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Trip Report New Orleans foof experience

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Have cursorily referred to recent New Orleans food experiences on this forum, but thought it might be good to provide details. Will generally say that the food was really good (this is not a foodie destination for nothing), and service was top notch (exceptions above or below that level noted).

--Antoine's.

Had dinner here. Food was not as good as some other spots of this type I experienced, but wasn't as bad as some have suggested. For me, it was really bad when bad and really good when good. The low point by far was the appetizer, oysters Rockefeller. They invented the dish here, but it's not like anybody else's preparation. Most restaurants leave the oyster in the shell, add in cooked spinach, then top with hollandaise sauce or something similar, than bake. Here, one encounters what looks like a pre-prepared lump of shell filling, with the oysters out of the shell and mixed in -- in addition to the shellfish, the filling appears to have spinach or other greens likely with egg, cream, cheese, and other ingredients, all pureed together. There's no sauce on top. The flavor was odd, not something I'd opt for again, and the last two oysters went further into an unpleasant off-putting taste which may have indicated something was past-it. For a main course, had trout almondine. What distinguished this was not so much the preparation as the strict freshness of the ingredients. The fish was lovely, flaky and fresh, with a light batter coating -- the topping was very simple and its main virtue was to not cover the fish flavor, likely just butter, lemon, and slivered almonds. They have lots of wonderful old desserts that restaurants rarely offer anymore (baked alaska, cherries jubilee, peach melba) -- as you need to order all but the last as part of a multi-person table, was forced to opt for the peach melba. This was delicious -- ice cream, candied peaches that far surpassed plain canned, raspberry sauce, and more almonds. In sort, a mixed bag. This is also a huge place, and it's well worth strolling the place's many dining rooms.

--Arnaud's.

Another old-line Cajun/Creole place, and one of the best. Got dinner from their table d'hote menu. Started with shrimp arnaud, essentially their take on shrimp remoulade, which featured a tasty and spicy red sauce. A small salad of mixed greens had an inventive and delicious Cajun balsamic dressing. The main dish was redfish almondine -- again, a scrupulously fresh piece of fish lightly coated and fried, with a lemon butter and almond sauce that had more depth than the one at Antoine's; this included some al dente green beans. Also got a side of souffle potatoes, which were small and puffy finger-sized pieces of potato fried up light and crisp -- they were so addictive, I mostly skipped their accompanying cup of admittedly very good bernaise sauce. Had praline crepes for dessert, thin pancakes wrapped around a cream cheese and pecan filling, topped with a sauce of butter, sugar, and praline liqueur -- and yes, it was every bit as scrumptious as it sounds. This place is worth exploring as well, as there's a nice little Mardi Gras museum upstairs containing costumes worn by the owner's wife over the years during this festival.

--K-Paul's.

The food here was amazingly good in my experience, among the best and most inventive I had in the city. Had two dishes. The starter was a maque choux, a savory soup-like concoction containing corn and shrimp and tomatoes that was ladled over dark seasoned rice -- really richly flavored for this kind of dish, very tasty. For a main course, got blackened grouper in a complex sauce containing shrimp, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes -- really delicious and unusual with just the right amount of assertiveness -- accompanied by well-whipped and creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed mixed veggies (mostly carrots, squash, and peppers). Nice bread basket, too. There wasn't a misstep here despite an ambitious cooking approach. Very highly recommended.

--Mr. B's.

Another winner, big time -- really amazing food. Am thinking there's a good reason this place was consistently crowded whenever I walked by. It's another Cajun/Creole spot, though less old-time atmospheric than many of its neighbors inside. Began with gumbo ya-ya (sausage, chicken, and veggies in a complex and spicy soup base) which was amazing good. This place is known for barbecue shrimp, which is actually a misnomer as the crustaceans are cooked whole and shell-on in a rich, buttery, spicy sauce. It's a real mess to eat (you have to pick the meat out of the shells) -- along with boiled lobster and ribs and fried chicken, definitely not a dish to order if you're eating out as part of a job interview -- but amazingly yummy stuff once you get the meat out and start dipping the shrimp into the sauce. I used up the rest of my bread soaking up the remainder of the sauce. Finished with a great bread pudding with whiskey sauce, delicious indeed. Definitely a must.

--Galatoire's.

With Arnaud's, would say this was at the top of the list for old-line Cajun/Creole places in the French Quarter. The downstairs dining room is bustling and fun -- apparently folks with reservations usually get taken upstairs, but lucked out here. This is one of those places where your server says, "let's just put the menu away. What kind of food do you like?" After you answer, he/she says, "Okay, I'll bring you out this dish." And it's good -- really good, because the waiter/waitress knows their stuff. Began with a wonderful appetizer, half shrimp remoulade, half crabmeat maison; to call this respectively shrimp in cocktail sauce and crabmeat salad would be grossly unfair, as these are the Rolls Royce of both humble dishes, delicious and with nice subtle highlights. Entree was trout with crabmeat Yvonne, a fresh piece of sauteed fish in a marvelously good sauce containing crabmeat, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. Had sides of asparagus (very al dente, but that's fine by me) and brabant potatoes (a Cadillac upgrade of home fries, really good and surprisingly light for this kind of dish). The dessert, banana bread pudding with sauce, was excellent as well. This approach can admittedly mount up your bill, but it was so worth it. Definitely on the short list of best places here.

--Commander's Palace.

Yes, the hype surrounding this place is justified as far as the food is concerned, for the most part. The service was surprisingly lackluster and forgetful, though -- had the wrong main course brought, niceties like correct silverware for dessert were forgotten, and no one remembered to bring bread to the neighboring table -- and the primary wait-person was not exactly a bastion of friendliness or competence in general. But it did result in a complimentary palate cleanser of bananas foster sorbet being brought by, which was decadently delicious, more than making up for the service lapses. Had their table d'hote dinner, and two items there were truly amazing. Turtle soup with sherry was the best I've ever had anywhere, really smooth and rich with splendidly deep flavors. The dessert was also amazing, a bread pudding souffle which was a sophisticated riff on the standard NOLA classic, with a beautifully caramelized top that was almost meringue-like and featuring a luscious whiskey cream sauce on the side that only made this dish more of a must. The main course was curious, duck in a hot pepper sauce. The duck was lovely, meaty and rich, but the idea to combine this with spicy peppers was not so successful -- an interesting notion that didn't quite work for me. For what it's worth, mistakenly took a taste of the wrong dish they brought, a fish dish, that was not bad but not so much a must. Still, worth going to as far as I'm concerned.

--NOLA.

This is Emeril Lagasse's establishment in the French Quarter, and it was arguably the least essential of the big dinner places gone to. A stuffed chicken wing appetizer was unpleasantly heavy and had an odd and somewhat off-putting blend of spices. Dipping them in the accompanying sauce helped some but not a lot, a sauce billed as being hoisin but not really so, more like a version of seasoned soy. Better was an entree of smoked duck with candied pecans, corn stuffing, and green beans, a mostly successful melding of unusual elements. The duck was the best part, with a smoky flavor that was noticeable without being overly assertive. Of all the fine dining places gone to, this was also the noisiest.

More to come.

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