Mike, a former TMR contributor, is back…bringing us a culinary rundown of his weekend in New Orleans!
New Orleans is quite possibly my favorite city for food. Now, I’ll temper that statement by allowing that I’ve never been to New York (that will be remedied in November). But I have been to some other great food cities – Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Boston to name a few. And I live in Houston, which has its share of great restaurants.
But New Orleans has always held a special place in my heart, with a palate enticing fusion of French, Creole, Native American and Spanish cultures not found in many other places. The only downside to going away for the weekend is that I have to limit my exposure to all these wonderful elements by choosing just a few.
So this past weekend when I went to the Big Easy, I decided to dine at the following establishments: Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (classic American steakhouse), Herbsaint (Gulf Coast regional seafood meets Creole with some Continental thrown in) and the New Orleans classic, Commander’s Palace. Each had its own distinctive charm and ambiance that lent to three decidedly different, but satisfying dining experiences.
After arriving a little later than anticipated due to some terrible weather, we were looking for someplace to unwind while still being able to enjoy a great meal. Dickie Brennan’s definitely fit the bill. We were taken into a semi-private room next to a wine cabinet. After ordering cocktails, we decided on a bottle of Cabernet to go with our meal.
I ordered the BBQ Shrimp and Grits. It was served with 5 shrimp (head on, as it should be!) and a good sized jalapeno and cheddar grit cake, with a homemade BBQ sauce. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the grit cake was the best thing of its kind that I’ve ever tasted. Once I finished, I ate a couple bites of my friend’s filet, accompanied by the remainder of the BBQ sauce. Delicious…
For desert, I went with the Bananas Foster bread pudding. The rest of the table ordered the pecan pie and the Praline Ice Cream sandwich. My bread pudding was somewhat disappointing, if only because it was completely overshadowed by the Praline Ice Cream sandwich. Overall, it was a very solid if basic meal.
The next night we ventured into the Warehouse District to dine at Herbsaint, from Chef Donald Link. I’d heard great things about their local and seasonal menu and was definitely excited to check it out. Herbsaint is located in a small, non-descript building that you could miss if you didn’t know what you were looking for. Inside was a fast paced, lively atmosphere with clientele of all ages and backgrounds. The one common thread was that many people were in white linen (due to the fact that it was white linen weekend in the Warehouse District).
We were seated in the back room, next to what appeared to be a bachelorette party. So the conversation was definitely lively, punctuated with a lot of “OMG”’s and hyena like guffawing. But that wasn’t a big deal; after all we were in New Orleans and if you’re not there to have fun, you should probably leave. The first thing we ate was the bread, which happened to be some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted. It was on par with Haven in Houston, which is definitely saying something.
No appetizers or bottles of wine on this evening, but we did start with more cocktails. I had a streetcar – for the uninitiated, it’s bourbon and ginger ale. After having such a great experience the night before with the shrimp and grits, I decided to do some comparison eating.
I’m glad I did, because now I know that it doesn’t hold a candle to the dish at Dickie Brennan’s. It was good, but definitely not something I’ll remember. However, my wife ordered the Sauteed Jumbo Shrimp with Corn Arancini and Bacon. And brother, am I glad she did. The arancini is essentially a ball of risotto, stuffed with mozzarella, corn and bacon. It was one of the best dishes I’ve had at any restaurant, ever.
We ended the evening with the Warm Chocolate pudding cake with salted caramel, served with cashew ice cream and cocoa nib caramel corn, and a Banana Brown Butter Tart. The cake made me want to slap my grandma, it was so good. The chocolate was perfectly tempered by the ice cream and neither was overly rich or creamy. It was definitely the perfect end to a wonderful meal.
(Note – the next 4-6 hours are hazy. Multiple hurricanes and hand grenades rendered me a little fuzzy).
Commander’s Palace, in the heart of the Garden District across the street from Lafayette Cemetery #1, was the perfect place to end our New Orleans weekend. Commander’s is full of that old New Orleans charm and was formerly home to renowned chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.
After the previous evening’s festivities, we decided to forgo brunch cocktails and instead opted for coffee and juice. The brunch menu is prix fixe and includes an option each for appetizer/soup/salad, entré and dessert. It was a tough choice between the Eggs Couchon De Lait (poached eggs over smoked pork shoulder with biscuits, mushroom fricassee and a tasso hollandaise) and the Steak and Eggs (Flat Iron steak and soft scrambled eggs, served over a bed of cabbage, diced potatoes and tasso with Hollandaise). But I decided to go with the Steak and Eggs.
For my first course, I chose the Alabama Peach Salad (field greens, fresh peaches, Gorgonzola, candied pecans and a bacon vinaigrette). I wasn’t sure how it would mesh together, but it was a perfect balance with the sweetness cut by the salt of the vinaigrette and the bitterness of the cheese. It was a simple, delicious dish.
The Steak and Eggs was average – the steak was a little tough and slightly overcooked. I did, however, love the eggs and tasso with the hollandaise.
For my dessert course, I selected the fresh peaches and cream with homemade shortcake. The shortcake was essentially just a biscuit, but when paired with the peaches and cream, I didn’t care. It was out of this world. I’m a big proponent of making fresh whipped cream as I think it can make a solid dish spectacular. The peaches were ripe and had the perfect amount of sweetness.
Upon finishing our meal, we walked out and were promptly greeted by none other than Sylvester Stallone, who had also just finished his meal and was house shopping in the Garden District.
A weekend getaway to New Orleans was just what we needed to get our minds off of work and the kids. I highly recommend taking a couple days and doing your own culinary tour of the city. Find something off the beaten path and get out of the French Quarter for a while. Talk to cab drivers to see what the locals suggest. I guarantee you won’t regret it. And remember, when in the Big Easy, laissez les bon temps rouler.
One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in New Orleans…crawfish etouffee at the Gumbo Shop! So delicious I ate the leftovers straight from the frige the next morning. Try it on your next visit!