My wife had last been to Lilette in 2009, or perhaps it was 2008. The last time Lynn & I were there, we LOVED it -- great food; casual, relaxed atmosphere; friendly chef chatting to the diners . . . WOW, has Lilette changed!
Maybe it's the success of the restaurant. Maybe it's that Chef/Owner John Harris has opened up his new, more casual "bistro/bar" next door, Bouligny Tavern. Maybe it's -- whatever. But the Lilette of 2012 is a far cry from the Lilette of days gone by, and that's a downright shame.
Let me quickly say we had 9:00 reservations, and the place was still jumping -- 90+ percent of the tables and the bar stools were full, and people were happy. We were shown to a tiny two-top right next to the bathrooms, where people would have bumped into me as they passed. Fortunately, the hostess noticed how uncomfortable we looked, and switched to a nearby four-top. Much better.
One of the changes we noticed was that, aside from one or two obvious exceptions, the "crowd" here has morphed into a decidedly younger one -- lots and lots of 20-somethings (indeed, some looked like they must still be in high school, but perhaps that's just me rather than reality), a few 30-somethings and only two tables of people who were older. I don't know if that was the hour, or the norm, but it was something we took note of.
Another change was to the interior design. It's gone from "neighborhood place" to something more "upscale," slightly more formal (it's still casual, but not as relaxed); it's more "atmospheric," with candles dotting the bar and back bar. Again, in and of itself, not automatically good or bad, but another thing we noticed.
So, too, did we note the use of the word "Ma'am" by our waitress every time she addressed Lynn. I don't know if that's regional or not, but it was downright strange -- making Lynn feel like her grandmother. Once or even twice, maybe. But every single time?!?!?!
The food was good. Good, not great -- not memorable or special in any way. And that was a disappointment, based upon a) our prior experience here, and b) our experience elsewhere in this wonderful city, our "home away from home." Everything tasted "fine," there were no miscues, nothing overcooked or too heavily salted. Everything was correct. But it lacked the "spark" that makes a meal special.
Service was abysmal, and that was the restaurant's downfall. It's not just the "ma'am" thing. All through the meal, for example, I had to pour my own wine. All through the meal, our waitress was "hanging out" at the bar, chatting to someone, so that I had to flag down other staff members to, for example, refill our water glasses. Other servers brought our food (appetizers, salad, entrée, dessert). Our waitress did come by once to ask if everything was OK -- what was I supposed to say?
The desserts were excellent! They saved the meal. Five stars.
Rest of the meal? Three stars (maybe 3.5).
The way we feel now about Lilette -- rather than recommending it to friends visiting NOLA, I'll suggest other places. Will we come back here? Oh, probably, but we're certainly in no hurry to do so. We come to New Orleans once or twice a year, usually for 5-7 days at a time. There are simply too many other deliciously wonderful places to go.