Pete Wells, food critic for The New York Times, has a good story today about the reinvention of Brennan's (with gorgeous photos by Gambit's own Cheryl Gerber). It's a really nice tracing of the history of the restaurant and the Brennan family itself, aimed at an out-of-town audience (imagine how tough that would be to do concisely) but then came this paragraph, which is sure to be discussed around the city:
The French Quarter has become something of a Jurassic Park for Creole cuisine, a contained area in which to see shrimp rémoulade, oysters Rockefeller and other giants of a former age in all their lumbering glory. At Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s and Tujague’s, evolution stops at the kitchen door.
[jump] Ouch. Besides the fact that remoulade (red or white) is just plain timeless and delicious, I don't think "evolution stops at the kitchen door" at Arnaud's or Galatoire's. Antoine's supposedly is taking baby steps to perk up its menu this year during its 175th anniversary, but I can't speak to that, as I haven't eaten dinner at Antoine's in many years. And - shame - I haven't eaten at Tujague's since it was saved from being turned into a T-shirt shop.
But I had dinner at Arnaud's a couple of months ago: Arnaud salad and a breast of duck Ellen (with blueberry sauce). It wasn't just good - it was great in a way that reminds you how excellent traditional New Orleans food can be when it's good, if that makes sense. And the bar menu at Arnaud's French 75 is somewhat evolutionary (brie and jalapeno stuffed shrimp, boudin wontons, etc.).
Wells, of course, is entitled to his opinion, and it's probably more informed than mine. (I do agree with him that bananas Foster is insipid - but as he points out, Ella Brennan, who is partially credited for inventing it, shares the same opinion.)
That said - he's capital-W wrong about Galatoire's. Sure, you can get all the heavy yellow sauces, cream-based dishes and tawny ports you like, but don't do that. In fact, don't even worry about ordering; just tell your server, "I'd like to try some of the newer dishes" or "lighter dishes" or however you want to phrase it. Trust me - your server not only will make a recommendation, but also will steer you away, quite firmly, from anything that's not delicious.
And though the average age of the crowd may be Jurassic Park, the patrons act more like Drunk History - it's actually raucous, at least downstairs. It is louder than loud. You have to shout to be heard, which just compounds the problem. Loud loud loud. Like:probably in violation of whatever LaToya Cantrell's noise ordinance will allow loud
And, of course, if you've ever wanted to see former debs and heads of Carnival organizations getting more shitfaced than a college kid at F&M, Galatoire's is your joint.
Sure, you can get gluey oysters Rockefeller and Blue Runner-level red beans at some of the tourist traps in the Quarter. You also can get some really terrible "farm-to-table" food and nasty craft cocktails at some of the WilliamsburgAustinPortland trend-traps around town. But I'd suggest The New York Times reappraise all four of these old-line restaurants (the paper already has enough writers and editors weekending down here).
Not every old-school institution is alike; after all, Pat Boone and Fats Domino both sang "Blueberry Hill" around the same time. One, however, is stale and cheesy. The other is timeless.