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Restaurants & Bars 6

Thanks, Chowhounds, for helping us eat NOLA last week [Long]

NancyH | Jul 20, 200504:16 PM

As I mentioned in a couple of posts below, my husband Bob and I spent July 5-13 in NOLA, eating our way through town. We greatly appreciate your recommendations, and would like to share our "results", especially for those of you pondering trips to NOLA soon. Sadly, 2 places on our “must get to” list – Napoleon House and Upperline – were closed for vacation the entire time we were there.

Tuesday 7/5 - Mandina's – Fried Trout, Catfish, and Softshell Crab and Crab Fingers all scrumptious.

Wednesday 7/6 - Commerce Restaurant. We split one plate of Red Beans & Rice accompanied by BBQ ribs, plus we added 1 link each hot & mild sausage, biscuits (no French bread due to storm Cindy the night before), Small Salad (we didn't have room). We almost passed on the biscuits, when one of our companions, whose entree changed from Shrimp Po-Boy to Ham Omlette due to the lack of bread, said "take the biscuits - you WANT the biscuits". Oh, yes.

Dinner - All American Wine dinner at Bayona - 4 courses using American ingredients and wine. Susan Spicer was in the kitchen and came out for a well deserved bow before dessert.

Thursday - Johnny's Po-Boy - Crab Po-Boy and Boudin Po-Boy. We loved ours. Someone from our convention was there and said the shrimp didn't taste fresh. Curiously, as we ate, we noticed a purveyor delivering a huge load of frozen Basa fish - whatever do they do with that?

Dinner - Brigtsen's - Shrimp Remoulade (I actually had a "Shrimp Epiphany" - I'm slightly allergic to it and never liked it - until this night), Crab/Parmesan Crusted Triplefish w/roasted caramelized veggies, whipped potatoes, Bearnaise; Roast Duck with Cornbread Dressing & Honey Pecan Gravy; Pecan Pie with Caramel Sauce (our tablemates passed their Double Chocolate Cake to sample). This was the best meal of the trip.

Friday - Commander's Palace Lunch. 25 Cent Martinis were full strength and delicious. We ate Chicken/Sausage Gumbo (the waiter said it would have shellfish, but there were none), Grilled Redfish (which was only ok - not exquisitely fresh and a few “off” bites); Bob's 3 tomato salad was absurd - 1 micro-thin slice each of 3 kinds of tomato (and we really wanted to sample Creole Tomatoes, so we felt denied); so-so Turtle Soup, Bread pudding Souffle (excellent).

Most surprising was that after a waiter spilled a house martini on one of our tablemates, turning her dress blue, all the house did was offer to pay her drycleaning bill. It seemed to me they should have comped her something for having to eat in a wet dress, though they were solicitous about trying to dry it with towels.

Late Afternoon Snack: Angelo Brocatos Praline Gelato and Chocolate Gelato. Left us too stuffed to eat again that day.

Saturday - Palace Café Jazz Brunch. We heard a lot of mixed reviews about the Palace from our convention-mates, and had brunch with 2 ladies who had eaten dinner there the night before and raved about it. Our experience was generally positive. We started with Milk Punches. I had the Crab Cheesecake - outstanding. Bob's Creole-Tomato Soup, however, was thin - the ladies had urged it on him as wonderful last night; they agreed it wasn't the same soup today (obviously, stretched leftovers) - it was still tasty, however. I had Potato Crusted Redfish w/poached eggs and hollandaise - as at CP the day before, the fish was good but not exquisite (might have been the farmed stuff; though there were no “bad” bites – it just didn’t sing), and a tasty Bread pudding. Bob had a Hash Skillet - eggs, pecan cured bacon (worth the cost of admission by itself), sausage and potatoes, and finished with a heavenly Praline Cheesecake. The staff was fun and enjoyed our Red Hats and the jazz trio was terrific.

Late Night Saturday - Remoulade (Arnaud's casual arm). The Catfish Po-Boy and Cajun hot sausage po-boy hit the spot after a few hours on Bourbon Street.

Sunday - Ralphs On The Park Jazz Brunch. We all had Corn and Crab Soup, which was outstanding. I had a trio plate of Brioche French toast, Sausage stuffed apple (deliciously caramelized), and Andouille strips (yum!), Bob had a delightful Shrimp Salad with afresh fava bean vinaigrette and, finally, a bountiful serving of Creole Tomatoes, garnished with fried Vadalia onions which were heavenly. Our companion had the Salmon & Crab Hash, which I was leery of because I am a very fussy salmon eater. It was simply amazing and delicious. No problems with food or service at Ralph’s, I’d recommend it highly.

Sunday, we moved from the Sheraton to the Hotel Monteleone as the town battened down for Hurricane Dennis, which fortunately missed us. I assume the impending storm was the reason that the service at Mr Bs seemed so amateur at dinner - that and the place was packed but only with tourists, which really changed the atmosphere from when I stuck my head in earlier in the day (what part of "dressy casual" don't people on vacation understand?). As to service - is there any reason why any restaurant with a computerized point of sale system can't offer split checks? Who teaches their servers to treat Lambic beer as wine and to not offer it when asked about the beer selection? Food was not delivered hot, and you could see the staff juggling it, not sure what to bring to who (and making several mistakes). The food was ok - the Fried Green Tomatoes w/crab appetizer was outstanding, in fact, but the Redfish En Papilotte was ho-hum - it wasn't until after this dinner that I consulted "Eating New Orleans", which cautioned against farmed redfish. Bob's Gumbo Ya-Ya and BBQ Shrimp were very tasty, but not served very hot. The others in our group were generally pleased, but service wasn't very good and the food suffered for it. It took over 20 minutes for us to divide our check among 8 people, and they were packed and could have used that table sooner. Oh well. It took forever to get my Sazerac refilled.

After, we had drinks at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. What a cool place – with an old carousel motif, and the seats actually revolve around the bar! Too bad it was so smoky . . .

Monday - my birthday - we got up very late and decided to nibble. We started at Café du Monde. Then, down Decatur Street to Samarai Sushi. Our conventionmates had discovered this place - local ingredients (softshell and lump crab and local finfish) were rolled with cajun spices on wonderful sushi rice (with avocado for one roll). They were about to close post-lunch when we walked in; we begged them to let us sit at the sushi bar for a couple of sushi rolls and beers - and they relented - it was so good! We watched them prep a beautiful whole salmon, and huge tuna sections; if we weren’t so full, we might have spent the whole afternoon there!

After a break, we decided to try to brave the smoke at Coops - we got them right between lunch and afternoon crowds so it was bearable to smoke-o-phobe me - and well worth it for the cup of rabbit-sausage jambalaya we shared. The Abita Turbodog was pulled at just the right drinking temperature, too.

For my birthday dinner, we got Food Bar table overlooking the open kitchen at NOLA. All six of us decided to get the Chef's Tasting Menu with wine flights. It turned into an interesting experience.

The gemuse of marinated mozzerella was intriguing and tasty. First course of Blue Crab Bisque with caviar and creme fraiche was exquisite. Second course of bronzed sea scallops (with a marvelous glaze), Lardon Bacon, Fingerling Potatoes, Tuffled Leeks and Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce was heavenly. Then came the entrée – pan fried Filet Mignon with “Emeril’s Jumbo Gulf Shrimp”, Risotto, Baby Artichokes and Crispy Parsnips. Everything on the plate was wonderful – except the only local seafood item on the menu (other than the crab in the bisque): the shrimp! To say they were ammoniated would be kind. I told the young line cook at the station in front of us, and she couldn’t believe it. She asked one of the more experienced line cooks, who was at my left elbow, to taste it. I offered him a pristine one – he sniffed, then 86’d it hard without a taste. I then insisted that the young lady in front of us smell another whole one, – she also pitched it without a taste, making a face that summed it up! Blech!
Amazingly, they’d been serving that shrimp all night, and we were the first to complain, and we wound up closing the place because we started late. Heck, 4 of the 6 in our group ate their shrimp and didn’t realize how bad it was. So when the manager came over to respond to my complaint (after the plates had been removed), he respectfully asked if we had shown any of the bad shrimp to any of the staff – the two cooks who had smelled them agreed that they were bad (the younger one hadn’t known what “ammoniated” meant - until she smelled it). Satisfied that the shrimp was indeed bad, the house then did the following: 1. My entire dinner, including my wine flights, came off of our check 2. They gave a round of drinks to our party. 3. They allowed us to choose any desserts from the menu (Guava-Lime Cream Pie on Banana Crust with fresh berries and Coco-rum sauce came with the chef’s table). I chose the bread pudding with ice cream, and wound up bringing half of the pudding back to the hotel. So, even though I was terribly disappointed that the local product bombed – (would Emeril be embarrassed that a product served with his name on it on the menu -- “Emeril’s Jumbo Gulf Shrimp” - could be so foul) – the meal overall was excellent and we walked out stuffed and satisfied that the restaurant had done what it could to make a bad situation better.

Tuesday - Galatoire's - lunch was delicious and entertaining. Yes, this place is everything that everyone says it is, both the servers and the patrons, and most important, the great food. We shared an appetizer of puffed potatoes & fried eggplant strips with remoulade, and we each ordered the same entrée (it just sounded too good!): Lemonfish w/crab, shrimp, and butter sauce on the side. Truthfully, these shrimp could have been fresher, but there was so much delectable fish and crabmeat on the plate that this was of no genuine consequence.

We waddled to trolley and the D-Day museum. Then, we took the streetcar to the Garden District and had drinks at Igor's Garlic House - which looked too interesting to pass up. We still had no room for food, but the garlic-infused menu looked pretty darn cool. Again, though, the smoke drove us outward and onward.

On the trolley back to Canal Street, I realized that we hadn't yet had any pralines or Hubig's pies, and we were leaving in the morning! We headed to the French Quarter fearing we were too late (it was almost 7pm; the praline place off Canal was closed and the guy who sells them by the trolley was gone). Fortunately, Southern Candy Makers’ second store by the French Market is open until 8pm, so we got our candy fix and take home. They also pointed us to a liquor store selling Hubig's.

Finally - our last restaurant meal - The Bon Ton Cafe. After reading all of the praise heaped here by the Chowhounders, I knew I wanted to try it. As hard as we rushed after obtaining our pralines, though, we didn't get there until about 9:10pm (they list their closing time as 9:30). Still, there were others eating there, and we were cheerfully seated. Our server, Pat, was a sweetheart. We decided to do the multi-course option for our meals. I started with Gumbo (shrimp& sausage) - the shrimps were delicious (no going back after an epiphany, I guess, when the product is good). Bob had Turtle Soup - it was the best of the trip. We each enjoyed a nice salad. Then, the wheels sort of came off - my Black Drum grilled with cajun spices, and topped with Onion Rings (with Cream Cauliflower on the side) was so tasty - but the main plate was at a warm-tepid temp and the cauliflower ice cold. Bob's Filet Mignon was ordered medium rare, but came out well done; his side of roasted potatoes was like my cauliflower. Both Pat and the owner/manager apologized; he offered us a drink while the sides and steak were remade (Pat offered to reheat my fish - but it was so perfectly cooked, more heat would have ruined it - I did enjoy it; and I really didn’t need another order of Onion Rings, though these were intriguing and are probably fabulous at the right temperature). We finished, after eating the re-done items (which were very good – the sauce from the cauliflower really complemented the fish) with Bread Pudding and Praline Ice Cream. The owner/manager comped our check and apologized that the kitchen had started to close up a little early. We would certainly go back to Bon Ton when we are next in town.

Wednesday - We checked out of the hotel and munched the leftover NOLA bread pudding and a Hubig's Pie in the lobby.

At the Airport, we struggled between trying the Acme outlet there or Legend's. When I read on the sign that Legend's is owned by Pampy's, and that it cooks to order, we decided to try it. I got a Jambalaya pasta, which had tasty sausage and tangy sauce, but the shrimp was inedible (oy, such a critic I’ve become on that which I used to not even eat). Bob's Muffuletta was pretty good.

What a wonderful trip - thanks again to those of you who told us to stay away from the Court of 2 Sisters (thought the Palace Café had some flaws, I think we got very good value for the money and we enjoyed ourselves there); we also have to side with the anti-Mothers crowd on atmosphere - we walked in there and it was just too touristy (and there was a line). Maybe on another trip we can catch it "off hours" and sample their food. I’m glad we did Commander’s, but I wouldn’t rush to it or Mr. Bs again. Definitely, though, I would get to Brigsten’s and Bayona again.

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