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Toronto Hound's New Orleans Report--Coop's, Galatoire's

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Toronto Hound's New Orleans Report--Coop's, Galatoire's

mstacey42 | May 13, 2009 07:22 AM

While I didn't post any requests, I did use the New Orleans board frequently for making restaurant choices when I spent five days in your beautiful city last week and I would like to share my experiences for the benefit of future hounds.

We arrived on Wednesday night, and around 9.30 we were ready to leave our hotel. We took a taxi to Coop's place, which was about 3/4 full. Coop's is a warm, dive-y sort of place--not the most obvious spot for good food, but definitely the place for a friendly drink. We ordered a gumbo and a jambalaya (and were upsold to the supreme Jambalaya or something like that) and two Abita ambers. The Gumbo was a bit of a disappointment--lots of nice seafood but a pretty unidimensional spicy broth. The jambalaya was much better; it contained an intoxicating variety of smoky meats, making it into something that was--to my Canadian taste buds--best described as a downmarket barbecue risotto. I would be interested in trying their other items--plates of red beans and rice with massive sausages looked good--and would recommend Coop's to anybody looking for decent cheap food and unpretentious genuine dive-ness.

Thursday morning we wake up, stroll the french quarter, get cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, and head over to Galatoire's for 11 to make sure we can get in without too much line. We need not have worried; we are the first people there and are led to the upstairs bar. The bar itself doesn't have much character--it's dark and woody but it seems recently and relatively cheaply renovated. The bartender, OTOH, is totally great. He chats with us about Toronto, about Galatoire's, the history of the Sazerac (beautifully made) and ensures that we are totally excited about sitting down to eat.

Homer is our waiter. He is not the most effusive man in the world. He is, however, a brilliant server (his very movements seemed the result of years of practice in a way I've only encountered at European ***'s), and his gruffness (along with a marvelously strange--to us Torontonians--accent) only contributed to the atmosphere. We start with potatos souffle, which are terrifically crisp but only lukewarm. Dipped in the heavenly bearnaise, they are a lot like eating a cross between the world's best frenchfries and the world's best potato chips. If only they had been warmer!

Homer recommends that we proceed with a Goute, which includes shrimp remoulade, crab maison and crawfish maison. These three salads are the best seafood preparations I've eaten in a long time. It's ridiculous to say it, but if you know that you are just getting very simple and mayonnais-y preparations of crawfish and crab, along with shrimp in what reminded me of fancy cocktail sauce, and this simplicity doesn't bother or offend you, then I think that this might be the best way to eat seafood. It all tasted marvelously sweet and fresh, and the dressings seemed like the perfect textbook variations of these old-fashioned sauces.

Next Homer pushed us toward a deep-fried soft-shell crab, topped with crab meat, in meuniere sauce. This dish was ridiculously rich and heavy (although the coating on the soft-shell was airy and light) and an absurd bounty of crab. The contrast between the soft-shell and the lump crab meat it was topped with made for an exciting and decadent--though absurdly simple--dish. I could see how people might not fall for this sort of thing, in theory, but when that much delicious crab is actually on the plate in front of you, it's hard not to love it.

The bartender upstairs had suggested that we have one of his favourite dishes, stuffed eggplant. Stuffed eggplant is like an eggplant, shrimp and crab gratin. When we asked Homer if we could split one, we were worried that he hadn't heard us as two massive plates were brought to the table. (We learned from the bill that we had received two small portions.) Again, this dish was absurdly old fashioned. It had a kind of pablum texture, mitigated somewhat by the broiled top of bread crumbs. The kind of food where teeth are almost optional. The richness of the eggplant and the quality of seafood flavour, however, made it addictively good, and we both ate beyond the boundaries of comfort. We couldn't stomach dessert or cafe brulot (which I had wanted to try) and Homer reluctantly brought us the bill. More food and drinks than I should ever eat came to under $150 for two (including two sazeracs each at the bar and two glasses of chardonnay). Next time, I will try to prolong the experience, because I felt (originally) a little rushed. My girlfriend and I are in our mid-twenties and could easily be perceived as not being terribly serious about food. Once we got to talking with our server, things became more leisurely. There was never any question, however, that Homer was the boss of this particular food-boat, and that were just passengers.

The scene on Thursday seemed tremendously lively to me--I bet Friday's are wild, and the crowd is almost worth the price of admission alone. I should also mention that Galatoire's is probably the most atmospheric restaurant I've ever eaten in; similarly aged brasseries in tend to feel stale and artificial in comparison.
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