Monday, February 02, 2009
Chatter 15 New Orleans Restaurants
New Orleans is a unique city, famous as the place where jazz originated, for its French Quarter and for Mardi Gras. Its’ character has been formed over generations since it was first claimed for the French king Phillippe 2nd the Duc de Orleans. It now offers a variety of fusions of French, Spanish, Cajun, Creole, American and International which are most evident in the variety of food and cooking. In a little less than a week I tried to experience as much of this range as possible. It varied from the most exquisite to the most mundane. I might first make the observation that Americans tend to eat out, not to dine out. They often eat quite early. They eat quite quickly and they leave early. It is much less common for them to dwell over their dinner, even at the finest restaurants. We have arrived at 7.30 for dinner to find diners preparing to leave and even asking for their check, the American term for the bill, to be brought promptly, because they are in a hurry – a request I found odd to say the least, when we spent 3 ½ hours savouring a brilliant meal. At its best restaurants like Stella! and August are first class but many others are resting on reputations earned in another era. In that regard Zagat proved to be extremely unreliable as a guide. Meals at ‘popular’ legendary’ and ‘renowned’ restaurants such as Commanders Palace, Cuvee and Brigstens lacked delicacy and finesse. They will satisfy a hungry man but not a gourmand. Presentation is ordinary, the approach to seasoning is heavy handed and the dishes occasionally contain ingredients that jar rather than meld or match each other. Others are doing what they always did without any great distinction. Café du Monde, Felix, Acme and Casamento fall into that category. Their specialties – beignets at CdM and oysters , at the others are unbelievably bad. Over breaded and overcooked if they didn’t warn you that there was an oyster you’d need a DNA test to find it. Soft shell crabs are a little better but far from really good. In the middle range the only places I would be happy to return to would be Herbsaint, specially, but not only, for their wonderful pasta, and Stanley for their outstanding variations on eggs Benedictine.