I brought my sons, 20 and 22, to New Orleans for their first time this past weekend. My younger son is starting his second year at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and after doing a 5 month externship at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch in Atlanta under Chef Linton Hopkins (F & W Top 10 Chefs 2009, Finalist James Beard Award, etc.). He had a few days before school started and I wanted to introduce him to the cuisine and culture of New Orleans with the possibility of working here after school. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/624662
WE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE!!
We landed late on Friday afternoon due to a weather-delayed flight and after stowing our luggage at a friend’s apartment on Dauphine Street we quickly walked to our 2:00 PM reservation at Restaurant August.
We unfortunately spent the rest of our four days trying to replicate that meal and comparing everything else we ate over the weekend to the food we saw and enjoyed that afternoon. We set the bar very high from the first meal and never quite got back there again. This meal tainted us for everything that was to follow.
August was phenomenal!! This was only lunch, yet the service and food were spectacular. From the attractive, personable, waitresses to the Amuse Bouche of a perfectly cut egg with savory seafood custard, everything was amazing. The insalata carprese salad was one of the most original presentations I have ever seen as was the Ambrosia desert. I remember many outstanding meals in my life (Babbo, Bradley Odgen, French Laundry), but none had the originality, flavor and exceptional value that this lunch provided. Three course for $20.09 per person. Unbelievable! Chef Besh was kind and gracious enough to come to our table when he heard of my son’s intentions and as we walked away delirious from the restaurant my son was excitedly texting his friends at the CIA” I met Chef Besh”
Friday night my sons partied with some high school friends at Tulane and I had the Barbecued Shrimp and cocktails at the bar at Mr. B’s Bistro. It was just as wonderful as the members on this Board have described.
I went to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning and ran into Chef Besh and the Chef from La Provence. It was fascinating listening to them discuss the local produce and what they would do with it. I told him how much I enjoyed the previous day’s meal and that my son would love to come work for him after graduation and he couldn’t have been more obliging and friendly. You have a great ambassador for your city and your regional cuisine in Chef Besh.
The boys got home Saturday morning in time for lunch at Bayona. What a disappointment! It took two hours for a three course light lunch and every thirty minutes a disinterested waitress would set a plate down with “be careful, the plates hot”. Yet the food was warm to cold, an indication of too much time under heat lights. The restaurants decor and food felt dated and tired and even though I own and use Chef Spicer’s cookbook, this meal was by far the worst of our trip.
Saturday night was my most anticipated experience of the weekend; Cochon. We arrived at 8PM and I had requested a table near the kitchen, we were seated immediately and had a great view into the inner workings of this busy restaurant. This crew rocked and was in total harmony. It was great to watch. After hearing of the intentions of our visit, the chef sent us several special plates including one of the most delicious and decadent things I have ever eaten. Deep Fried Pork Ribs. I will never forget them! Cochon was the only restaurant even close to August, yet with more of a rustic, guttural appeal with August being more refined and elegant. I loved it, especially after the waitress, who was extraordinary, brought us moonshine shots.
Sunday was casual day. Three girls who were friends of the boys met us for lunch at Johnny’s Po Boys in the French Quarter. I felt like I was in the episode of Seinfeld with the “Soup Nazi”, ’ceptin she be da Po Boi Po Leece. The woman behind the counter was discourteous, arrogant, lazy and rude. Why don’t owners put these types of people on the grill and let employees who actually like other people deal with the public. My roast beef and shrimp Po Boy was OK, but the girls from Louisiana said they had had much, much better.
Sunday night was another John Besh restaurant; Luke. We arrived in a driving rainstorm to find the restaurant virtually empty, we again asked for a seat near the kitchen and were shown to a table in a room with the kitchen basically in a Plexiglas box. As we observed the kitchen, my son noticed that one of the Chefs had been in his dorm at the CIA, and sure enough he had just graduated and was heading the kitchen that night. I really liked Luke. The assorted charcuterie plate was exceptional, huge portions, well priced and service, while not professional, was very friendly. I did not understand why it wasn’t busier. Maybe the rain?
Monday we went back to Cochon for lunch. I hadn’t realized that they did not have a separate lunch menu, so it felt like a repeat of Saturday, although the fried Boudin was very tasteful and the Oyster and Bacon sandwhich was very good, but expensive at $14. I wish we had made a different choice for lunch. We visited Cochon Butcher after lunch and brought quite a bit of meats and pates to take home with us. We all agreed that their headcheese was the best we had ever tasted.
You have a great culinary city. There were so many restaurants we didn’t get to try. Brigstens, NOLA, Stella and the many older established New Orleans Institutions. I sincerely hope my son does come to your city and work and that some of you get to taste his cooking. I know he came away with a strong desire to move to New Orleans after school.
A Word of Advise, when traveling to a new city. “Save the Best for Last”.
Has this ever happened to you?