My wife and I also recently were in New Orleans, March 22-25, 2008.
This ended up being a much longer post than I anticipated, so I didn't bother to go back and proofread.
Here is an exhaustive look at four days of gluttony:
Galatoire’s for lunch, 3/22/08:
Sazeracs at the bar.
Sweetbreads with beurre blanc. The beurre blanc was (maybe not) surprisingly roux-based. Although relatively light for a roux, I felt it slight overkill given the fact that sweetbreads themselves are relatively rich, which is compounded by the light breading added before pan frying. The sweetbreads were cooked perfectly, and the capers added a nice salty tang to the dish. Not my favorite preparation, but still a winner for a sweetbread lover.
Fried eggplant with béarnaise, powdered sugar and Tabasco. The key to the dish is mixing the Tabasco with the powdered sugar which adds a needed acidity to the béarnaise. I absolutely love this dish.
Pompano meuniere amandine. The fish was lightly breaded and pan-fried and had firm yet flaky flesh. It tasted of the Gulf, in a good way. The sauce was buttery and the crunchy almond slices were a nice textural component.
Oysters en brochette -- What’s not to like about oysters wrapped in bacon?
Brigtsen’s for dinner, 3/22/08
Crawfish shortcake, aka crawfish etouffee served over black pepper-basil biscuit. Rich dark roux with a hearty portion of plump crawfish tails on a firm, yet moist, buttery biscuit made slightly spicy by the black pepper. Not much basil flavor, but very comforting. Two whole boiled crawfish on the side.
Pulled pork on johnnycake with pepper jelly. Tender, braised pork. Not smoked, but not advertised as so. The pepper jelly was a nice mix of sweet, tart and spicy. This was right up my wife’s alley.
Roasted boned half duck with crispy skin, cornbread dressing and tart cherries. Came with steamed veggies and mashed potatoes. The duck was succulent with wonderful crispy skin. The cornbread dressing was homey and went well with the tart cherries. The side dishes were a bit hotel banquet-like in that they were just placed on the side rather awkwardly. The steamed veggies were not memorable, although the mashed potatoes were wonderfully rich and creamy.
Sauteed veal with oysters and creamed spinach with brie. Pan-fried veal scallopine with perfectly cooked plump oysters. The brie really added depth to the creamed spinach.
Very good coffee. Mild with fragrant caramel flavors.
Brennan’s for breakfast, Easter Sunday, 3/23/08
Gin fizzes -- Brennan’s offers a “New Orleans gin fizz,” which is actually a Ramos gin fizz. Not sure of the reasoning behind it. This batch was a little flat. Brennan's blends their gin fizzes, and I believe there was simply too much ice in the blender.
Baked apple with double cream. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the cream begged to be noticed, but were unfortunately drowned out by the bland under-ripe apples.
Bottle of Schramsberg Sparkling Rose.
Eggs Portuguese -- Poached eggs in puff pastry shells with a tomato sauce. When you make your living with variations of eggs benedict, there’s a good chance the eggs are perfectly cooked.
Eggs Hussarde -- The marchand de vin sauce adds a hearty and savory component to classic eggs benedict.
Chocolate suicide cake -- Straightforward, as advertised. Enough to satisfy my wife’s chocolate craving.
Chocolate pecan pie -- A rather skimpy serving size, and not much chocolate. Somewhat disappointing, and the vanilla ice cream remained rock-hard during the entire dessert service, despite being placed directly on the hot slice of pie.
Small serving of Bananas Foster as “lagniappe”
Luke for dinner, 3/23/08
Ojen Frappe and Absinthe Suisse
Wild boar pate, and duck and rabbit liver pate; both served with watermelon pickle, fennel marmalade, mustard and cornichons. The wild boar pate was rather straightforward and could really have been any meat with no discernible gamey flavor as I had hoped. The duck and rabbit liver was more of a mousse than pate, and had a subtle sweetness which reminded me of maraschino liqueur. The watermelon pickle provided a tart acidity to complement the fennel marmalade.
Pied de cochon “croustillants” with sauce gribiche. A little heavy on the filler, but had a savory pork flavor. The sauce gribiche had a noticeable anchovy presence.
Local crabmeat ravioli with roasted cherry tomatoes, herbs and fish stock. A simple preparation in which the freshness of the crabmeat was enhanced by the sweetness of the tomatoes and subtle sea-air notes of the stock. A wonderful dish.
Cochon for lunch, 3/24/08
Fried rabbit livers on pepper jelly toast. Deliciously crunchy with a fresh liver flavor. Finely sliced pickled white onion and a sweet yet piquant pepper jelly glaze made for a divine small bite.
Pork cheeks with cornbread bean cake and mustard cream. Rich pork flavor with a lima bean flecked corn cake. The mustard cream was subdued which really allowed the porkiness to shine.
Hot sausage with grits, roasted peppers and creole cream cheese. The sausage had a bit of spice and a generous fat-to-meat ratio. The grits were firm yet creamy, and the whole dish was accented by a generous pour of the house made hot sauces: Piquant red pepper, acidic green chili, and pickled hot pepper juice.
Fried pig’s ears with spicy honey mustard. Panko (I believe) crusted, toothsome strips of pig cartilage had a mild sweetness yet not much discernible pig flavor. The breading may have overwhelmed the subtlety of flavor.
Rabbit and dumplings. Served in a cast iron skillet and topped with biscuit-style dumplings. This was a minor disappointment. Outside of a strong sage presence (which I appreciated), there was nothing else to have prevented me from thinking it was made with chicken. At Luby’s (no offense to fan’s of Luby’s).
Restaurant August for dinner, 3/24/08
Degustation menu. The menu was handwritten for us by our very attentive, friendly and knowledgeable server, so I apologize for any mistakes as I didn't have time to confirm any of the spellings:
Amuse bouche: Seafood sabayon in an eggshell with caviar. A strong white truffle presence. Not much in the way of seafood, though. That didn’t bother me, but given the name, I was expecting more fishiness.
First: Beet salad with local crabmeat, mizuna and Benton’s bacon in sugar cane vinaigrette. Moet and Chandon White Star. Lump crabmeat with a light mix of mayonnaise, peppery mizuna, roasted heirloom beets, hard-boiled quail eggs and thick chunks of deliciously salty and smoky bacon. Each ingredient was a vibrant example of its species, and there was synergism in the combination of flavors.
Second: Brandade beignets with piquillo peppers and haricot verts. Chateau de Sancarre. The salt cod was mild compared to the majority of times I’ve had it, but this was a fun dish. The savory brandade-filled beignets were extremely light and crunchy.
Third: French crawfish boil with truffled brandy cream. Chateau Talmard Chardonnay. A big bowl of whole boiled crawfish in a luxurious brandy cream fulled of sliced black truffle. The best part was sucking out the tomalley, which had absorbed lots of the brandy cream.
Fourth: Crispy-seared rouget on sunchoke puree with fried artichokes and paprika foam. Mersault-Bruchard Pere and Fils “Les Clous.” This was a solid dish with prevailing Mediterranean flavors. A fine dice of meyer lemon and orange on top of the fish lightened this up nicely.
Fifth: Seared scallop with herbed squid ink risotto and truffle foam. Treana Viognier/Marsanne. I’m not a scallop fan, nor is my wife. The squid ink risotto was toothsome, which added needed texture to the scallops. A small dollop of aioli provided a strong punch of raw garlic which went well with the sweetness of the scallop.
Sixth: Lamb sweetbread over turnip puree with paprika reduction. Cotes du Rhone St. Espirit. The disappointment of the evening. The breadcrumb-crusted sweetbread itself was (a.) bland, (b.) predominantly mushy, and (c.) incompletely stripped of connective tissue. All in all, one of the worst sweetbread dishses I’ve had. My wife liked this dish. The paprika reduction tasted of cranberry, although I didn’t confirm this.
Seventh: Sugar and spice duck with cherry reduction, foie gras and grits. Sauvigney Les Beaure Cote de Beaure. One of their signature dishes, we were told. Essentially a five-spice crusted duck breast, cooked rare-medium rare was well balanced by the cherry reduction. A long lost friend, foie gras, added a luscious richness.
Eighth: Seared Vache Sante cheese over Benton’s ham with 30 year balsamic. Nivole Moscato d’Asti, Michelle Ciorolo. One of the most savory cheese courses I have had. The caramelized cheese melded harmoniously with the boldly flavored country ham and the sweet balsamic.
Ninth: Strawberry-rhubarb tart. Honig late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. I was puzzled by this. I didn’t see the full dessert menu, so I’m not sure if all the offerings are as simple as this one. While it was a perfectly fine example of its genre, it had no creative touches and really left us scratching our heads as to why something so ordinary was included on the tasting menu.
Galatoire’s for lunch, 3/25/08
Fried eggplant and soufflé potatoes with béarnaise, powdered sugar, and Tabasco. Mmmm.
Crabmeat Maison. A light mayonnaise-based dressing with capers and green onions folded into lump crabmeat makes for a fine lunch salad.
Crabmeat canapé Lorenzo. An enormous crabcake topped with two anchovies. This was a fine example of a crabcake with minimal binder, especially given how large it was. The anchovies gave it a salty kick, and blended well with the succulent and sweet crabmeat.
Half-Bottle Ridge Geyserville, 2004
Sweetbreads with Mushroom bordelaise. Thinly sliced Portobello mushrooms sautéed in a (non-roux based) beurre blanc. This preparation allows the lightly breaded and sautéed sweetbreads to shine. Maybe my favorite rendition of sweetbreads.
Fried Oysters -- Perfectly cooked plump oysters with a crunchy coating.
Brabant Potatoes -- Crispily fried diced potatoes are a nice cross-breed of potato chip and French fry.
Banana bread pudding -- A reliable standard. Nothing exceptional, but perfectly satisfying.
That's a lot of food, and we're glad to be back to such a boring food town as Chicago
A few notes:
Eating downstairs at Galatoire's is simply one of my favorite things in the whole world. The atmosphere (even/especially) at lunch, along with world-class servers and consistently wonderful food is about as good as it gets for my money.
Cochon lived up to its billing, and we could have eaten there daily, I believe.
Luke was solid. I would definitely go back, but in a town with so many options, I probably won't.
Brigtsen's is a charming restaurant with well executed food. The small rooms are cozy and charming, and the food is well done. There is nothing fancy about the decor, the service or the ingredients, but we had an enjoyable and satisfying evening. The place was filled with locals (evidenced by the fact Chef Frank spent a long time in the dining room speaking with several tables).
August was very good, but a few things bothered me:
a.) The degustation menu (the components of which were not listed on the menu) was half-composed of dishes listed on the regular menu. Given the fact that we had never dined here before and that the included courses were ones we probably would have ordered had we done a la carte, I have a real issue with degustations described as "let the chef create a special menu for you," which end up being a greatest hits of existing items. I'm partially paying for a "special" experience. If you want to do a greatest hits, then give me a full list of the options and let me pick the nine things I want.
b.) The wine pours were small. During the crawfish boil (which was labor intensive), I not surprisingly ran out of wine halfway through. My glass was taken away without asking if I wanted more. When I finally asked for more, it didn't arrive until I was eating my last mudbug. When we got the bill, I was charged extra for the additional glass. Granted it was only four dollars, but I got the sense I was being nickled and dimed.
c.) The portion sizes were large. I'm not complaining about having too much food, but how can I know ahead of time if I should eat all or half of my salad as course number one. I expect a restaurant with as high a profile to take care of that for me. It would be silly to only eat half of each dish if you're still going to be full at the end. I feel that large portions are unfair to the second half of the tasting menu, which is typically more savory and may be difficult to appreciate given a certain satiety level.
These are small gripes, and not problems unique to August. And I'm sure many of you will disagree with some of these assessments. And I must admit that the entire experience was great. It was fine dining with a New Orleans flair, and I'm glad we went.
Overall, we had a great trip and look forward to returning soon.