The List: Restaurant Stella

April 27, 2009

stella

It is no secret that you don’t have to search hard for a delicious meal in New Orleans. It doesn’t really matter how long the place has been there or what price point it falls into. The majority of the meals I have eaten in New Orleans I have loved which is what makes this next experience so upsetting…

Because we would be in New Orleans for five full days, I wanted to really experience as much as possible, especially when it came to the food. I did a lot of research and loosely mapped out the destinations I thought were must trys. Although I had never heard of it before hand, I kept reading about this eclectic and fantastic dining experience that a relatively young restaurant was producing. Almost all the blogs and reviewers labeled August and Stella as the front runners of the city. Boasting a wordly influenced menu along with elegance and intimacy, Restaurant Stella would be our first dinner in New Orleans and we couldn’t wait….now I wish we had.

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We were unable to get reservations before 9:45 but we don’t mind eating late. In fact 9:45 doesn’t seem all that late anymore having lived in New York for a while. We had explored a bit during the day but were fairly close to the restaurant around 9 and decided to stop in a bit early. At the very worst we would sit at the bar and have a drink or two but sometimes you get lucky and tables are available earlier. As we walked in, I was really impressed with the ambience. The restaurant felt cozy and intimate; a touch of modern but still rather classic. It was an inviting dining room. Unfortunately the hostess wasn’t so inviting. When I told her we were there for our reservaion and we were a bit early (first day of vacation, most likely the nicest I’ve ever been) her response was cold. “Yeah, a bit early” she replied a bit scathingly. No big deal. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she expected us to be needy. I’m not quite sure but I’ve worked in and been to enough restaurants to know that you only get one chance at a first impression. Either way, we weren’t going to let her effect us. We sat at the bar sipping some champagne and chatting with the bartender who was friendly without being a bit annoying (a tough balance for sure). The time seemed to pass quickly as we drank and watched the delicious offerings coming out of the pristine kitchen. Every time the doors opened we were enamored with what must be an extremely efficient assembly line cooking and plating some rather appetizing food. We couldn’t wait to dig in and when our table was ready (9:45 on the dot) we were excited for what was to come. Excitement would be a theme for the rest of the night, but not necessarily in a positive way.

We ordered our wine through the Sommelier and our waitress Holly, who was really great, was telling us a bit about the menu. We had decided on a pair of appetizers and entrees and we began to give our order. Except we didn’t get very far. The Sommelier, attempting to deliver the glass of delicious Riesling (I wish I remembered the bottle) accidentally knocked the glass of red over. This wasn’t a typical red wine spill however. This was a two foot pour which happened to occur directly over my girlfriend. Not exactly the excitement you want to start the meal. Luckily, our waitress Holly ran to the back to grab a cleaning solvent (“wine away” I think it was called) that really did a great job of getting the red wine out, surprisingly enough. She was so apologetic and after the shock was over, the whole situation was a bit comical. Accidents happen and we would never act unreasonable but something just didn’t seem right. The Sommelier didn’t seem all that upset nor did he react. I chalked it up to the shock and embarrassment he must have been feeling but either way a simple “I’m so sorry” would have been nice.

We moved tables and got re-situated. Our food would be on its way soon and hopefully we would forget and laugh about the incident the rest of the night. Except disaster struck again. As our complimentary amouse-bouche was delivered another server, lost their steady hand and proceeded to pour the shrimp in mango sauce all over my girlfriend, this time on my blazer keeping her warm. Accidents happen, but this was some serious bad luck. How could this have really happened, at a place like this, twice!? Again more than anything we were shocked. There isn’t much you can do but laugh and try and move past it, but once again I was held up by the reaction of the Sommelier. Complete indifference would be the best explanation of his emotions and if there is one thing I can not stand it is indifference.

Once again I’d like to really point out how wonderful our waitress handled the whole situation. She managed to make just enough light of the situation and she was certainly the bright point in the evening. Unfortunately, the rest of the staff seemed unfazed and unconcerned. The saddest thing about the story is that the food was really quite good although maybe a bit pretentious. From our beet appetizer containing “beet air” and spun beet honey, to my duck entree which plated duck in five different ways, there was nothing that seemed effortless. Unlike our dinner at August, even the best parts seemed to be forced and the attitude that was exuded from the moment we arrived truly left me wondering if Stella had deserved all the praise they had been getting. It’s easy to get a few great reviews, especially on the food, and forget that there is more to a dining experience. But as soon as you let those reviews effect you in that way, your no longer worthy of that same praise. In fact, I struggle to remember the other appetizer and entree we ordered simply because of the clouded outlook I had on our meal.

Lastly, I would just like to clarify that there is no way for me to give a review of Stella without including the spills. Again, the chances of this happening are slim to none which I fully understand but its important to realize that it wasn’t the spill that effected the dinner, it was the reaction and the outcome. Having a glass or two of wine comped and an extra amouse-bouche served is certainly a nice gesture but I can’t say enough was done to make me feel like I should go back. And quite frankly, with all the delicious options throughout the city at half the price, your better off skipping Stella and eating another plate of Crawfish Étouffée.

Restaurant Stella: 4/10 only because most of the food was great and Holly handled the situation well. Not worth the attitude, especially in New Orleans.

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Some of the classics…

April 23, 2009

Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy

I keep getting asked the question, “what was your favorite meal in New Orleans?” and you’d think by my response that I was being asked for the meaning of life. It wouldn’t be such a hard question if not for the simple fact that every meal I had, I enjoyed. And for the most part, every meal I had, I loved. How do you compare a Muffaletta to Beignets, or Crawfish Étouffée to our meal at August? Each meal was a complex piece to the puzzle and I’d hate to pick favorites…

Our first and last meals of the trip were at Mother’s right outside the French Quarter. This cafeteria style institution attracts tourists and locals alike all looking for a delicious Po’ Boy sandwich or some of the many other New Orleans favorites that they serve daily. Many reviews will tell you this place is a tourist trap and that the lines are long and the service is unfriendly. And I wouldn’t even necessarily disagree. Sure the lines can be long and sure plenty of tourists flock to Mother’s but all because its worth it. The food is prepared fresh and everything I have tried is absolutely delicious. In our two visits we tried four different Po’ boys; Oyster, Baked Ham, Soft Shell Crab, and the Ferdi Special and a cup of their famous jambalaya. The Ferdi SpecialThe Ferdi Special is assembled just like all the Po’ boys, with two types of mustard slathered on delicious Lousiana French Bread with cabbage and pickles (seafood options come with tartar sauce). Three layers of meat, baked ham, roast beef, and debris (bits of shredded meat soaked in the juices) are piled high on this delicious sandwich and trust me when I say the 2/3 size is plenty! The other favorite was the soft shell crab which was only available the first time we went but was definitely worth a return visit.

A quick note about the service: Maybe its because I’m from Philadelphia and like that I know the correct way to order a cheesesteak, but I can’t help to think, all those bloggers and reviewers criticizing Mother’s for their service just don’t get it. Sure they are a bit pushy and sure the ordering process isn’t so obvious the first time around, but the place has a personality. You may not like it but its the way it’s going to be, and quite frankly I’m glad it is. Considering the employees can not receive tips (store policy) and for the sake of efficiency to make sure that lunch line keeps moving, I’ll take my delicious food without pampering anyday, especially if its coming from Mothers.

Sticking with sandwiches, I had been excited for along time to get a Muffaletta in New Orleans. Last time we made it down, we missed out on the famous sandwich and I couldn’t wait to get in line at the Central Grocery (the home of the original) and give it a shot. Arguably my favorite sandwich ever is an Italian Hoagie (specifically from Dino’s in Margate) and the thought of adding olive salad on top of some of my favorite sliced meats and cheese sandwiched between a round sicilian loaf sounds perfect to me. The previous day, we were at the Bourbon House eating Oysters and drinking Abita when we made some friends. The couple next to us suggested a number of places to eat including passing on the Central Grocery and giving the Napoleon House a shot. Having not tried the Central Grocery original, I will make no comparisons but the suggestion was spot on.

Muffaletta

The Napoleon House, named for the home of refuge of Napoleon in 1821, transports you back to another time while serving classic New Orleans fare. We shared a Muffaletta with some gumbo on the side and sipped our Pimm’s Cup (recipe below) while watching the busy streets on a beautiful day. Like most things during our trip the atmosphere made our food that much better although this sandwich didn’t need much help. The olive salad was unbelievably fresh. The meats were flavorful and plentiful and the provolone cheese, served melted, was sharp and delicious. This meal was not only a testament to the Napoleon House itself but to the people of New Orleans who feel its their need to ensure your eating well and loving life. We never exchanged names but thanks to our friends from Bourbon House!

Pimm’s Cup from Napoleon House:

Fill a 12 oz tall glass with ice. Pour 1 1/4 oz of Pimm’s #1 along with 3 oz of fresh lemonade. Add a round of cucumber and top off with some 7up.


The List: Restaurant August

April 21, 2009

Jackson at Jackson Square

I’ve made it back from my vacation in New Orleans and I have a ton to post about. Rather than trying to get it all out in one post, I’ve decided to write throughout the week on different aspects of the trip. From beignets at Cafe Du Monde, to Oyster shucking competitions at Bourbon House and to the local Muffaletta shop claiming theirs served warm is better than Central Grocery’s original, I managed to eat my way through the city and probably don’t need to eat for days. But first I’ll describe what goes down as one of the best dining experiences I have ever had…

At Restaurant August, it seems as though the employees have been sheltered from all the praise they and their Executive Chef John Besh have been getting. Look up any of the rankings for New Orleans Restaurants and you’ll see August is at or near the top. But rather than feeling like your just one of the many flocking to see what all the fuss is about, Restaurant August is as warm and welcoming as the rest of the wonderful city.

My girlfriend and I were celebrating my birthday and wanted to get a nice bottle of wine. The Sommelier not only knew her stuff but she also knew how to be friendly. It seems so simple but for whatever reason so many “fancy” restaurants and “fancy” Sommeliers lack this essential quality (see future post on Restaurant Stella). Our waiter was equally nice and knowledgable and they made for a perfect dining experience. But what is good service without good food…

For our first course we ordered the Beet and Crab Salad and Crawfish Agnolotti (little ravioli). The beet salad was like nothing I have had before. Perfectly roasted beets served with succulent crab meat  and quail eggs over a bed of arugula was accented with black eyed pea croutons (each dish has just enough of the southern and creole/cajun flavors that reminded us we were in New Orleans). The Agnolotti were rich and delicious and were served with chunks of bacon and roasted vegetables which made for a complete dish giving us just enough for an appetizer that I could have easily eaten buckets of.

For our second course we ordered dishes that would hopefully be balanced with the rich and light flavors we had in the appetizers. The first dish was a Red Fish cooked perfectly and matched with Jumbo Shrimp and Oysters. The sauce, poured table-side, was rich in flavor and texture so common in the roux based dishes from the area but just enough was added to not overpower the subtleties of the fish. The other dish was a Roulade of Rabbit which was wrapped in bacon and roasted and served with unbelievable morel mushrooms and braised artichokes. I can’t decide which one I liked more but that in itself suggests how well everything was prepared.

We were full enough but what is a birthday without some dessert. If the rest of the dishes we had throughout the night left me satisfied, the dessert left me ecstatic. The dessert is listed as “Napoleon of Nougatine with Valhrona chocolate bavarois and salted toffee ice-cream” and based off of the endorsement of our waiter we felt pretty good about our selection. The ice cream was unbelievably creamy and the saltiness was not subtle but worked tremendously with the sweetness of the rest. The chocolate portion tasted and had the texture of the best chocolate brownies purposefully prepared undercooked. These two portions sandwich a crispy nougate that added a crunch and really rounded out the whole dessert.

Throughout the night we discussed how flawless the dinner service seemed and how perfect the decor of this old mansion turned restaurant truly was. August deserves all the praise it gets and I will always be thankful for the birthday dinner I had. There are so many places in New Orleans worth eating at and it may seem a bit pricey for the area but trust me when I say, when visiting the big easy, August is a must try…just make sure you save some room for the Po’boys, fried chicken, muffalettas, oysters, crawfish, jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, and hurricanes that are also must haves (posts to follow soon).

Restaurant August 10/10

301 Tchoupitoulas St.,
New Orleans, LA 70130
504.299.9777


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