New Orleanians are many things, but punctual isn’t necessarily one of them. Which is fine when it comes to dining in this sometimes European-feeling city, as customers while away hours over an appetizer here, an entrée there, a dessert and several glasses of wine (and rounds of stories).
But if the play’s the thing, or if the conductor’s baton comes into play, then time can be of the essence when trying to squeeze in a nice pre-performance meal at local restaurants.
The return of historical theaters around downtown and new leadership at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré have patrons scrambling to squeeze in a dinner before a performance.
A place like the French Quarter’s Restaurant R’evolution, whose debut four years ago presaged the rebirth of several theaters, normally would be the place to sit back and let an evening of dining unfold.
But co-owners John Folse and Rick Tramonto also want to accommodate fans of theater and other performing arts — hence their specially designed menu.
“It is very difficult, because New Orleans does have more lax sense of time,” said chef de cuisine Chris Lusk. “That’s one of the reasons why love this city so much, but sometimes you need to get in and get out to make it to movie or another show. I’m sensitive about that because I have limited time working at a restaurant. I try to pack as much as I can into a small amount of time.
“I think a lot of it is about having something available to people so they can come in and have nice meal at a quicker pace to get in, get out and get to the theater in time,” Lusk continued.
The strategy, then, is to have a limited set of options (usually two per course) but to make sure there’s a clear choice in those options.
So at R’evolution, you can start off either a seafood gumbo or a house salad, and an entrée coin toss between shrimp fricassee and grits and braised boneless short ribs. For dessert they’ll trot out the “Dessert Duo” to avoid any fussing, with a Turbodog Stout chocolate cake accompanying a Creole cream cheese cheesecake. (Diners also can choose between wine accompaniments — either the “Sommelier Selection” ($24.95) or the “Premier Selection” ($49.95).
Some of New Orleans’ more historic spots also have gotten into the act, starting with the venerable Galatoire’s and its companion, Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak, both of which recently announced their pre-theater menus for the season at the Saenger Theatre and its Broadway in New Orleans series.
Additionally, the Fountain Lounge has announced its pre-theater menu for this year’s season at the Orpheum and the Saenger starting at $49 per person. Galatoire’s options include choices of three possible appetizers (duck and andouille gumbo, green salad, or escargot Yvonne), three entrees (petite filet, jumbo lump crab meat au vin, or fried drum) and two appetizers (bananas Foster or caramel cup custard).
Over at Galatoire’s 33: three appetizer choices (escargot Bordelaise, traditional French onion soup, or Caesar salad), three entrees (grilled Ahi tuna steak, grilled petite filet, or boudin-stuffed Euro quail), two desserts (seasonal cobbler or crème brûlée).
The Roosevelt Hotel’s Fountain Lounge has geared up for the reopening of the Orpheum Theater this fall and its welcoming back of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s season with its own menu. Starters feature smoked chicken gumbo, organic bibb salad and Brussels sprouts, while entrees feature a fresh catch of the day or veal osso bucco, and dessert has bread pudding or crème brûlée. While the Fountain Lounge is just a stone’s throw across the street from the Orpheum, the theater itself hopes to tempt some concert-goers with better-than-average food courtesy of Host Pfeifer of Bella Luna Catering, and washing it all down with craft cocktails off a menu designed by T. Cole Newton of Twelve Mile Limit.
But there’s nothing like the home-field advantage at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, nestled inside one side of Le Petit. The space — the former lobby — was sold to Brennan and opened in 2013, a few months before Le Petit reopened. (Both sides share the courtyard.) To package the evening, the restaurant offers a pre-theater dinner along with a ticket to a Mainstage production at $75 per person.
Diners can expect anything from a seasonal Maison salad to the classic turtle soup; chicken Tableau, a signature dish; a six-ounce filet; and samplings of the dessert menu. (Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse also has a pre-theater dinner menu nearby.)
“Because we have an open kitchen, which we consider a kitchen in the round, diners will have an opportunity to see the cooks in action and see the chefs actually prepare their food, and get a sample of our three-course menu,” chef de cuisine John Martin said in a prepared statement. “The idea behind it was to give the diners an opportunity to be able to experience just a small cross-section of the cuisine that we do and get the theater experience within a short amount of time, and be able to do all that for less than $100 a night.
“We think the experience of the kitchen and the experience of being able to go next door and check out a show at one of the most beautiful and oldest theaters in America is something that’s really important to us.”