Sunday, May 2, 2010

Anniversary and Food...

Last night my husband and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. We consider ourselves foodies, and are on a mission to eat at all the best restaurants in New Orleans. FINALLY we took down the granddaddy of them all... Antoine's. Antoine's was opened in 1840.

The ambiance is old school: huge dining rooms, white table cloths and napkins. The walls of the dining room we ate in are covered with celebrity photos, letters, newspaper articles... I got to eat with Katherine Hepburn watching, which was great.

So here's the rundown of the meal.

I opened with a French martini (here's a recipe at Drinks Mixer). I love these. However, the one I had last night had clearly been mixed with amaretto instead of Chambord. Did I complain? Not at all. It was still delicious, though I'm not normally a fan of amaretto flavored things. One lesson I've learned in my travels and in eating is that unless you are sitting at the bar and discussing drinks with the bartender, then you should stick to a standard that most bartenders know. That way, there's no room for confusion or mixed signals. I didn't follow that rule last night.

Next, we shared Oysters a la Foche. The description on the menu doesn't quite gel with what arrives at your table. I expected a small round of dry toast spread with foie gras mouse, a fried oyster on top, and a drizzle of the sauce. When it arrived, one slice of toast sat on the bottom of the plate. Fried oysters were scattered about, swimming in a dark, almost purple sauce. The sauce reminds me a great deal of coq au vin. So dark as to think it will taste burnt before you first try it, but then you are surprised by the taste. Whoever fried the oysters did a perfect job, and he'd picked just the right size for my taste. This was definitely a great appetizer.

Then we went on to a combination salad: lettuce, hearts of palm, artichoke, asparagus (steamed slightly), tomatoes... This was pretty standard fair, but we got the Roquefort dressing. I've never had a dressing as pungent as this! I would say -- next time -- to ask for it on the side, and maybe cut it with a little vinaigrette too. It's definitely not suited to those who only like a little blue cheese flavor. This is full-on, in your face, cave-musty goodness.

After the salad we ordered a bottle of wine. What is really impressive about Antoine's is their willingness to have so many reasonably priced wines on the list, and the list is huge and quite varied. They don't limit themselves to old standards, as you might expect from an older restaurant. We settled on a nice 2008 Zolo Malbec, which was really decently priced and excellent.

Our entrees... Well, I think you can definitely judge a restaurant by their lamb chops, especially an old school, ala carte menu place like Antoine's. For many of the dishes, you even have to order your sauce separately here. So I went with the chops. They came with a small serving of mint jelly on the side -- bright green and everything -- but I didn't touch that. The chef had only used a little salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of parsley on the meat. It was cooked perfectly, and the chops are twice as thick as any I've found at other local restaurants. More like two chops each, with only one bone. Very impressive. Simply, this was great meat cooked perfectly with no flourishes or pretense. If you want a lamb fix, definitely try these.

My husband had the Chicken Rochambeau. Rochambeau sauce is not described in Antoine's menu, but from what I can gather poking around other sites, it's essentially caramelized onions, stock, roux, and cane syrup. This goes on the bottom of the plate. Then add a slice of ham, a grilled chicken breast, and top with Bearnaise. The combination tastes outstanding. Salty, sweet... The ham compliments the chicken. It's also quite rich due to the Bearnaise. I don't usually go for chicken at restaurants, but I would definitely order this myself in the future. Don't be shy ordering the cheapest thing on the menu; it's excellent!

With that, we shared an order of soufflĂ© potatoes. These are fancy french fries, and quite tasty with even just a little bit of salt.

Finally, dessert. Antoine's signature dessert is the Baked Alaska (see the picture at Antoine's site; it really does look just like that when they bring it). Here's the deal. I went in thinking, well, we should order it. It's not something you can get just anywhere, it's not something I'll ever make at home, and it's our anniversary. Warring with that idea was this: How great can it really be? Vanilla cake, vanilla ice cream, vanilla meringue? All one flavor: no fruit, chocolate, nuts... It's great. I do recommend, however, that three or four people should only order a two-person size. Neither of us could finish our half. The entire dessert dwarfed an NFL regulation football. The meringue on this thing is unlike any I've had. It's so light and fluffy and smooth. Definitely save room for this!

That was our meal. On the walk back to the neighborhood, we stopped in at Tujaque's (another old New Orleans institution), which has an excellent bar. My mom always likes to stop in for gin fizzes here. I blew my last drink of the night on a shot of whiskey when I should have had something outstanding from the very competent bartender that was working.

And next time I visit Antoine's? Well, first they invented Oysters Rockefeller, so we'll go with that. Then definitely the Chateaubriand. I saw that go out to a few tables, and it looks outstanding. Then I think the Peach Melba, another old dessert that doesn't show up very often anywhere.

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