Lunch is less densely packed than dinner, although the menus (and prices) are nearly identical.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
As they did for all the previous restaurants here, the shortage of room to move in cramps the style of everything here. Someday, they will have to move.
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
- Consistency +2
- Service +1
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended
Restaurants With The Greatest Seafood Variety
As strong as Louisiana is in its production of fresh, too-quality seafood, a seafood lover bent on sampling as many different kinds of finfish and shellfish as he can might be disappointed by most restaurants. Most restaurants carry only a one or two kinds of finfish--a fact attested to by the frequent appearance of "Fresh Gulf Fish Of The Day" on local menus. The main reason for this is that fish is not easily scored in the marketplace. To have a lot of seafood variety, the restaurant has to put forth a major effort to find it. In the best restaurants, a full-time person performs that job.
One of the most interesting aspects of seafood is that the number of different species of fish and shellfish is far greater than those of meats, even when you add poultry to the array. Because of this wide range--and also because there's a lot of mediocre fish at temptingly low prices out there--the restaurant fish buyer needs to know what he's doing.
These restaurants all have a track record of presenting more different kinds of excellent seafood than most restaurants do. You will note that most of these are among the best restaurants in town. That is no coincidence.
Left out of this consideration is the entire community of Japanese restaurants. Most sushi bars have more different fish than even the top twelve above. But the style is so different, and so much sushi fish comes in frozen from large national distributors, that we will break out the category into a list of its own, coming soon to a NOMenu page near you.
1. GW Fins. French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467. GWFins became an important restaurant day it opened, by exercising a basic idea. They change the menu daily, bringing in at least dozen finfish. Most are local, but many are quite exotic. Plus all the shellfish. They're good cooks. It adds up to the best seafood restaurant in New Orleans--a major crown.
2. Commander's Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. From the moment that redfish and speckled trout were largely legislated off our menus, Commander's began aggressively searching for good local alternatives. They have more different fish in the house on a given day than they let on; be sure and ask about that.
3. Galatoire's. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. Galatoire's is at the top of the seafood purveyors list, and the sheer quantity of seafood it serves ensures a wide variety of finfish. If you can't get a good pompano here, it won't be anywhere else. On a good day, they might have more than a half-dozen finfish.
4. Andrea's. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Despite the inconsistencies that have dogged this restaurant in recent years, one aspect remains solid. Chef Andrea buys many finfish daily, and fillets it all on the premises. He also has an unusually large array of crustaceans and mollusks--notably fresh clams, a real rarity in these parts.
5. Rene Bistrot. Warehouse District & Center City: 700 Tchoupitoulas. 504-613-2350. When Rene Bajeux took over the former La Cote Brasserie a year ago, it already had an unusually good cold seafood offering and a daily whole fish. He has expanded upon this, adding among other things his signature Mediterranean whole sardines.
6. Pêche Seafood Grill. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Magazine St. 504-522-1744. It's much too soon for a comprehensive review; the place opened only in May 2013. But the very name of the restaurant (pêche ÷ French = fishing), the reputations of the three chef-owners, and a scan of the menu tells us that this is a place putting more than the average effort into acquiring a daily boatload. There's a whole fish available every day, and a lot of variety in the raw bar.
7. Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777. Chef John Besh works with many exotic fish. But what I like most here is the frequency with which you find oddball local fish--sheepshead, to name a frequent offering.
8. Emeril's. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393. Emeril's standards were honed in the Portuguese fishing communities in the Northeast, where he grew up> He learned a further lesson about buying fish during his years with the legendary Miss Jill, the longtime food buyer at Commander's Palace. Emeril's always has one or two species you've never had before, in addition to the familiar stuff.
9. RioMar. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 S Peters. 504-525-3474. With a Spanish flavor, RioMar brings in a terrific array of fish and shellfish from all over. It's the only place in town with razor clams regularly.
10. Brigtsen's. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Brigtsen's is too small to offer a lot of different fish on any given day. But if you visit often, you'll find many species that will be as wonderful as they are new to you. Frank loves to go fishing, and he knows his fish.
11. Grand Isle. Warehouse District & Center City: 575 Convention Center Blvd. 504-520-8530. The concept here is to suggest (in a spiffy, clean way) the fishing-camp cafes that once existed in shoreline Louisiana. It took awhile, but they have done this convincingly, with a strong selection of local seafood, often including fish you almost never see in restaurants.
12. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. French Quarter: 416 Chartres. 504-524-7394. Chef Paul's landmark restaurant is the first place we ran into tripletail and many other offbeat local seafoods. The menu changes daily, and the fish keeps coming in.
Veal With Crawfish Crozier
Chef Gerard Crozier--who died unexpectedly in the prime of health in 2009--created this dish for a Bastille Day special at his old French bistro in Metairie. He was always messing around with veal, always to brilliant result. This is one of the very few dishes he ever cooked that had a (slightly) New Orleans flavor, as opposed to being pure French (although I can hear him dispute this from the grave as I write it). It's simple enough to make, once you have nice veal (make sure it's sliced across the grain). When crawfish aren't in season you can use crabmeat, shrimp, or even lobster.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 8-12 thin slices veal round, about 2-3 oz. each
- 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 4 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 12 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1 lb. fresh Louisiana crawfish tails
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. white pepper
1. Blend the salt and pepper into the flour.
2. Lightly pound the veal scallops. Dust lightly with the seasoned flour on both sides.
3. Heat oil and 2 Tbs. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the veal and cook for 90 seconds to two minutes (depending on thickness) on each side, until browned around the edges. Pick up the veal with tongs, let it drain over the pan for a few seconds, then put it onto four plates. Put these in a 200 degree oven to stay warm.
4. Pour off excess fat from the pan, but don't wipe it. Add the rest of the butter and the mushrooms. Cook for one minute. Add the wine and reduce the liquid by half over medium high heat.
5. Add the crawfish tails and cream, plus salt and pepper to taste. Agitate the pan and cook until cream thickens.
6. Spoon the crawfish and mushroom sauce over the veal and serve. This is good with rice on the side, with some of the sauce running into it.