New Orleans is a food city, and plenty of "celebrity chefs" have at least one restaurant in the Crescent City. I wanted to experience some of the best food in the city, so we patronized some of the big-name places.
As a James Beard Award Winner and a prominent female chef, Susan Spicer was at the top of my list, and we decided to hit up her flagship restaurant, Bayona.
I was so excited when I read the menu and saw cream of garlic soup, but this was just a bad choice. The soup was thin and watery with a very bitter aftertaste, as if the garlic a little burnt. Maybe it was just an off night, but I'd never order it again.
There was some redemption with my second course - smoked quail salad with pears and bourbon molasses dressing. The sweet and salty combo worked very nicley together and my quail was juicy and perfectly cooked.
My main course was rabbit, and as you can see from the plate, there was a whole lot going on. White and dark meat rabbit, house made pasta (which was very heavy and dense) artichokes, broccolini, lima beans, two different sauces, ricotta salata and that's just what I remember. They needed to pare down a couple of things and take better care with the pasta, and this entree would have been much improved.
For dessert, we had the chocolate caramel hazlenut tart with Earl Grey ice cream. Now, I'm not one who particularly cares for tea, but the mild flavor of the ice cream paired very well with the richness of the tart.
I appreciate all that Susan Spicer has been able to accomplish in a male-dominated profession, but this meal was hit or miss. I can't even remember what Tom ate, but it definitely didn't stand out. I could have accepted the mediocre food if it hadn't been for the poor service we received. We made a late reservation (9 p.m.) and were seated on the patio. Fortunately, the weather was mild, so this wasn't really an issue. We had just completed our cocktail walking tour, and to be perfectly honest, just the thought of more alcohol made me queasy. Our waiter seemed to be very disappointed that I ordered a soft drink and Tom stuck with water. There was a couple next to us that ordered a bottle of sparkling water, cocktails and a bottle of wine with their meal, and that was where our waiter focused his attention the whole evening. He checked on them at least 5 times before he revisited our table. For example, I asked for a refill as my soup was taken away, and I received it from a busboy that I had to flag down right before they brought dessert (which was my fourth course). I drained Tom's water glass while waiting for another Coke through my salad course and entree. At the table next to us, our waiter was consistently refilling the diners' glasses from the wine in the icebucket next to the table; Their glasses were never empty. I understand that they spent more money than us, but our bill was still almost $200, and for that kind of money, I expect great food, or at the very least, great service. To get neither was very disappointing.
I hope to get back to New Orleans in the near future, but Bayona won't be one of the places I'll revisit.
430 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
No trip to the Big Easy is complete without visiting the famed Commander's Palace. As soon as we decided to go to New Orleans, I knew that I'd have to visit Commander's Palace if for no other reason than to indulge in their signature bread pudding souffle.
I started off my lunch experience with the turtle soup (complete with a shot of sherry). It was very earthy, but I found it to be a little one-note in flavor.
Tom got the soup trio - turtle soup, seafood gumbo and a lobster bisque. He enjoyed all three, but I think the gumbo was his favorite. (He'll correct me if I'm wrong).
In an effort to eat more greens, I enjoyed a very tasty salad of strawberries, bleu cheese and candied pepper bacon. It was a tasty addition to the meal, but with the appetizer, an entree and dessert, I really didn't need it.
Tom chose the oyster and absinthe dome appetizer as his entree. It featured oysters poached in tarragon cream topped with a puff pastry shell. He chose it because of the inclusion of absinthe and seemed to enjoy it very much.
My entree was extremely impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed my sausage stuffed quail (and Tom enjoyed the portion I couldn't finish.) He put it in his top 3 dishes of the entire trip. (I always order the best stuff :P)
The bread pudding was everything I imagined it to be: the fluffy texture of souffle with the warm, comforting flavors of a good bread pudding. I'd go back for that alone.
The service was impeccable - attentive without being overbearing. It was the best thing about our experience (along with the 25 cent lunchtime martinis - limit 3). Going for lunch saved us some money, but it was still a pricey meal. The quality of the food and the high level of service left me more than satisfied.
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130
I don't think any chef embodies the essence of New Orleans like Emeril Lagasse. The lunch menu at his flagship restaurant, NOLA, is eclectic, pulling influence from Creole, French, Vietnamese and Italian cuisines.
I highly recommend the butterscotch martini. Delicious!
I started with Miss Hay's stuffed chicken wings. These were absolutely delicious. It was almost as if they took an eggroll filling and stuffed it inside deep fried chicken wings that had the bones removed. This was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. It was savory, creative and the hoisin sauce took it over the top.
Tom started off with the New Orleans-style crab cake appetizer. While he enjoyed the crab cake and the corn relish, he didn't care for the sauce as it was a little too sweet and a very non traditional accompaniment for a standard crab cake.
Tom selected Miss Hay's Vietnamese po boy, an interesting take on a mix between a traditional New Orleans po boy and a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich: barbecue pork, duck liver mousse, pickled carrots, cucumbers and kimchee salad. Tom really enjoyed the rich, yet refreshing combination of tastes and textures in this salad.
I went with the duck confit pizza with fried egg and truffle oil. It was okay, but the flavors didn't really come together for me. I feel like they went a little overboard on the truffle oil, and it could have used a little more parmesean cheese.
We finished up with a deconstructed ricotta cheese cake with blood orange sauce and toasted pine nuts. I absolutely loved it, while Tom was less than impressed. The cheesecake was definitely not as sweet as a standard one, and he would have preferred an actual crust as opposed to the bruleed top for texture. I, however, found it to be delicious - creamy while not at all heavy. A definite A+ in my book.
NOLA is a large space in a very busy section of the French Quarter. Make your reservations early, as the restaurant will fill up due to Emeril's popularity. Our lunch was perfectly serviceable, and I was more than satisfied, but I'm not sure I'd make a return trip if I revisited New Orleans in the Future.
543 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, LA
I love John Besh. Every time I see him on the Food Network, I think he would be really awesome to grab a drink with after work. He has a certain kind of southern swagger that I can appreciate. I just knew that Restaurant August would have to be one of our dinner stops.
We started off with a cocktail, and while we were making our selections, the kitchen sent out a langiappe, or a complimentary small bite. This is a custom that I absolutely love, and it's such a small gesture that can really get the meal started off right. The customary langiappe at Restaurant August is a delicate seafood custard in an egg shell topped with caviar. Caviar is not my thing, but Tom really enjoyed his and the remainder of mine.
I started off with the spring onion soup with lardons and a poached egg. This was just dreamy. Savory and light. The egg was perfectly cooked. I could have licked the bowl.
Tom started off with the gnocchi with blue crab and black truffle. He definitely liked the flavor of the dish and said that the texture of the gnocchi was perfect. However, he wished that he had more as the portion was quite small for the money.
Tom had an entree from the specials menu (I think it was elk), and I had poussin (young chicken) with tempura-fried, spicy ricotta stuffed squash blossoms. The poussin was tasty, but the squash blossoms completely rocked my world. They were one of the most delicious things I put in my mouth during the entire trip. I'd eat a plateful of just those any day.
But dessert is where this meal really shined. Tom had a chocolate bavarois with salted toffee ice cream. It was absolutely delicious, but it didn't hold a candle to my banana pudding. If you know me, you probably know that I really don't care for banana pudding at all. But tons of online reviews stated that this was the best dessert in the restaurant, and they were telling the ever loving truth. The bruleed bananas, vanilla wafer ice cream and marshmallow tuile completely changed my mind about what banana pudding could be. I've had dreams about this banana pudding. It's at the top of my list.
Three courses each, one cocktail and two glasses of wine, along with the already steep prices, made this far and away the most expensive meal we had in New Orleans. The food was very tasty and the service was impeccable, but there comes a point when you have to consider value. Tom and I really enjoy eating out, and we both agreed that we've had equivalently delicious meals for 1/3 of the price as our evening at Restaurant August. That, alone, would prevent a repeat trip in the future.
301 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
I hope you're not quite tired of New Orleans yet. We've saved the best for last. Stay tuned for our top three meals of our New Orleans vacation.