Dining at the Best of New Orleans
New Orleans’ reputation as a food and drink lover’s paradise continues to grow. Sure, new restaurants pop up around town. But a recent visit to the city revealed several famed top restaurants continue to manifest sumptuous feasts.
Most restaurants don’t last more than a few years. In 1905 Frenchman Jean Galatoire opened Galatoire’s, and family members remain on the ownership team. The restaurants’ iconic interior features wall mirrors, elegant green wallpaper, and distinctive black and white tiled floor.
The devoted local clientele and NOLA visitors return to Galatoire’s for the consistent execution of classic dishes, new menu items, and the old-school character of the service where everyone feels like a VIP. The mustard-forward shrimp remoulade brings a deep flavor profile to the dish. Lightly battered, the soft shell crabs are served seasonally. The crabmeat Yvonne with La. jumbo lump crabmeat, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and meunière sauce doesn’t over
whelm with richness. The local redfish and daily selections are cooked to your preference. A classic Galatoire’s dessert is sweet potato cheesecake.
To satisfy hard-core meat lovers and present a proper New Orleans bar experience, the family opened Galatoire’s 33 Bar and Steak next door. The menu offers steak tartare, Buffalo quail, veal chops, 30-ounce T-bones, duck, seafood classics such as shrimp boil and an array of shareable steakhouse sides. Cocktails range from the French 33, a riff on the French 99, to the Candied Apple Praline, riffing off the famous NOLA pralines.
Ella Brennan assumed ownership of Commander’s Palace in 1974 and nearly single-handedly launched the revival of the New Orleans food scene. A true innovator and role model for women and restaurateurs, Brennan is credited with inventing the Sunday jazz brunch, and celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse first gained recognition in her kitchen. The title of Brennan’s new memoir says it all: Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace: I Don’t Want a Restaurant Where a Jazz Band Can’t Come Marching Through.
New Orleans fun translates to good drinks. The cocktails at Commander’s Palace and sibling restaurants Café Adelaide and SoBou, their south of Bourbon establishment, are legendary. Brennan’s daughter Ti Martin and her niece Lally Brennan wrote In the Land of Cocktails about New Orleans drinking culture and their family’s innovations in cocktails.
The distinctive aqua exterior of Commander’s Palace in the Garden District portends a unique experience. The restaurant lists over 2,600 wines curated by Dan Davis, aka the “Wine Guy” and features a strong French list with excellent California house wines. The dining experience ranges from the private wine room to the upstairs Garden Room overlooking the back garden and the downstairs main dining with its grand ambiance.
For those craving Commander’s classic turtle soup and gumbo, the “1-1-1” option brings a demi serving of these plus a seasonal offering. The shrimp and tasso Henican appetizer brings La. white shrimp, tasso ham, pickled okra, 5-pepper jelly and Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc. Must-try entrées include pecan crusted Gulf fish, crispy soft shell crab, chicory coffee lacquered Texas quail and filet of Angus beef. The sides such as prosecco poached crabmeat or goat cheese thyme grits are shareable.
To truly experience Commander’s Palace, consider the Chef’s Playground Tasting Menu. Executive Chef Tory McPhail has built an extensive network of local purveyors—farmers, hunters and fisher people—to serve an exceptional daily menu of tasting specials. A special, reasonably priced, three-course menu is also available.
Exquisite desserts, both traditional and modern, may include Creole bread pudding soufflé aka the Queen of Creole deserts or seasonal specialties such as Ponchatoula blueberry shortcake.
Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar
Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar on Poydras Street is labeled as a “playful, modern Creole restaurant” and lives up to that moniker. Named for Ella Brennan’s sister, the grand lady of New Orleans who wore a swizzle stick medallion around neck, the restaurant honors Chef Meg Bickford’s creativity. Bickford’s Poor Man’s Foie Gras is approachable chicken liver pate with blueberry-sherry jelly. Her version of beignet donuts comprises Boudin sausage, spicy mustard, sourdough bread, and pickled “stuff.”
If its brunch-time, then Ladies, don your hat for “Brunch with Hat-itude.” Those wearing a hat receive a free drink such as a Classic Derby or Blue Bonnet. The smoked redfish salad and shrimp “firecrackers” are sensory experiences with well-blended creamy and spicy flavors. The go-to dessert is Creole cream cheese cheesecake.
SoBou is another sassy restaurant from Martin and Lally Brennan with an upscale lounge ambiance. The award-winning Parakeet Nordine, an ode to a NOLA poet, showcases the outstanding gin selections. Bar Chef Laura Bellucci enjoys customizing drinks for customers. During monthly Literary Round Table events, she crafts special drinks with literary allusions.
The food selections complement the drinks. The softshell blue crab po-boy and sticky pork belly steam buns are creative choices for lunch; brown sugar and chili-brined pork loin stars at dinner. The Sunday “Burlesque Boozy Brunch: Legs and Eggs” hosts a burlesque show with a live band. The showcased dish is Legs and Eggs: crispy confit chicken legs, poached eggs, an herb buttermilk biscuit, and charred chili hollandaise.
The Rib Room
Opened in 1961, the elegant Rib Room at the Omni Royal Hotel anchors the corner of Royal and St. Louis Streets in the French Quarter. With its refined, grand dining room and club-like bar, the Rib Room has hosted famous visitors, city business leaders and tourists seeking a quiet setting and excellent food. A vestige from the three-martini lunch days, the famous “Washbucket Martini,” a huge martini, continues to be requested and poured on Fridays.
Executive Chef Tom Wolfe revels in his rotisserie and meat program. A creative rendition of veal marrow service in a bone, Wolfe prepares Potato “Bone” and Beef Marrow. A baked potato serves as the traditional bone. The marrow juice soaks into the soft potato, creating a toothsome, light gravy for the dish. Specialties include barbecued shrimp, onion soup, and four-day duck. For sauce lovers, you can add a flight of six, from Marchand de vin to house-made truffle ketchup.
Entrées from the rotisserie such as the rack of lamb and bone-in short rib are excellent choices as are the house-cut steaks.
With a sustainable and true chef’s eye, Wolfe takes the cuttings from the top quality prime rib and uses the “debris” in numerous ways from the breakfast Rib Room omelet with fontina cheese and horseradish crème fraîche to the lunch Croque Royal with debris, goat cheese béchamel and a pan fried egg.
The Rib Room bread pudding has a Mardi Gras twist—holiday style King Cake bread pudding with Fireball Whiskey crème anglaise sauce.
The Touché Bar is a hidden gem open for locals and visitors alike. With an entrance on Royal Street, bartender Donna Seyer infuses her vodka with crispy bacon and creates her own garnish from her big jar of green beans, carrots and seasonal veggies. Both at the Touché Bar and Rib Room bar adjacent to the restaurant, the bar menu offers prime rib debris po-boy and the Royal Club and Rib Room burger.
The many dining and drinking choices at the Omni Royal Orleans add to memories of dining well in New Orleans.
FTC Disclaimer: This article was researched with support from the restaurants. Opinions expressed herein belong to the author.