'Just back from a three night trip to the world's most fun city.
First night there we tried Upperline after having seen many good reports here. To be honest, I found the food very dissapointing. I expected something along the lines of Britsens, but Upperline isn't even remotely as good. I thought the food was about a 6 on a scale of 10...at best.
1)Spicy shrimp w/ Cornbread. Pretty good, nothing special though.
2)Duck and Andoille etoffee. Not good at all.
3)Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp Remoulade. So-so. To be fair, there's only so much you can do with that dish...but Upperlines was not any better than average.
4)Oyster Stew. Pretty good. Standard creamed soup.
5)Gumbo. Far from the best I've had in NO (Mr. B's)
6) Lamb Shank. Virtually inedible due to a vastly over-reduced, sticky wine sauce that overwhelmed any hint of lamb flavor.
7)Tom Cowan's "famous" duck. We tried both the peach sauce and the port/garlic. First of all the duck was, well, ok. Crispy but nothing exceptional, and not a shadow of Britsen's duck. The peach sauce tasted like peach preserves right out of the jar and the port/garlic was downright bad.
8)Pecan pie and bread pudding. Both SUBSTANTIALLY below average.
In short, not worth the time of day. I have NO idea how this place gets as many good reviews as it does.
Second night: Kpaul's
Another knock-out meal at one of the all-time greats.
1)Jambalaya: Great as always
2)Some sort of creamed soup...I forget exactly what. It was marvelous, in any case.
3)Drumm fish covered in BBQ shrimp. This was the best BBQ shrimp I've eaten in NO...eclipsing even Mr. B's. Fantastic.Absolutely fantastic.
4)Veal in some sort of mushroom sauce. The low point. Ok, but nothing to write home about. (this is NOT the Veal Diane that appears on the menu much of the time).
5)Sweet Potato pecan pie. Pretty good, but over-rated in my opinion. This is supposed to be a Kpaul signature dish but it doesn't really move me. Perfectly good, though.
6) Coconut cake. Fabulous (we called ahead a week in advance to request this, by the way).
And of course the world's best bread basket comes with the meal. Four different (totally different) breads ranging from excellent to FANTASTIC.
Overall, a most wonderful experience. Great service, to boot (I found Upperline's service to be a little pretentious). Kpauls is just plain friendly..while being blindingly effecient at the same time. FOR SURE one of the best 3 places in NO.
For reasons that seem idiotic to me now I decided to ignore the MANY reports about Antoine's and give it a try. We were Cajuned-out and wanted some more French/Creole-style cooking instead of the dark, intense "Swamp" food as my wife so graciously calls it:)
I did a lot of research on this board and thought I learned enough to "crack" Antiones. I called ahead and asked for a particular waiter....not working that night. Ok, how about Mr. X...another name I'd picked up off the board....not working that night. This was actually GOOD, since it allowed me to jokingly say "ok, YOU pick somebody for me"....which only a local would be likely to say (and not have to greet the waiter I'd requested only for him to wonder who the hell I was since we'd never met). Maybe THIS would get me the famous "locals" service that the "tourists" never get..or so it is said. In retrospect, it seems idiotic to have to think about jumping through so many hoops to get good service....and to have to know exactly which dishes to order to get a decent meal (Antoines and Galatoires). I promise you that if you go to Britsens, Kpaul, Emerils, etc, etc without knowing *anything* that you'll get a great meal and great service. Why screw around with these old dinosaurs that can't manage to put out good food or service to "just anyone" who may come in?
We were instantly taken to the Annex...which I assumed to be a good sign. In fact, the front dining room that everyone seems to think is an insult to be seated in is a MUCH more pleasant enviornment than the annex which reminds me of an old cafeteria.
Anyway, per this board's many tidbits of advice we started with:
1) Souflee potatoes with Bernaise sauce. Very good, and the highlight of the meal. However; deep fried potatoes and Bernaise sauce....about 95% fat....HELLO, how hard would you have to work to make this taste BAD???
2) Crab salad. Similar to the Crab Maison at Galatoires (the only dish I've had there that was anything more than just good...perhaps because there's no actual *cooking* involved). Also quite good.
3)Crawfish Cardinale. Just about OK. A thin sauce that *looked* right but showed NO trace of a reduced seafood stock in its flavor. Perfectly edible, but hardly delicious.
4)Chicken Rochameau. Not bad. A flattened piece of chicken over a piece of ham with a dark brown sauce that was essentially fruit juice thickened with corn starch, sweetened and infused with some grapes. It tasted pretty good.....as you'd expect. It's the kind of thing your mother might have poured over a ham slice when you were a kid. But again, no sign of reduction....no particular cooking skill being evinced...just the bare basics. Ten thousand restaurants could pull this one off. How many could do Kpaul's Jamblaya?
5)Lamb Alcatoire. Like the chicken dish, the sweet sauce pleased the tongue while not having the least bit of complexity or showing any particular cooking skills. Again, a simple, thickened sauce that tasted ok but showed no depth of flavor.
6) Crepe Suzette. Hahahahahaha. This was virtually inedible. The worst ever. They didn't come CLOSE to cooking off the booze in the pan and the crepes had a taste that was more like gasoline than anything else. They "cheat" and do the whole thing in the kitchen then bring the pan to the table and do a ceremonial "flaming" of the skillet right on the table. In any case, it was horrible.
As I think about it now, the food actually tasted a bit better than that at Upperline....but again, simplistic, LOW level cooking.....not the high-end, expertly prepared and presented food you'd expect for these prices. The chefs at Upperline are more skilled, make no mistake about *that*....but I just didn't like their cooking style. You can have too *much* flavor in a sauce simply by over-reducing it. The lamb sauce was almost sickening for this exact reason. But at least they have the right idea, whereas the "chefs" at Antoine's are more like the "chefs" from TGIF....competent middle-of-the-road line cooks. But they pass themselves off as a top-end French restaurant! Still, if the service had been even FAIR the whole experience wouldn't have been too bad...I'd never go back...I don't fly all the way to NO to eat food that's only "good" but I wouldn't have been as outraged as I was.
From the begining the waiters were missing in action. It wasn't just US....as we looked around the large room there was NEVER a waiter...except perhaps dashing out of the safety of the kitchen to deposit a plate on a table before running back to the sanctuary of the kitchen again. I don't know if they have a poker game going back there or what...but NEVER in my life have I seen service this determinedly horrendous. The funny thing was that they weren't really rude, or even embarrased by the whole thing...they seemed to think it NORMAL to be completely out of sight and sound almost ALL of the time. My champagne glass went unfilled for over an hour. Run out, drop the plate on the table, do a 180 and run for cover. Water glasses stayed empty. Plates remained uncollected when they were obviously finished. A disaster. Finally we started to make jokes about it...betting on how long it would be until the next waiter actually came out into the dining room and if he would make eye contact with anyone or simply rush by and then rush back through the dreaded swinging doors...careful not to actually *look* at anyone who might, God forbid, have a request of some sort (no eye contact, I lost).
My wife got up to find the restroom and mistakenly walked to the rear of the room...right past a couple of waiters who were hurrying past. Now...as a practical matter, if the waiters had been paying ANY attention at all to their enviornment it would have been obvious where she was trying to go and someone could have pointed her in the right direction. Not a word, they watched disinterestedly as she wandered off into the void. Compare this to the *superlative* service at Delmonico where the *moment* she got out of her chair *two* guys came rushing over...one of whom *escorted* her to the restroom, arm in arm. A fairy tale.
Antoine's reminds me of a "union shop" where the surly employees think that THEY own the place and can do any god damn thing they want because they are immune to any disciplinary actions. An absolute F*&king travesty.
The wife went back after dinner while I was next door and complained to the "manager"....some New York hustler type by the name of "Eddie". Eddie actually said to her..."I don't care" (his exact words) when she'd finished her long list of complaints. Not even an "I'm sorry". Nothing.
By contrast, after having a bad experience at Commander's last year they not only took the $100-plus charge off my credit card but sent me a certificate good for ANOTHER free meal worth $150. The food wasn't great the second time either (I've given up on Commander's except for brunch, which they do very well) but at least they are making the effort to please the customer.
Anyway, DO try Kpauls, DO try Britsens, DO try Jacque-Imo's, Do try Delmonico, Do try Mr. B's (a step down perhaps, but still very good) and DO go to the Funky Pirate to hear Big Al Carson...one of the few actual "Blues" singers left on Bourbon Street. And DON'T, no matter WHAT go to Antoines. You'll only hate yourself in the moring:)
Enjoy New Orleans!!
Oh, I almost forgot!!! We tried Ugleiches (sp?) for lunch. The shrimp and grits (which must be the most "under-named" dish in the city...it could come from a five-star restaurant) was probably the best single dish we ate the entire trip. Hurry, they close for good soon I was told.