As a foodie, there are times when you are going to have to dig deep in your wallet and pay for an incredible experience. This would be one of those times. I met a woman that grew up in New Orleans and few months ago and I told her about my impending NOLA trip. When I asked her what her favorite restaurant in NOLA was, she quickly responded the Commander’s Palace without hesitation. I made a reservation for 2 on Mother’s Day quickly after our meeting.
Commander’s Palace, located in the Garden District, opened in 1893. The current management has been in place since 1974 and hired renowned chefs mostly famously, Emeril Lagasse at the age of 19. This restaurant is not a traditional Creole restaurant but includes flavors of New Orleans with a sophisticated and innovated twist. Hard to explain, but your taste buds will thank you!
I took my mother here for her Mother’s Day dinner. I was hoping for the best since the striped blue and white exterior gave it a whimsical appearance from the outside. This is an instance where you should not judge a book by its cover. We arrived by taxi but there is valet parking available for drivers. The valet staff were very polite and went out of their way to greet us and open the door for our entry into the restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was elegant! Our reservation was for 6pm which is the time the restaurant opens for dinner. There was a short line of diners checking into their reservation and a line of waiters anxiously awaiting to take them to their table. Customer service was already excellent. When we checked in, we were taken through the front dining, up the stairs, and taken to a corner table in front of a table with a beautiful view of a neighboring garden district residence.
White table cloths, elegant furniture, grand crown molding, classy light features all created an elegant dining room with a well-dressed wait staff to match. After a brief review of the menu, we decided to do the Commander’s Tasting Menu ($95) since my mother is allergic to fish and many of the other choices included fish. The tasting menu consisted of seven courses with oyster and caviar, crawfish tails, red shrimp, soft-shelled crab, and lamb. My mother is not a big wine drinker but she encouraged me to do the optional wine pairing for an additional ($64.50). Great addition! We added an additional tasting of the Turtle Soup because, neither one of us has had turtle before! Let’s get on with the dining experience!
Before the first course arrived, we were provided 4 slices of delicious garlic bread and butter. I am a huge fan of garlic bread though I am often disappointed with it depending on where I go. My only complaint was that it was a little oily which made the bread a tad soggy but the flavors were all there.
Course I: Turtle Soup ($3.00 for tasting serving, usually $8.50)
I was curious about the soup because I love sea turtles and found it sad that people ate them. The waiter assured me that the soup was made from the snapping turtle found mainly in the swamp areas in the US. I guess they are highly aggressive turtles that are problematic in the swamp but they make for tasty soups. The soup also included ground veal meat. The soup had a reddish-brown color and chucks of the meat. The servers topped it with dry sherry to finish it off at the table. It was hearty, flavorful, and a great opening for the dinner. The soup was brought out with a loaf of French bread but my mother and I both agreed that we did not want to spoil our meal with bread! I did taste a bit though. It was lightly toasted French bread. Nothing spectacular or horrible to report.
Course II: Crispy Gulf Oyster and Caviar
The menu describes this dish as a white asparagus velouté, Parmesan tuile, whipped Chantilly, Choupique caviar and fennel. Translation: in a similar tasting cup as the turtle soup, there was a white asparagus cream soup that was just divine. It was a cup of perfection. There are no other words to describe this bowl but I could have eaten a huge bowl of that and been satisfied but there was more! The cup was topped with a Parmesan cheese baked into a soft cracker with a fried oyster in the middle topped with slices of fennel and two dollops of whipped Chantilly cream topped with caviar. I rolled the cracker together to enjoy all of the flavors at once. The cream wasn’t my favorite but the caviar gave it a salty additional flavor that I so much enjoyed! This dish was paired with 2004 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut, Champagne, France. I felt baller and happy! What will they think of next?
Course III: Crawfish and Porcini Bordelaise
This dish looked the most confusing to me on the menu because I did not know what to expect. The dish included roasted porcinis and grilled crawfish tails with escargot bordelaise, Creole tomatoes, local soybeans, and smoked gruyere cheese. But what does that really mean? Served in a bowl, there was a slice of bread that laid across in a pool of a thicker brown sauce, the bordelaise. The ends of the bread has a piece of the smoked cheese of each side. Pieces of the porcini mushrooms, crawfish tails, soy beans were drenched in the incredible sauce rich with flavor. The sauce consists a red wine reduced down with butter, shallots, and bone marrow. But whatever was being done in that kitchen was incredible. The bread sopped up the sauce wonderfully but still remained crisp on the edges! Again, I could have been happy with that dish as a full serving. And what I appreciated also was that while it was a tasting menu, the serving size of this dish was pretty generous considering the ingredients and allowed you to feel like it was money well spent. This was paired with a 2014 Domaine de Triennes, IGP Var Rosé, Provence, France. I don’t remember being too excited about the wine by itself but the pairing with the dish took it to another level.
Course IV: Pistachio Crusted Argentinian Red Shrimp
One of my favorite courses if I had to choose because of attention to detail and creativity of the dish. This dish included charred cauliflower, pistachio-brown butter aioli, and sweet chilies. The red shrimp were so large, they looked like lobster tails. The server said that they the chef crusted the red shrimp with pistachio and fried it to medium well. This gives the shrimp the texture of lobster! The plating of this dish was so pretty but the shrimp sat on a delicious green pistachio sauce that truly bought the dish together. The charred cauliflower was there but wasn’t the star but the pickled veggies were pleasant addition considering I am typically not a fan. This dish was paired with a 2014 Do Ferreiro Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain that was delicious in its own right but only further enhanced the dish was paired together. Altogether, this is another dish that I would have been satisfied on its own. Can it get any better?
Course V: Lime Daiquiri
To slow it down for a moment, they had a delicious lime daiquiri with Appleton Light Rum with fresh lime, El Guapo Love Potion No. 9 bitters. It was a nice palate cleanser opposed to the lime sorbet people try to serve. I wish I knew about this cocktail sooner. The penny pincher in me is annoyed that this is considered a course but fine, it is what it is. Now bring on the next course!
Course VI: Crispy Soft Shell Crab
Because of the incredible soft shell crab at Chinois, I am a sucker for a good crispy soft shell crab. This dish was served with charred chilies, goat cheese stone ground girts, smashed avocado, grilled corn, and farm greens. This was a play on shrimp and grits with has taken the culinary world by storm. I even make it for my hosted brunches that have become a hit. But when I tell you this meal was perfection, please take my word for it! Plated beautifully, the soft shell crab sat on top of the goat cheese stone ground grits that were delicious in its own right. The crab was fried perfectly and the veggies provided a wonderful enhancement. I just love the dish. Again, another one I could ordered on its own and being extremely satisfied. Paired with the 2012 Melville Estate Verna’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Sta. Barbara, California. This has to be my least favorite wine of all that I tried. Paired with the dish made it taste a lot better but, still not one of my favorites.
Course VII: Carved Spring Lamb
Our final main course was the lamb chop served with garlic grilled rapini, petite sweet potato, and house-made Worcestershire sauce. The lamb was grilled medium and was so tender and flavorful. I was just so impressed with the dish. I wish I had more. The sauce was just so wonderful and not overpowering of the flavors of the lamb. I am not a fan of sweet potatoes but my mother stated that she enjoyed them. From my small bite, I could imagine that would be a great side dish. But this lamb was so good, so perfect, so well seasoned, I requested to send my compliments to the chef. This dish was paired with a red 2008 Château Valentin Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France. I was just so happy and satisfied but another chop would have been wonderful!
Course VIII: Red Velvet Cake
The tasting menu ends with the red velvet cake that includes roasted beet and European chocolate genoise layered with goat cheese icing and rosemary ganache. It is finished with an orange honey and candied beet sauce. It was paired with a red dessert wine 2014 Naufragar Malvasia di Casorzo DOC, Piedmont, Italy. I am not a beet person, I have tried to be in order to be healthy, but it just did not work out. So a red velvet cake including beet is not the dessert me for. It was a complex dish that some could love and my mother enjoyed it. It just tasted like beets. The chocolate was good, the layers all came together nicely, but I would not order this dessert again. However, the dessert wine was the highlight here! It literally tasted with Welch’s grape juice. I was shocked how sweet this wine was. I plan on ordering some in the future to have it at home.
Bonus: Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé ($9.50)
Bread pudding is such a huge dessert in New Orleans and I wanted to taste the restaurant’s twist on this dish. They did not disappoint. The bread pudding was topped with a soufflé that rose above the bowl. They recommend that it is requested in advance but they made it arrive quite quickly based on when I ordered it. But the soufflé was light, sweet, but enhanced further by the warm whiskey cream served tableside. It was spooned right in the middle of the pudding. The pudding on the bottom seems a bit light in amount. And I was not all that impressed with the bread pudding itself but adding the cream really made it better. But I wish there was more. The big focus was the soufflé but lacked a lot of the bread pudding itself.
Overall, I had an incredible dining experience. The customer service was amazing. They made sure our cups were full, answered questions and engaged with us, referred to us by our names (well specifically mine since I made the reservation), introduced each course, quickly cleared the plates and silverware after each course, and made sure that we had whatever we needed. At the end of the dining experience, our server took us on a tour of the rest of the restaurant that included at least 3 other dining rooms, a bar, outdoor seating, and a courtyard. The kitchen was bustling full of chefs preparing some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and a separate dessert area. I was so thankful that they had an open kitchen and allowed me to see where the magic happens. I applauded them all as I exited the kitchen and the restaurant. I would definitely go back again but I will definitely need to save a few dollars since our meal totaled roughly $340 and after a tip, I spent a $400. All totally worth the experience and again, anything for mom. Happy Mother’s Day! My Seven Mac Score of Commander’s Palace including the following:
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Please look out for my next post as I head back to Baltimore and review more of Baltimore’s Best in my 2016 challenge. And remember: It’s a BIG world and we are going to eat our way through it!