Funny thing, how the passing of time is relative - mere seconds can feel like a lifetime to an Olympic diver, especially as they wait with bated breath to see the results that are the culmination of years of their lives spent in training; years can feel like mere moments to a parent of a grown child they will see as their baby forever (so I hear :P).
But on a more everyday and personal level...It's been just over a year since I started my new gig, and it feels simultaneously like it was yesterday, and a lifetime ago. It feels like a blur, for the flurry of new experiences I've been lucky enough to have, especially being able to see parts of the states I never would have otherwise had occasion or funds to visit. But also like a lifetime, for the things I've learned about this business, and myself, within this year.
Two of these trips brought me to the Big Easy, and I managed to squeeze in a few tastes of soulful southern food and hospitality - my favorite of these experiences was at Commander's Palace, winner of multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: southern 2012. So good, in fact, that I found myself there twice: for lunch and brunch. Below are the highlights from each.
Commander's Palace is located in the Garden District, a slow paced neighborhood that lives up to its name. The famed Bourbon Street is not my scene for many reasons - so it was good to get to see a more serene, genteel side of NOLA, when I ventured out of the French Quarter to lunch here.
There is a more formal dining room with country-style decor, or you could choose to sit on the garden patio out back. For lunch, I stayed in the dining room - but definitely choose the patio for brunch as they have live jazz on weekends!
The menu was one of those that could cause serious whiplash for adventurous foodies: my eyes roamed all over the page of delicious sounding dishes, willing my stomach to be tested beyond all human limits to accommodate a taste of each.
With sympathetic looks and some help from my lovely server, I finally came up with a short list.
Even the amuse bouche was exciting: Boudin Blanc Rillette Croquette with Jack Daniels Relish.
Then, the truly foodgasm inducing Oysters & Absinthe in Pastry 'Dome', with Gulf oysters poached in cream, bacon, artichoke, tarragon and yes that previously illegal alcohol that was a favorite of artists, poets, authors, and rebels, absinthe. It essentially resembled in texture like a light chowder, but the layers of revelatory flavors were like nothing I had ever tasted.
The puff pastry 'dome' is a technique I'd seen before, which keeps the soup hot, while providing flaky, buttery accompaniment. Perfection in a bowl. I had to have this again on my second visit too (in fact, it's what drew me back).
The soups on offer all sounded so intriguing that I wanted to order them all: Snapping Turtle with splash of sherry, Chicken & Andouille Gumbo, and Lobster Bisque.
Luckily, my server was incredible and let me know that as an 'off menu' service they can create a soup sampler, so that I can try 3 soups in expresso sized cups. My favorite of the three was definitely the snapping turtle soup - they add the sherry tableside - it's fragrance is intoxicating on its own, but in taste it really adds a whole new dimension to the soup. I can only describe it as 'opening up' the flavors of the soup, the way adding drops of water to whiskey breaks up surface tension and allows the lovely complexities of flavor on the drink to be revealed.
Of course, I couldn't leave without trying the Crispy Alligator Grillades with cracked corn grits, Louisiana hot sauce and sweet chili gastrique! Yes, alligator meat does look a bit like chicken, but much richer in flavor. Loved this dish as well - I gotta get my grits too!
I don't know how I found room for dessert, but got the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé which apparently they are well known for, and it did not disappoint - if I could have brought 10 of these home I would have!
On my brunch visit, it was charming to sit outside (you get to walk through the main kitchen to get there!) and hear the live jazz band.
I went for a southern classic this time with Shrimp and Grits, which was fantastically well balanced between the bold flavors of the shrimp and fiery red sauce, and the comforting mildness of the grits below.
For dessert, I got the Grand Marnier Soufflé and wished I hadn't. This was the only thing from the meal I didn't love - the alcohol was overpowering, I felt like I could get buzzed just from eating a few bites.
Both visits to Commander's Palace were unforgettable, and I look forward to more deliciousness whenever I get to go back to NOLA!
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%
1403 Washington Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130