Wednesday, April 29, 2009

N'awlins Needs Cicerones!

We just returned from a trip to the Big Easy, and may have to subsist on lettuce and water for a week just to regain nutritional equilibrium. For those who have never been to New Orleans, one word: Go.

New Orleanians know how to live well. Food is not simply fuel, a commodity; it's a sacrament, a pastime, a way of life. Much time and thought seems to go into doing leisure right.

For all the focus on food and good living, the beer revolution is not much in evidence in many restaurants, certainly not as much as it should be. Abita Amber, a Vienna-style lager, is readily available around town; their other, more interesting beers somewhat less so. There is one venerable multitap in town, Cooter Brown's, a dba in Faubourg Marigny, and a pair of identical new corporate-ish multitaps on Bourbon. There's Crescent City Brewhouse, but beyond a really solid Pils, it's just another touristy place on Decatur.

The most singular example of what I'm talking about was at the venerable Commander's Palace. Arguably the finest restaurant in the world capital of eatin', and virtually no beer in the place. Not even Guinness or Sam Adams, just a couple 'lite' beers, Abita Amber, and Heineken. waiting for our table at the bar, we ordered a couple Abitas. We opted for a six course fixed-menu dinner titled "The Chef's Playground," complete with wine pairings for each course. The meal was nothing short of spectacular. A blow by blow account follows below.

First, to avoid repetition- every one of the wines was really nice. We like wine, though we are not experts. We were able to sample each wine before the food course arrived. Each wine agreed with each course, that is, there were no clashes, and nothing was overwhelmed. However, at no point did the pairing of wine with food exceed the sum of the two parts. We are used to fireworks with beer and food; the wine provided candlelight enough to see. So I've inserted the 'fantasy beers' we'd have liked to had on hand. I would also like to note that we each brought a half-pint of Abita to the table, and it was pretty damn good with most of the courses. OK, here it is, in all its decadent glory:

Blue Crab and Caviar Timbale

Jumbo lump crabmeat & Atchafalaya Basin bowfin roe with citrus, peppery arugula, mango, crushed lime and golden pineapple vinaigrette.

Lots of sweet crab, great with all the fruit.

Wine: Gruet Brut Rose

Fantasy beers: Celis White, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Goose 312, for the citrus character, Dupont Saison for the peppery phenol. Lots of stuff to hook up with, here.

Spicy Lobster and Asparagus

Crab-boiled Maine lobster and grilled spring asparagus veloute with preserved lemon and Creole cream cheese.

Amazing. The preserved lemon really set off the other ingredients.

Wine: 2006 Monchhof Reisling Spatlese Urziger Wurgarten

Fantasy beers: Duvel, Cooper's Sparkling Ale; Hefeweizen would be set off nicely by the lemon, too.

Duck Egg Carbonara

Spring duck egg poached with lemon and sea salt over hand made pasta with caramelized shallots, brandy, bacon and oregon black truffles.

Oof. Words fail me. Incredibly rich. You had me at the egg yolk.

Wine: 2007 Pieropan Soave Classico

Fantasy beers: Deux Brasseurs Golden Ale w/brett, Goose Island Matilda

INTERMISSION: "Le Coup De Milieu" a Liquefied Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake

Pretty much what it sounds like, with booze.

Tomato Dusted Soft Shell Crab

Local legumes, asparagus and petite leaves tossed with chardonnay, spicy tasso & tabasco butter.

Wow. Crispy soft shell crab coated with local tomatoes that had been dehydrated, concentrated, and powderized. Think sun-dried tomatoes. Or barbecue potato chips.

Wine: 2006 Trefethen Chardonnay

Fantasy beers: Rauchbier or schwarzbier would be great with the intense tomato coated crab and spicy ham. Great Lakes Conway's Irish Red would probably go well, too.

A Tasting of Spring Lamb

Wood-fired leg of lamb and braised lamb tongue with butter roasted Brussels sproutss, chervil, shaved sweet onions, aged balsamic vinegar, rosti potatoes, and lamb jus roti.

Wonderful. Lambs have tender, tasty tongues. And there is no meal that can't be improved by the addition of roasted Brussels sprouts.

Wine: 2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

Fantasy beers: Dubbel, Amber biere de garde, dunkels bockbier

The Chocolate Molten

Imported dark chocolate, chicory coffee anglaise, chocolate covered esperesso beans, chocolate ganache and Jason's "1403" chocolate mint.

Wine: 1994 Smith Woodhouse Oporto (should've saved this for a cheese course!)

Fantasy beer: Fish in a barrel! Any rich, dark, roasty beer would do well, as long as it's not too bitter. North Coast Old Rasputin, Founders, Arcadia, all are Imperial stouts that would go well. As a long shot, I'd try Perkulator Coffee Doppelbock from Dark Horse.

All throughout this meal, we were waited on hand and foot by Commander's highly professional, welcoming staff. Everybody should have this experience at least once in their life.


We also dined at Jacques-Imo, which is a casual setting with fancy food in the Uptown neighborhood. We'd eaten there before, and knew it would be great. And a small, but decent selection of beer didn't hurt- Chimay Red goes amazingly well with braised short ribs!


  1. We have been to the Big Sleazy once, before Katrina. Food is the focal point in NOLA. Real Beer, alas, takes a back seat to cocktails and fizzy lager. dba and Cooter Brown are the bookends, the Bulldog on Magazine wasn't too bad.

    Jeff and Susan Rankert

  2. It's funny that you mentioned "Jacques-Imo"! I had my Wedding reception their. It was the only way to please the picky #@! New Orleanian family.

  3. The beer is there, you just have to be a bit more diligent. And a couple good picks can go a long way. Coop's has a handful of good bottles, as do a lot of the more casual places. It's especially the top-tier places that have yet to see the light.