We occasionally see posts on this board inquiring about group dining options in New Orleans, and having entertained a group of clients in town for JazzFest this weekend, I figured I'd report. We had a group of about 20, all staying at the Roosevelt. Working with my events coordinator, we attempted to identify highly regarded restaurants that were both walkable from the Roosevelt, and had availability during JazzFest. Like many events coordinators, her inclination was to stick to the better known places like Emeril's and the Court of Two Sisters, whereas mine leaned towards places that have the best food, irrespective of how well known they are. If Clancy's had been able to accommodate us, I would have argued that it would be worth piling into a shuttle bus or into ubers, but unfortunately they could not.
Booking these dinners during the second weekend of JazzFest of course took many places out of the running. We ended up dining at Borgne on Thursday night, Brennan's on Friday night, and Arnaud's on Saturday. Here's what I would say about our experiences:
The food at all three was fine -- even if not extraordinary -- with Borgne being the best, then Brennan's, and finally Arnaud's. Borgne served us a variety of appetizers that I think my events coordinator pre-ordered and then allowed us to order entrees off of the regular menu; Brennan's gave each of us a choice between two starters, two entrees (shrimp with grits or a short rib -- I'm guessing my events coordinator chose these options without consulting me; I probably would have chosen differently), and two desserts; and Arnaud's had a set starter and a set dessert, and gave us a choice of two entrees (a gulf fish topped with crab or some beef). All three restaurants were instructed not to offer special requests but to honor them when asked, and when one of my guests asked at Arnaud's if an alternative dessert was available, they were offered the full dessert menu.
But here's the thing: Even though the food was not extraordinary, and probably would have been a little disappointing if I was dining on my own, all three venues were perfect in that the service was excellent, the rooms were great (especially at Arnaud's, where we had a private balcony overlooking Bourbon St. -- of course one of my partners had to run off and buy a few bags of beads; at Brennan's, we had a private balcony overlooking Royal St. and the beautiful Louisiana Supreme Court building), the cocktails flowed freely, and everyone had a great time.
I think the lesson for me based on this experience is that in these settings the food is somewhat secondary. Obviously one wants the food to be good, and not to serve their guests the rubbery chicken or overcooked beef that one might expect at your average hotel private dining room. And I very much wanted menus that gave my guests a good sampling of the tastes of New Orleans, even if I couldn't allow them to choose off the menu at each place. But all three delivered a fun and festive atmosphere that left everyone satisfied. (I was a little disappointed that when dinner finally ended at 11pm on Friday night, I couldn't convince my group to accompany me to the Morning 40 Federation show at Vaughan's, which was the highlight of my JazzFest!)
Earlier in the week I dined with a smaller group at Emeril's -- another place that would not ordinarily be at the top of my list -- and we had a great experience there, as well. We were seated in the wine room off of the main dining room, and again the food was decent, the service great, and overall a great time was had by all.
The wine room at Clancy's remains by far my favorite group dining option in New Orleans, but when it's not available, or when making your guests schlep uptown is not an option, these old standbys all work perfectly well.