We love the food in New Orleans…at least for a short time period. Our bodies are not accustomed to so much rich and fried food. But as long as we were there, we made a valiant effort to enjoy as much as we could (and to walk a lot to get rid of the calories).
La Petite Grocery. This is about 3.5 miles Uptown from The French Quarter, but well worth the trip. Located on an interesting retail avenue, this destination restaurant has a neighborhood feel. We had what was probably the best meal of our trip. We began with two appetizers: good, but unexceptional fried oysters with beans and picked vegetables, but wonderful blue crab beignets filled with a very rich, very creamy crab filling. Entrees were even better. While the shrimp and grits with roasted shitakes, smoked bacon and thyme was very good, the Paned Rabbit (lightly deep-fried rabbit loin with turnip puree and sauce grenobloise was delicious, diminished only be a rather tasteless spaetzli. Although the butterscotch pudding with whipped cream was pretty good, we were brought a complementary bittersweet chocolate torte with benne wafers and vanilla bean cream to compensate for entrees that we originally returned for being only luke warm. It turned out to be one of the best desserts we have had in quite a while. Our wine was a 2010 Bertille Vino Nobile Montepulcinao. A wonderful ending to a great meal.
Luke. Another winner. We began with a delicious, creamy, slightly piquant crab bisque followed by equally good baked oysters stuffed with gulf shrimp and blue crab. Tom’s entrée, buttermilk-fried quail with Alcatian onion tart, bacon and emmentaler cheese, retained this high level. Joyce’s pan-fried Gulf drum almandine, however, was fine as far as it went, but not at the same level as the other dishes. Our wine was one of our favorite California Pinots, a 2014 Belle Glos.
Revolution, is a restaurant owned and manned by Chicago’s Rick Tramonte and New Orleans’ John Folse. We began with blue crab beignets (not as good as those at La Petite Grocery), a very nice seared scallop and foie gras with white bean puree and bacon vinaigrette; an equally good redfish stuffed with crawfish with artichoke and oyster sauce and a delicate, nicely spiced hoisin-glazed grouper over blue crab pho and thai basil. For wine, we worked with the sommelier to select a very aged white shine that she thought would work well with all dishes, and especially the grouper. It was a 13 year-old, 2002 white Rhone from St. Joseph creu-dif. Although we thought the oxidized wine overpowered the food, Molly, the wonderful sommelier more than compensated for our disappointment.
Restaurant August. We had visited John Besh’s showcase restaurant on a couple of previous trips and were impressed enough to make this the only previously visited establishment at which we would eat this trip. We began with flash-fried, very juicy potato crisp P&J Oysters with tarragon and pickled vegetables, followed by lightly crisped, pan-fried pompano with Red shrimp, citrus and swiss chard, and pan-roasted scallops with celery, satsuma and pig head meat. Although the food was imaginative and tasty and the service friendly and knowledgeable, we weren’t exactly blown away, as we had been at this restaurant. Very good, but not great.
Annunciation. We had a nice, albeit not especially memorable, meal where we shared two appetizers and one entrée. The Fried Oysters, were served on a bed of sautéed spinach and topped with melted brie. Shrimp remoulade (on lettuce with remoulade sauce and served with deviled egg) was the least memorable of the dishes. The best dish we had was the crispy, pan-fried sheepshead (a mild, flaky white fish in the drum family) with shrimp and a light coconut milk curry served over rice. Nor could we resist the very rich “Boudino” dessert, which consist of butterscotch pudding, homemade caramel sauce, sea salt and topped with whipped cream. Wine was a decent 2012 Stolpman Roussane.
Casamento’s, is a highly regarded restaurant, but for us, it was a disappointing, old-time oyster haven where we had a watery oyster stew, chargrilled oysters (no comparison with Drago’s), fried oysters (pretty good, but nowhere near the best) and softshell crab (somewhat overcooked).
Bon Ton Cafe. We read that this classic restaurant was still at the top of its game. And judging from Monday’s packed house, many people seem to agree. You certainly couldn’t proof it by us. Crayfish bisque had an unexpected robust roux-like base. While it was OK, it was still near the bottom of our list of seafood bisques. Things went downhill fast. Joyce returned her overcooked fried oysters and was preparing to do the same with the replacement dish. By then, however, Tom had had a chance to try his pan-broiled oysters which had no taste at all and a juice that was so watery as to be tasteless. By comparison, he found the returned fried oysters to be almost edible. So rather than send everything back, Tom returned his dish and ate Joyce’s. Joyce, meanwhile, made due with crackers and wine from the very pedestrian wine list.
Lunches and Brunches
Pesce. This is a very good seafood restaurant in which our server, after hearing what we looked for in oysters, recommended that we try the local Area 3 oysters. They were plump, but had a much fuller taste and a more pronounced brine than previous southern oysters we had eaten. Much more our style. Even better was the restaurant specialty of grilled redfish with chili salsa. While the redfish was relatively bland, Tom enjoyed it with the salsa. Joyce, however, found the salsa too vinegary. We also got a side order of Brussel sprouts in chili vinegar. While Joyce shunned both the vinegar and the chili, Tom thought the dish was decent, although he too would have preferred the vinegar to be more subdued.
Drago’s. Another delicious meal from this New Orleans institution, although the location in the Convention Center Hilton provides convenience at the expense of atmosphere. We began with two of the restaurant’s oyster specialties: Charbroiled oysters with herb butter and parmesan, and Oysters Voisin, which are mixed with creamed spinach, bacon and bordelaise sauce on toasted French bread. These were followed by another very good, very healthy Shrimp Boudin, which was served on a bed of boudin sausage mixed with rice and a moderately spicy roux-based sauce.
Commander’s Palace Jazz Brunch. Although we typically shun brunches, we happily made an exception for the weekend Jazz Brunch at this venerable institution. Speak of mixed reactions to a restaurant: Tom ordered the chef’s Jazz Brunch Special. A pretty good turtle soup with sherry, followed by two delicious courses; quince lacquered quail with pork boudin over brown butter spaghetti squash with fire-roasted chili and Tabasco pepper jelly, finishing with the restaurant’s signature dessert of Creole bread pudding soufflé with whiskey cream sauce. Joyce’s selections were much less satisfying, An appetizer of cinnamon-dusted Granny Smith apple in French pastry with candied pecans and cane syrup was good, although better suited to a dessert than to an appetizer. The crab frittata brie, tomatoes, roasted chanterelles and white truffle oil was topped with a nice, healthy amount of crab but too salt-laden even for Joyce, who likes salt with eggs. Nor was her meal redeemed by dessert—a spiced pear, cranberry and sugarcane oatmeal crumble with vanilla bean ice cream. The meal began with mimosas followed by a Bloody Mary (which came with my brunch special) for me and a glass of Albarino for Joyce.
Worse than Joyce’s food was the concept of the Jazz brunch, which was our primary motivation for choosing Commander’s Palace. The restaurant is divided into the discrete dining rooms and a patio (where we were seated) with the jazz trio moving from one dining area to the next. The trio was literally on the last bar of its patio set when we walked in. Then, between the other dining rooms and their break, we never again saw the trio during our hour and a half meal. We felt almost like we had been misled. When we mentioned this to the concierge, he made what we interpreted as a sarcastic response: “The musicians shouldn’t have taken a break.” Although my meal and the service were quite good, Joyce meal, combined with the lack of jazz and the concierge’s comment keeps us from recommending the restaurant.
American Sector, This restaurant in the World War II museum is, from our single experience, worth a stop even for those not going to the museum. We had three dishes, all of which were very good: gumbo with chicken, pork and alligator sausage; shrimp and grits with roasted tomato and tasso; and fried oyster BLT sliders with parmesan-crusted oysters, tomato and pork belly.
Desire Oyster Bar. We were ready for raw oysters in New Orleans, until we remembered that warm-water Southern oysters, while large, plump and juicy, lacked the texture, deep taste or brininess of colder-water varieties. Even so, we assumed the risk and were suitably disappointed. It probably had nothing to do with the restaurant, but our personal tastes. We did, however, recover our taste buds with fried oysters, along with a glass of nice, local LA-31 IPA and a non-descript Pinot Grigio.