Yes, it was 8 days of gluttony. But hey, I work hard and don't come to New Orleans very often. So why not? After once again doing my in depth research, reading reviews, discussing dining options with my fellow Chowhounders, I embarked on a culinary expedition that was among the best I have yet to experience. I would love to extend a large thank you to all the local New Orleans advisers for their recommendations and help. Your city once again was amazing and captivated me in every possible way. Below in my impossibly long review of the best 8 days of eating in my life:
Saturday- Arrived from the airport and checked in the hotel at 2. The Giants were playing at 1 on Sunday, so I killed some time roaming around to see if there were some good bars to watch the game. But of course all I could think about was Galatoire's for dinner. Being an hour behind, and not eating anything all day I was absolutely starving by the time 5:30 hit. After throwing on my dress slacks, shirt, and jacket, I headed over to Galatoire's for what would be my first of many transcendent dinners in NOLA. After having a truly special meal here on my last trip, naturally I was incredibly excited to kick it off in grand fashion. It is impossible for me to name a favorite in New Orleans, but Galatoire's is definitely at the top of my list. I couldn't come here without spending a night at this classic institution, which is the epitome of traditional New Orleans cooking.
I don't know what it is about this establishment but it holds a special place in my heart. On my return to NOLA, I made sure this was my first stop. There's just something magical about everything here- the food, the atmosphere, the history, the whimsical and friendly staff.
I was warmly greeted and brought the usual loaf of piping hot french bread fresh from the oven. I knew coming in pretty much what I wanted to order, however there is always some last minute "waffling" when making the final decision. Literally 5 minutes after placing my order, the appetizers hit the table.
I decided on getting the fried soft shell crab and fried eggplant for my first course. After declaring their fried soft shell crabs on my last visit one of the top 5 things I've put in my mouth, I knew I needed to taste them once again. This time, as an appetizer I received 1 huge fried soft shell crab almondine with menuiere sauce. Perfection personified in every way. Nowhere else in the world but New Orleans can you get this dish-- let alone at any time of the year. Perfectly fried, piping hot, meaty crab, and a killer buttery sauce with jump a squeeze of lemon and I was transported back to heaven just like I was two years ago. Sweet sweet de ja vu. The eggplant was excellent as well. Served with powdered sugar and bearnaise , which may seem odd but works in some crazy way.
For my main I knew I wanted some kind of fish topped with crabmeat yvonne. My waitress steered me towards the pompano, and she did not lead me astray. Again, waiting nearly 5-7 minutes after finishing my appetizer the entree would hit the table with a thud. Before she brought it to the table she informed me that the first pompano that I was supposed to get "wasn't quite up to snuff" so she refused to serve it to me. But the next one would be worth the wait. Two minutes later, I was presented the huge whole pompano filet with head and tail on covered in lump crabmeat, mushrooms, and artichokes. Again topped with lots of yummy butter sauce. This was a masterpiece in every way. The flavors are simple, however when dealing with such fine ingredients its everything you want in a fish dish. And that kind of service is something that Galatoire's hangs its hat on.
Just for good measure I had to add some sides to complete my already induglent meal. Cauliflower au gratin and lyonnaise potatoes. The cauliflower is just insane. The potatoes are tasty, but again completely unnecessary.
Coming this far, dessert had to be ordered. Again, after much contemplating betweent the sweet potato cheesecake and banana bread pudding I had to do the bread pudding. I remember how wonderful it was, and when in NOLA you can never pass up this quintessential dessert. Somehow, this bread pudding seemed LARGER than last time. Maybe because I wasn't sharing it, but it was a block of luscious goodness covered in a heaping pool of caramel praline sauce, bananas, and vanilla ice cream.
Yes and then I went to bed a happy man
Sunday- Lunch at Mother's Restaurant.
Didn't come here on my last trip so I figured I needed to try Mother's to say I've been there once.
Stopped in and got a ferdi with cheese (The ralph) to go. Honestly, it didn't do much for me. I prefer my roast beed bloody rare and this was overcooked and like beef jerky. The baked ham and debris elements though were very good. I tried them each separately and liked them. The debris serves as a kind of sauce since it is sitting in the beef juices and it is what really makes the sandwich complete. The bread was also good, but again in New Orleans the bread is great anywhere. You're not going here for ambience or wonderful service, just food. I saw some other dishes while I waited and they looked alright. Kinda upset they did not have sweet tea. How is that possible lol?????
While the sandwich disappointed, I have to say their bread pudding was pretty samn amazing. Maybe the best I have had. Simple, but wonderful. Studded with fruit cocktail and what seems to be drenched in maple syrup, this bread pudding was soaked just right leaving in incredibly fluffy but still a nice caramelized texture also. This would serve as a wonderful breakfast and some of the best french toast ever.
After that glorious meal at Galatoire's, the next night was another heavy hitter. This time I was really excited because I had never been to Restaurant August. Earlier in the day, I had walked by to take a peak at the menu, since it is ever-changing with the seasons. After reading over it and contemplating my choices seemingly all day, the time was here to start my dining adventure.
I had incredible expecations for Restaurant August coming in. I'm a fan of Chef Besh after seeing him on TV and reading the many reviews. Most have said this is a must eat if in NOLA, which is saying a lot for a city with such amazing food. Some dishes truly lived up to the hype, but to be completely and utterly honest it fell short in a lot of ways for me. No doubt, the cuisine here is pretty delicious, the room is wonderful, staff is of the utmost professionalism. However, I felt like a lot of the food was not uniquely New Orleans. It seemed like they were trying to hard to be "fine dining" and appeal to the masses, rather than stick to their roots. Lots of Asian influenced dishes which was very surprising. And a lot of plates where I felt I was eating at a restaurant at home in NYC.
Now onto the food..
The bread was absolutely delicious. One of my favorites on the trip. I like how they differentiated themselves from the usual french loaf. Two nice sized and fluffy sourdough loaves and sweet butter.
First course was the famed gnocchi with crabmeat and truffles. Absolutely incredible! I've had a lot of gnocchi in my experience, and this was among the best. Lots of jumbo crabmeat and the gnocchi were plentiful and perfectly cooked. Such a wonderful starter and really had me excited for the rest of the meal.
Second course was the pork belly which came with kimchee, korean pickles, and daikon I believe. I mean you can't go wrong with pork belly and the belly itself was very good. However, I'm not a huge fan of Asian flavored dishes and didn't love the accompaniments. I would have preferred something more New Orleans and have seen previous preps on their menu that included crawfish, which I would have preferred. If I had to do it again I would not have ordered this.
Third course- They were nice enough to allow me to order the tasting portion of the short ribs as a mid course from their tasting menu. I was having a hard time deciding between this and the duck for my main so this gave me the opportunity to try both. This was a very strong dish. The short rib was about 3 ounces of tender, juicy meat and was accompanied by some grilled plums and a sweet sauce. Again, it had some kind of Asian inspired glaze on it and wasn't uniquely NOLA. A dish I could very easily get in New York, yet very good though.
Fourth course- Duckling with grits, grilled peaches, and some type of greens (tasted like spinach but maybe kale). This was my most anticipated dish and a staple on their menu. You are presented with two thick duck "filets" so to speak. This dish had a very strong North African inspiration and heavily seasoned with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg type spices. The duck tasted very much like Christmas ham. Now I like ham, however I was looking for duck. One of my favorite meats, but I felt the spices were a little too strong and masked the wonderful flavors of the duck. Additionally, it was cooked a little over than my rare request. The grits and greens were UNBELIEVABLE though. Probably my favorite part of the dish. I wish the portion was 10 times larger for them. Still, a decent dish. If I had to do it all over again I probably would have went with the Trout Ponchertrain or Red fish courtboullion. Something true to NOLA. I think Besh does better with fish than meat anyway. I saw those fish dishes at other tables, and they looked and smelled amazing. Immediately I was jealous but now I know for next time.
Dessert was one of the best courses of the meal surprisingly. The pere roux cake which was a nice thick circle of banana rum cake covered in cream cheese icing and liberal amounts of white chocolate curls. Absolutely terrific.
Service was very good throughout the meal. That was expected at a restaurant of this caliber.
Overall, I am glad to have tried it. Honestly, after a week of insane eating Restaurant August was not amont my favorites. It was not as good as Galatoires, Emeril's, Antoine's, Upperline, Commander's, and dare I say I liked Willie Mae's more. I did like it better than Brigtsen's though. I enjoyed it but wasn't floored in any way. Some of it may have been because of my own fault in the ordering. I'd definitely give it another shot though, based on that gnocchi alone.
Monday- I was here on business so this was the first working day of the trip. But hey there is nothing like being rewarded with the notion that after work you get to dine at Emeril's. The first two nights I was dining alone, however for the first night of the trip I had a coworker joining me. For a food lover like myself, and of course wanting company, this was great as I could try even more that if I had been dining alone. I returned to my buddy Emeril's last week for the second time after my trip 2 years ago. Once again it was superb. Many "celebrity chefs" somehow lose pride in their restaurants as they gain fame and fortune, but this is certainly not the case here. Emeril takes the highest level of pride in his restaurants and the proof is in the PUDDING or in this case BANANA CREAM PIE lolol. Every aspect was well executed to perfection from the food to the service. They gave us a wonderful table right by the kitchen, so we had a nice view of the cooks performing their craft. I really love the feel and atmosphere of the restaurant. It has lots of energy for a fine dining restaurant. We had 4 people attending to us all night long and left no details out.
We started with some incredible bread. New Orleans has wonderful bread in general, however I love the fact that Emeril's does something a little different providing three different types in lieu of the usual french bread offered at most other spots. Sweet potato, corn muffin, and an onion roll were all delicious and a perfect start to whet the appetite.
For appetizers we got the lamb ribs (which I had last time) and the angel hair with crawfish in a cream sauce. So delicious! My coworker who was there for the first time loved the lamb ribs. Upon his first bite all I heard was "OH YEAH!". He is not a big seafood guy but tried the crawfish and enjoyed it. I loved both equally.
For mains, I took some time to decide and went back and forth a few times since they had some amazing specials that included scallops and short ribs. Ultimately, I went with his signature MAMMOTH pork chop with green chile mole sauce and sweet potatoes. I had seen that thing being whisked around on my last visit and vowed to try it the next time so there you have it. I requested it extra pink, rare side of medium rare and it was perfectly cooked. Sweet potatoes were delicious and the sauce was amazing. The best pork chop I have ever eaten EVER!
For dessert we soldiered on. I HAD to have the banana cream pie since it was one of the best things I've tasted. And again.. did not disappoint. If you have room for dessert, and you should, get the banana cream pie. My buddy got the chocolate peanut butter pie and that was fantastic too.
Emeril's is truly one of the best restaurants, and that is saying a lot in a city full of fantastic ones.
Tuesday- Day 2 at work. This time we were destined for Brigsten's. Again another restaurant I had never been to so was very excited. Nearly 15 minutes from my hotel in CBD, we arrived to Brigsten's 15 minutes before our 6:30 reservation. The restaurant is set on a non-descript road in what is essentially a house. Upon entry, we were greeted and seated at a table in a small and cramped dining room. But you can definitely feel the spirit of the place and again it sang New Orleans. I love places like this- cozy, almost like an exclusive club. Only those in the "know" know about this place. But ...I had huge expectations for it and it fell a bit short. It isn't that I didn't like it but I didn't love it either. Like most restaurants in New Orleans the bread was fantastic and plentiful, arriving to the table right away and again replenished several times without asking. Great service, but not so good for those with no self control.
I was a little upset they did not have the soft shell crab appetizer, so I settled on the veal sweetbreads. These were truly fantastic and some of the best I have had. I loved the lemon caper sauce and mushrooms it came with. It was also piping hot which is a big winner for me. My co-worker got the pulled pork t on cornbread and I tasted some and it was very good.
For mains we sampled duck and the pork chop. After hearing so many raves about "the duck" being the must order dish not only here but in all of NOLA I was thinking big. However, the duck fell short. The skin was crispy and there were some nice moist pieces, however it was a tad dry. I enjoyed the cherry sauce that accompanied it. The veggies and mashed potatoes served as good sides. However, the dirty rice was a bit too much and didn't need to be added to the dish. I also got a side of the shrimp cornbread from the shell beach diet and it was AWESOME. Probably my favorite thing I ate that night. My friend ate his pork chop in 2 mins flat, because it was rather small. Maybe it was just because he was comparing it to the monster chip I had at Emeril's the day before, but it seemed tiny. His dish came with some lackluster green beans which he ate reluctantly.
Pecan pie for dessert. Good, but nothing spectacular.
I enjoyed the meal, staff was terrific, and I can see the potential and why people show much love for it. But it didn't meet my admittedly elevated expectations. On my next trip to NOLA, Brigtsen's is not a MUST visit for me. But I would return if the timing was right.
Wednesday- We were half way through the trip and I was eating pretty freaking great wouldn't you say? On this night I was very excited because I was heading back to a favorite- Antoine's. My coworker who was in NOLA for the first time was going to get his first taste of the oldest restaurant in USA. I really don't care what anyone says about Antoine's. It is a classic, terrific restaurant and a relic of New Orleans tradition and history. No trip to New Orleans would be complete for me without that nostalgic visit to this restaurant. Is it old school? Some may say non-adventurous or boring? Whatever. That is all fine for me. I love that about it. It exudes history and takes you back to a place in time when you wish you could have lived. I love the fact that they keep the same traditional menu. The same decor for the past 171 years. 17 dining rooms? So cool. And this time I evern had the pleasure of having the waiter that was featured on Anthony Bourdain. He has been there 27 years and was a real great character and shared some awesome stories with us. His personality really embodied everything Antoine's stands to represent.
Alright enough about that and onto the food. Again, the ubiquitous loaf of french bread was wonderful and they refilled it several more times throughout our dinner.
To start, the fried oysters foch. I love fried oysters and these were very good. 8 plump oysters with a cornmeal breading atop a brioche bread and pate. The sauce that came on it was unique and tasty, but may have been applied a little too liberally drenching some of the oysters. Still, they remained crispy and hot and it was a nice dish to start.
For our mains I went with the lamb chops, requested rare, served with alciatore and champignons (mushroom) sauce. My coworker went with the ribeye covered in mushrooms and garlic bordelaise. AWESOME! These lamb chops were do amazing, cooked perfect are, and were each a nice sized double chop. Towards the end of each one I picked them up and ate it as a lamb lollipop. The sauces, especially the alciatore (a pineapple and bernaise creation) were sinfully delicious. But this lamb needed none of it. I tasted the ribeye and it was also fantastic. They know how to cooke their meats here.To round out the main courses we shared the pommes souffle and the brabant potatoes. OMG! Pommes souffles are a work of culinary art. Thick and every so slightly crunchy on the outside and the inside is some airy pillowy potatoy goodness. What a marvel. Brabant were good too but basically just cubed potatoes in butter.
And of course no meal at Antoine's is complete without the best dessert of the face of this planet. And I challenge anyone to find me a better one. A HUGE heaping colossal monstrosity known as the BAKED ALASKA. Piles of ice cream, enrobed in vanilla cake, and the fluffiest meringue in the world. And to gild the lily a little chocolate sauce in case it wasn't indulgent enough. It's for "two" however it could probably feed a snall village in Guam.
Truly classic, truly unique, truly amazing every time.
Thursday- Time to complete the trifecta of Classic New Orleans restaurants. Galatoire's, Antoine's and then...
Just another incredible meal at Commander's Palace! While I love Galatoire's and Antoine's for their classic non-changing menu, Commander's changes their menu according to the changing seasons yet still keeps the good in the spirit of traditional New Orleans cooking. On my second trip to NOLA it I knew I had to come back and once again it was awesome. The service was some of the best i have ever experienced anywhere. I had people fawning over me all night.
Again, garlic toasts hit the table immediately. My waiter Peter was extremely attentive and went through the dauntingly lengthy and delicious sounding menu options. Chef's playground or ala carte? 3 courses of 4? Quite the eater's dilemma wouldn't you concur? After narrowing down the choices I decided on the following:
Gnocchi with mushrooms and truffles- This was part of the tasting menu, however they let me order it as an appetizer. It was incredibly rich, super creamy, and chock full of assorted wild mushrooms. It was not a traditional gnocchi made with potato or ricotta, however creole cream cheese dumplings. More like spaetzle, which was unique... kind of like NO gnocchi if there was such a thing. Very rich and a super large portion for an appetizer. So rich that by the end, I probably couldn't have another spoonful. But still, you can never have too much of a good thing.
Foie gras du monde- I was really looking forward to this signature dish as it wasn't on the menu last time I ate here. My waiter said it was something you HAVE to order. He was completely right. Once again, this was flawless. It had everything I love in a dish. Seared foie was about 3 ounces, thick, incredibly succulent and perfectly cooked. Paired with beignets filled with I believe more foie, cherries, and pecans all drizzled with a maple syrup like glaze. Kinda of like the best french toast you ever had. And they also give you a shot of cafe au lait which provides a quirky and fun plate. It was like breakfast meets dinner meets dessert all in one.
Pecan crusted gulf fish with lump crabmeat and crushed corn sauce- Absolutely fantastic. This time the fish was sheepshead which I never had. All the flavors came together- Two large filets of fish were perfectly cooked, the coating of pecans added crunchiness and sweetness, and the corn sauce although rather thick and rich was just enough to not overpower the rest of the plate. Oh yeah and they topped it with generous amounts of lump crabmeat. The sauce was a little bit on the thick side, but I am just splitting hairs at this point. Everything worked together in a symphony of flavors. Just for good measure, I added some goat cheese grits which if you have never had them are a must order. My waiter alerted me to the fact that they were not needed since I had already ordered a lot of food and the fish had a very rich corn sauce, however I shot down that suggestion. He was almost surely correct, but I could not pass up on their grits.
What is a visit here with dessert? Commander's does a spectacular job with their desserts and the Queen of all Creole desserts is the Creole bread pudding souffle. Without going into anymore detail just know this is one of the top 5 desserts in the world. Honestly, this and the baked alaska from Antoine's. If you come to NOLA and you only have 2 desserts make sure it is those delectable concoctions.
Friday- Last day of work. Woke up feeling fat from the month's worth of eating I had squeezed in up to this point. But still 2 more days. This night was another place I've never tried but was overly eager to try. Upperline.
I'm usually not one of those people who runs to places as soon as they see them featured on TV. Most of those are tourist traps. However, there was something very fascinating about seeing Upperline on "The Best thing I Ever Ate". The duck just looked fantastic in every way. After securing my reservation a week before, I was incredibly excited. As an aside, Joann the owner spoke to me for a good five minutes and was such a nice and pleasant woman. She asked how I had heard about the place. The restaurant is a finely run well oiled machine. Within a second of sitting down, the bread comes from the kitchen, which seems to be a recurring theme in New Orleans. Bread was replenished multiple times over the span of the meal. An amuse bouche also comes to the table, which was a really sweet touch and something not found in many NO restaurants. Nice to see they are attempting to stay modern with the times, even though the place is classic.
I really liked the interior of the place. Casual, yet classy. Colorful photos and a warm atmosphere. By 6:30 the place was jam packed. And price wise? How reasonable is 3 courses for $40? That is unheard of when dining in a place of this wonderful reputation.Since I am a glutton I added an extra course and boy am I glad I did.
First was the spicy shrimp with jalapeno cornbread. So delicious, and everything I wanted in an appetizer. Perfectly portioned, 4 large shrimp set atop moist sweet cornbread covered in tons of caramelized red onion, and a spicy sauce dotted with some creamy dots. This was just screaming New Orleans and was just the right amount of heat and spice as to not overpower the shrimp and palette.
Next was the fried oysters with 2 remoulades. Again, New Orleans personified. Perfectly fried, served with a reddish remoulade and a creamier white remoulade and something that resembled coleslaw in the middle to cool down the spicy remoulades. Another fine plate.
Then the piece de resistance. I have to admit 3 days earlier I was sorely disappointed by my duck at Brigtsen's. So naturally I was afraid that I would again be let down by the duck at Upperline. However, this duck lived up to the hype and more! So incredible.. everything you want in a duck dish. The plate came to the table SIZZLING, with the waiter warning me as to not touch the plate in fear of getting burnt. Staring at the huge specimen in front of me I grinned intensely awaiting cutting into it and sinking my teeth into the much anticipated duck meat. Presented with 2 great sauces, pecan sweet potatoes, and as two large duck legs still connected, which I've never ever seen before. This was like duck on steroids. The skin was so crispy, seasoned well, giving way to some of the juiciess duck I have had to date. When done well, duck is one of my favorite foods. But it also very difficult to get right but here they nailed it perfectly. It didn't need the sauces but they just added to the over the tope deliciousness. Garlic port was my preference over the ginger peach but each definitely had its place. The sweet potatoes were amazing and I only wish they were 4 times larger.
To end a nice honey-pecan bread pudding. If there was one plate that wasn't utterly amazing it was this one. Thankfully, I knew I was going to have Creole Creamery afterward so it was no big deal. But it was just decent and nothing special by NOLA standards. Galatoire's, Luke, Mother's, were all better.
Truly, one of the best complete meals I have ever had. So much so that the next time in New Orleans, I am making this a MUST.And even though Joann couldn't be there to share it with me, I spoke to her husband afterward who called me a cab and had a wonderful convo with him while I waited. He told me that even though the chef is new and in flux, the menu will not change! I told him that they should never change it because this place is a gem and tradition stands the test of time. If it isn't broke down fix it!.
Saturday- Last day of the trip. I had enjoyed everything so much that I couldn't help but be sad that it was coming to an end. The original plan was NOLA for lunch before my flight out, but plans quickly changed to Willie Mae's Scotch House. Another spot that was long on my list of must trys. Didn't get to have it last time, so I figured I'd sub out NOLA (which I loved on my last visit) to hit it. And I didn't want to come down South without sampling "America's best fried chicken".
Willie Mae's is absolutely unbelievably incredibly amazingly awesome. The best fried chicken I've ever had and quite possIbly one of the best thIngs I ever ate. I'm not ashamed to say that after I polished off my first plate, I ordered a second dark meat plate. Sides were good but the main event here is obviously the chicken. My advice would be to stack up on the chicken and only order one side you find appealing. They should peel off the batter and just serve the skin as an appetizer that's how amazing it was. I couldn't figure out how they get it so crispy, yet the meat is so incredibly and succulently moist. When I bit into each piece, I was overcome with massive amounts of chicken juices bursting with each bite. The staff was wonderful, very friendly and attentive. I got there right before 12 and waited ten minutes. The neighborhood wasn't great but who cares you don't gave to walk around just go eat and have them call you a cab when you are done stuffing your face.
After an insanely delicious 8 days of nola gluttony, Willie Mae's Scotch House was the perfect ending. This place deserves the best chicken in America fame. It's really just that GREAT!!!!
DESSERT AT LUKE
This is purely based on the bread pudding because thats all I had while here.
It was my last stop before my ride to the airport, so in essence the absolute last bite of food I put in my mouth before departing the great mecca of culinary deliciousness known simply as "NOLA".
I sat at the bar and honestly, after eating like a complete ANIMAL for 8 days and just having a decadent meal at Willie Mae's and a few beignets at Cafe du Monde my belly was ready to tap out. However, it was on my list of things I HAD to try before leaving. After reading the reviews of the bread pudding and seeing the pictures I was still psyched even though I was so utterly and probably more so disgustingly full.
But yes, I soldiered on. And what a masterpiece it was. Arriving it its own cast iron staub pot, piping hot and served in a pool of a whiskey caramel rum sauce. A heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top (EAT THIS ONE FAST!), and some huge Louisiana pecans dispersed throughout for sure. No joke, I got through half of this in about 20 seconds flat before reminding myself to slow down and enjoy it. I could see the rest of the people in the bar staring at me with envy. They were surely reading my facial expression to see how much I was enjoying it.
What a fantastic dessert, Or maybe even a breakfast. Or maybe you can have three and call it breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In a trip that included lots of bread pudding, this one was among the best... and best I've ever had.
Great way to end a great trip of gluttonous, delicious feasting!!!!!
And that folks is how you do it up big time in the Big easY!!!
Willie Mae's Scotch House
2401 Saint Ann St, New Orleans, LA 70119
301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Commander's Palace Restaurant
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130
209 Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA 70130
723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118
1413 Upperline St, New Orleans, LA
4924 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70115