Out and About: Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

On the day of our first wedding anniversary, our good friends Farah and Lee brought us to one of New Orleans’ most renowned restaurants for a unique experience: Jazz Brunch.

Commander’s Palace is an institution, voted most popular restaurant by the Zagat guide in 2009. We were escorted to our table by a suited gentleman. We walked through the busy kitchen and by the smell of it, I knew we were in for a delicious treat. The menu was pure decadence. After a quick read, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dishes I wanted to try out: Oysters, crabs, cheviche. For appetizers, I decided to go with the quintessential New Orleans treat—and the recommendation of the cordial, animated staff.

Oyster & Absinthe “Dome” – Plump P&J oysters poached with bacon, artichokes, Absinthe and a splash of double cream ~ Presented under a flaky pastry shell.

When Farah’s appetizer reached the table, I was jealous. The shrimps were fresh and spicy, the texture of the remoulade was perfect.

Wild Shrimp Remoulade “Moderne” – Spicy boiled shrimp with Tabasco mousse, crispy brix, Creole remoulade and salt cured lemon zest.

Before we dove into each entrée, the meal took a musical turn. As per tradition, a jazz band goes around the restaurant’s various rooms and plays jazzy tunes. At time, the players invite the customers to join in the fun and that’s exactly what happened to me.

The band came around and I found myself dancing, with my napkin in the air, around the room with Lee.  It’s called Jazz Brunch for a reason! (Yes, that’s me with my friend Lee).

Picking an entrée was like choosing the perfect pair of shoes: You wanted the make the smartest decision. Being in New Orleans, I decided to order something that I would not so easily find in Virginia, so I went with a soft shell blue crab, fried, on a bed of greens with a poached egg smothered with Hollandaise sauce.

The crab was perfectly married with the sweet and tangy Hollandaise. I had never had a whole fried crab before. It didn’t taste like anything I have ever eaten before and the more I think about it, the more I’d love to eat it again and again.

Farah also picked fish: Griddle Seared Gulf Fish – Butter roasted artichokes, asparagus, pequillo peppers, grilled eggplant and tiny tomatoes with brûléed citrus & lemon-thyme vinaigrette.

Francesco went with the only non-fish dish on the menu: A beautiful beef filet adorned with a poached egg and a myriad of extraordinary sauces. The meat was so tender, it blended with the smooth texture of the egg and accompanied white sauce.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert. Commander’s Palace, it turns out, is known for its bread pudding souffle. Farah recommended it, we listened and agreed: It was insanely good.

The pudding was rich and velvety and the occasional raising gave it an unexpected crunch. Yet, the star of the dish, according to Francesco, was the luxurious whiskey cream—which was carefully served at the table, when the souffle was still warm.

In order to try another specialty, I picked something reminiscent of an American classic—strawberry shortcake with local strawberries and handmade whipped cream. The cake was soft, moist. The whipped cream was light and with a hint of vanilla. The strawberry syrup was rich, but not too sweet.

This was most likely the richest and most satisfying meal of my life. Great food is hard to come by, and good friends are even harder. Farah, Lee and the carefully prepared food made our first anniversary simply unforgettable.

Out and About: New Orleans, beignets and NOLA

It’s really true what they say about New Orleans. It is the ultimate foodie town. Francesco and I got in around midnight on a Thursday night. Our French Quarter historic hotel, Hotel Monteleone, was impeccable—exuberant crystal chandeliers welcomed us into the lobby and the charm of old luxury traveled with us to the seventh floor, to our room.

Sleep didn’t come too easy…I was too excited; I kept waking up expecting it to be morning—time for my first beignets. The alarm went off at 7:30am (I am a morning person and I am sure Francesco resents that), I jumped in the shower and was ready in 4.3 minutes. Our good friends Farah and Lee recommended we head to Cafe du Monde for the best beignets in town. We walked to the Decatur Street location, in the French Market, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people waiting to get their order. I would have waited for eternity. The beignets were out of this world—warm, soft, fried pockets of delicious dough covered in confectioners sugar.

We shared an order and sat in the crowded cafe´and enjoyed the noise. We watched as petite waitresses carried overly loaded trays from the busy kitchen to the even busier dining room. In the midst of a chaotic Friday morning, we were completely at ease with stuffed bellies and happy souls. It’s funny how good food influences your mood.

Of course, as soon as breakfast was over, I began contemplating my lunch options. Francesco and I decided to go all out and chose NOLA, Emeril’s restaurant in the French Quarter.

A sparely lit space, the restaurant had a surprisingly accessible feel—it had a modern warehouse look with metal and brick—and was filled with tourists. The menu was a bit daunting. As appetizer, we picked the Wood Oven Roasted Pocket Bread with Garlic Oil, Fresh Basil and Grated Parmesan, a delicious beginning to an outstanding meal.

For the entree round, we hit a major roadblock. Francesco doesn’t eat seafood. I know, how can you go to New Orleans and not eat fish? Luckily, a brisket dish saved the day. The Hickory Roasted Beef Brisket with Orecchiette Pasta-Brie Cream “Mac & Cheese” and Bacon Smothered White Beans was an impressive feast. Crispy, fried bacon covered the delicious Mac & Cheese, but the star was, of course, the slowly roasted brisket smothered with sweet bbq sauce. Such a simple dish, yet elevated to such culinary heights.

Then, it was my turn. I am an avid seafood eater. My Seared Rare Yellowfin Tuna with Avocado, Wonton Crisps, Cucumber, Wasabi Aioli and Ponzu Vinaigrette was everything I wanted it to be and more. The best Yellowfin Tuna I have ever had in my life. It was rare, fresh and just perfectly sprinkled with Ponzu vinaigrette.

The cucumber was cut into think slices as to resemble soft angel hair pasta noodles. The wonton crisps served as the perfect resting place for the delicate tuna. I still dream about this meal at night.

Our culinary journey was punctuated by moments of pure ecstasy. We walked around the French Quarter and beyond for an entire day and we came across The New Orleans School of Cooking, complete with cooking class (that I wish I had taken) and a vast assortment of various uber spicy—and humorously named— sauces and seasonings.