New Orleans has an incredible and distinctive regional food tradition. The Creole and Cajun styles developed from many influences, initially French, but also Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and African that were adapted to local ingredients. Commander’s Palace and Antoine’s Restaurant are two fine examples of classic New Orleans Creole cuisine.
I was excited to go to New Orleans, because this season of Top Chef was set in New Orleans. I was especially excited to visit Commander’s Palace, since one of the episode challenge was to re-create some of the restaurant’s classic dishes, developed by chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Since it was on TV, I had to get the Shrimp and Tasso Henican appetizer. Shrimp are stuffed with tasso (simply put, Cajun ham) and flash fried, served with pickled okra and a hot pepper jelly. I thought this dish was a little bit too piquant, and probably should have chosen the more interesting and modern foie gras beignet. The menu is divided into a la carte options, a tasting menu, and a three course prix fixe menu. In addition to the shrimp and tasso dish, I had a prix fixe dinner. For the soup course, I had demi-tasse portions of three soups, the turtle soup, gumbo, and shrimp bisque. The turtle soup is a Commander’s classic. It is made with turtle meat, along with veal and about 30 other ingredients and takes three days to make. The soup is deep, rich, and complex, as is the gumbo. My favorite of the three was the creamy shrimp bisque. For the main course I had the Flounder “Haute Creole.” It was well-cooked but not particularly memorable, and I couldn’t really tell how much crab stuffing was there. The creole bread budding soufflé with bourbon vanilla sauce was my favorite part of the meal. The top of the soufflé caramelizes nicely over a light soufflé underneath and rich bread pudding at the bottom.
The service very professional and attentive. Commander’s Palace is located among many stately homes in the Garden District. It is easily accessible by public transportation, a couple blocks away from the St. Charles street car. It is also directly across from the Lafayette Cemetery, one of the City of New Orleans’ fascinating and spooky above-ground cemeteries, with crypts dating back to the early 19th century. As an aside, I would recommend a tour to learn about the history of the city and cemeteries and the interesting funerary symbolism. There are several in the city, which are also great for photographers.
Antoine’s Restaurant is located in the French Quarter and is the oldest continuously family-owned restaurant in the United States. The modestly-sized exterior façade hides a huge maze of rooms decorated with New Orleans history. I attended a group dinner where we shared several appetizers, vegetables, and desserts. I have to say that I thought the dishes were well-executed, but nothing particularly stood out. The trout pontrarchaine was good, a huge fillet of trout nicely cooked in butter and topped with a generous portion of lump crab meat. The service was very friendly.
If one wants to seek out a classic New Orleans experience, I would probably recommend Commander’s over Antoine’s. But my favorite place I tried in New Orleans was more down-scale (coming soon).
Commander’s Palace – link to website here
Antoine’s – link to website here