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Restaurants & Bars 9

New Orleans Trip Report

Tom Brown | May 29, 200205:25 PM

This was our second time in New Orleans. We stayed at the Le Meridian, on Canal Street, between Royal and Chartres on the edge of the French Quarter. A very nice hotel, close enough to the action but far enough that you can escape it. Last time we stayed at the Marriott, also on Canal, on the other side of Chartres.

We had three very nice dinners there. The first was at K-Paul’s, owned by the Cajun great, Paul Prudhomme. We also ate here on our first trip. This was and still is my favorite restaurant in New Orleans. Paul Prudhomme was already “kicking it up a notch” while Emeril was still in diapers. In fact, if I remember it correctly, I think Emeril got his start training under Paul. Paul has the boldest, most exciting, adventurous flavor combinations I’ve seen in any restaurant. I loved it the first time and I loved it this time.
As usual, the 4 kinds of bread comes first, a nice selection of white & wheat biscuits along with Jalapeno cheese and molasses muffins. Very Very tasty. We started with Cajun Jambalaya (traditional style – tasso, andouille & chicken) and a nice house salad. From there I had the Broiled Salmon with Crawfish Hot Fanny Sauce (crawfish tails, pecans, jalapenos, garlic, butter, lemon and veal demi-glace). Susan had the Stuffed Soft Shell Crab Atchafalaya ( stuffed with seafood dressing ) served with crawfish, shrimp and oysters over pasta in a brown butter garlic sauce. Of course everything is spiced in the bold Prudhomme manner. Along with this we had a Domaine Jen Grivot 1997 Les Boudots, Nuits St. Georges (1er Cru). Very tasty indeed. After all that, we were quite close to stuffed so we opted to split a slice of Paul’s signature sweet potato pecan pie. Imagine a pumpkin pie with liberal amounts of dark Karo syrup and molasses mixed in and topped with the biggest best pecans. Outstanding. The restaurant is fairly casual, the downstairs is for walk-in’s, the upstairs is for reservations. Fancy dress is not required, though business casual is a must for upstairs. Our server was always there when you need them and ours always had a smile and a friendly helpful attitude. The wine list is adequate, but not large by any means. Been there twice and never disappointed. Kind of touristy, and only rated 3 beans out of 5 by the local paper (last I looked), but still my favorite place to be.

The next night we went to Gabrielle’s. This is owned by another chef who got his start under Paul Prudhomme. Was rated 4 beans out of 5. I don’t remember my wife’s appetizer (Soup, I think?) but I had the BBQ shrimp pie. A layer of pastry, smothered in spiced sweet potato, topped with shrimp in a spicy BBQ sauce. Awesome appetizer. Most memorable dish of the night. Highly recommended. My wife had the lamb chops, I had the Filet Mignon. I thought the lamb was better, it had a more flavorful sauce. But everything was technical perfection, and delicious to boot. The wine list is, once again, not very extensive, but still adequate. We had a Guigal 1996 Cote Rotie, Brune et Blonde. Again, dessert escapes me, so attention grabbing was that shrimp appetizer. Though I do remember we had an Australian Late Harvest Semillon and a German Eiswein to go with it. The service was excellent, with again a very friendly and helpful waiter. Dress was business casual.

For our two lunches in town, we went to Mother’s one day, a traditional, touristy, famous eatery for Poor Boys, red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, etc. etc. Simple yet good. The line was long, but there was adequate seating when we finally got in. The other day we went to Napoleon’s. This is a little restaurant and bar just a block away from K-Paul’s. We discovered it the night before when we went in to have a beer while waiting for our reservation time at K-Paul’s. Again we had Poor Boys and soup; and again, just fine for lunch. (Similarly, last time we were here, across Chartres street from the Marriott, we went to a little place called Evelyn’s, which was also a good watering hole for lunch.)

Our last night in town was reserved for the big guns. Brennan’s. The only 5 bean restaurant in town. Best in service, best in atmosphere, best in food – according to reputation and the newspaper critic. It is a big place, seats 550. But they divide it up into a dozen different dining rooms to give the ambiance of a smaller place. Again, the dress was supposed to be business casual (Is Commander’s Palace the only place that requires jackets anymore?) but I saw T-shirts and shorts as we were led through the dining room. That was the first disappointment. We sat and were given menus, menu’s that looked like they would fit in better at a diner than a classy restaurant. Plastic laminated with bright multicolored art on them. We ordered appetizers (me – the BBQ shrimp, good but not as good as the day before, my wife the Turtle soup – very good) and salads. We also ordered a glass of white wine each to go with it. Unfortunately, we were almost done with the appetizer’s before we received the wine and even had to remind the waitress to get it. The menu had a brief (about two dozen) list of wines, with instructions to ask for the full wine list, which I did. This was a 65 page book. It had lots of breadth – wines from all over, but very little depth, most (but not all) vintages were ’95 or newer. This was a surprise, considering all the older bottles they have on display. (Perhaps there is another even more exclusive list that I could have asked for if I wanted the old stuff?) Still 65 pages of wine is a lot to browse through. Enough to befuddle the average customer. Take the table next ours. We overheard one of them ask their waitress if they had a sommelier. Imagine our surprise (and his) when she responded something to the effect of “I’m not sure, that’s such a big list, but I’ll help you look for it. Was there a specific year you wanted?” He handled it well, declining the assistance and selecting something on his own. This was truly appalling. Any restaurant with a 65 page wine list should have a sommelier or trained wait staff, especially a restaurant with this reputation. They ought to at least know the word! I had the veal smothered in crab and a pecan butter sauce. Susan had trout smothered in crab in a lemon butter caper sauce. Both were great, and the crab was incredible. Lots and lots of big chunks of fresh crab. With it we had a 1991 Paul Jaboulet Aine La Chapelle Hermitage. What a wine. Our waitress was not very adept at decanting, but muddled through fine. Dessert was their signature dish, Bananas Foster, which was very good (what can go wrong?) We accompanied it with a 1994 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling BeerenAuslese Gold Kapsule. All in all the food (and wine!!!) was very good.

We had a few hours in the morning before our plane took off so we thought we would get some famous New Orleans breakfast, and what was more famous that Breakfast at Brennan’s? So on our way out we made reservations for the morning. We ended up in the same dinning room --- not a problem, had a view of the courtyard which was nice in the daylight. The breakfast menu had many of the same dishes from the dinner menu – that would be appropriate at breakfast, anyway. Lots of fish, some steak dishes. What was new seemed to all be smothered in Hollandaise sauce, a tribute to the French influence in the area. No pancakes or waffles to be found, that’s for sure. Many items seemed related to Eggs Benedict and it was all very good. My wife had a version with spinach and mine was with Canadian bacon and had two sauces. Before that, I started off with a baked apple in double cream – essentially a sweet vanilla sauce. And we finished with crepes stuffed with cream cheese and sour cream and topped with a delicious strawberry sauce. Service problems, however, continued through the morning. The table next to us was seated at the same time we were. Their waitress had their menus to them in 15 seconds. Ours was nowhere to be seen. 5 minutes later he showed up and we got our menus. This continued throughout the meal. There were four wait staff serving our room. We saw the other three all the time, but the one for our table was never there. We had excruciating long waits whenever we needed something from him; not too mention that it took him three times to remember to bring our bread. But we never felt rushed, either, I suppose that’s the good thing.

We deliberately chose to avoid Emeril’s two restaurants. They are reportedly very busy, very touristy, and I’ve heard reports of poor service due to the need to move people through, and pressure to eat and leave. Besides, we’d been to his place in Vegas. The last time we were here we went to Patout’s (don’t remember which, I think there are two now), supposedly a 3 bean place, but I would give it a 2. We all thought the food mediocre and will not be back. Arnaud’s on the other hand was a real hit on our previous trip. 4 beans, I believe and worth it. They have two rooms, one with jackets required and one just business casual. This room also has live music while dining, at least sometimes. This room was where we were and it was lots of fun, great food and good memories. Would go back if there weren’t so many new things to try.

Till next time!

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