Reveillon is an annual tradition for some New Orleanians. The holiday dinner series, held in restaurants across the city throughout December, is a time for social gatherings over special prix fixe menus, some lavish, some bargains, many of them synced to the season.
This time around, though, there are more ways to think about what a reveillon meal can be, how to pursue its traditions and maybe even how to mint some new ones.
The annual holiday dining program has been evolving for years, and the latest twist is aimed at adding more casual reveillon options to the mix.
Now, though, they fall into four categories – reveillon traditional, reveillon contemporary, brunch reveillon (or b’reveillon) and petite reveillon.
Restaurants that take up the petite reveillon serve a progression of small plates. It’s a tweak aimed at enticing diners for more casual meals, maybe before or after those holiday parties and outings that can quickly fill up the December calendar.
It has also opened the door for more types of restaurants to take on reveillon. Sixty restaurants offer reveillon menus this year, up from 48 last year.
That includes the four restaurants in the LeBlanc + Smith hospitality group, which is participating for the first time. The company has spread its options across the board.
The Rib Room is stretching three options across one restaurant, serving a petite reveillon menu, next to its fuller reveillon traditional menu and brunch. Other petite reveillon menus are found at River 127, a restaurant with high-rise river views in the Westin Hotel, and Roux Carre, Central City’s open-air food court.
Shannon Derkacht, director of operations for Leblanc + Smith, said the broader format offered a better fit for her company’s different restaurants this year. She also said the spirit of reveillon fits with an important intangible for the restaurant group.
“One of the pillars of the what we do is curating an experience,” she said. “That’s really about the relationship with our guests. We want to give people something more, whether that’s a story or some dish or drink they haven’t tried before. Reveillon definitely is a unique New Orleans way to do that.”
Seasonal food, drinks
In New Orleans, reveillon, derived from the French word for “awakening," was originally a meal served in the homes of Catholic families after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
The custom all but died out as the 20th century unrolled and more American modes of Christmas took root in New Orleans. But in the 1990s, the reveillon name was revived by French Quarter Festivals Inc. Reveillon was recast as a restaurant dining series. It’s now part of a seasonal marketing campaign to promote the city through the holidays, when convention bookings typically trail off.
As the reveillon tradition has evolved, so too have the strategies that chefs and restaurants bring to the annual happening, from the season to to their own histories.
Eggnog-inspired desserts are abundant, and as usual the bûche de Noël, the French yule log cake, makes its annual appearances (look for a chocolate hazelnut version at Bourbon House, and another with chestnut mousse and coffee toffee at the Country Cub in the Bywater).
At Arnaud’s, executive chef Tommy DiGiovanni said writing a reveillon menu starts with looking back into the French Creole restaurant’s past. Marking its 100th anniversary this year, Arnaud’s has plenty of it.
“We take some time going back and researching,” he said. “Then we can draw out these ideas, and figure out how to replicate them for dinners that make sense today.”
This year, that manifests on his menu with dishes like daube glace, the old Creole beef spread (similar to headcheese), and coquilles St. Jacques, a classic scallop dish served in the shell, which was part of Arnaud's menus dating back to the 1920s.
A few blocks away at SoBou, chef Juan Carlos Gonzales draws from holiday traditions of his own native Puerto Rico for an island-influenced reveillon menu.
“My parents are both amazing cooks and entertainers,” Gonzales said. “The food they did was always celebrating something, like a specific classic dish from Puerto Rico or a recipe in our family from three generations back.”
That inspiration runs through the cochon de lait tamale, the duck confit croquetas and the dulce de leche flan. It shows perhaps most vividly in the coquito, a Puerto Rican style eggnog made with equal parts condensed milk, evaporated milk and crème de coco and a healthy pour of Don Q rum. Served as a lagniappe “course” to the meal, it’s one of the little touches the chef says helps make reveillon customers into reveillon regulars.
“We have people in this city who reveillon pros," he said. "They take the month of December and they might visit 15 different reveillon restaurants, and they tell us all about them. It’s a great time for our restaurant, because people are just celebrating."
In that spirit, another side of reveillon is all about the bar. A collection of 26 bars and restaurants around the city take part in a more casual cocktail offshoot called Reveillon on the Rocks. From classic bars, like the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, to neighborhood bistros, like Café Degas, you’ll find special holiday drinks that range from classic to contemporary to pure kitsch.
If December leaves you with only enough time to catch up over drinks, Reveillon on the Rocks has that option covered too.
From Dec. 1-Jan. 1, special prix fixe menus at 60 restaurants.
Prices range from lavish to bargains ($22-$100)
New this year: petite reveillon, for small plates meals
See menus and details at followyourjoy.com.
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