Saturday, February 26, 2011

wanderlust: jazz brunch at commander's palace

On a beautiful Sunday morning in New Orleans, we piled into a street car on St. Charles Street and headed into the Garden District for a jazz brunch at Commander's Palace. This New Orleans institution has been tickling the palates of gourmands as far back as 1880. In its early years, it catered to the distinguished families of the neighborhood. Briefly in the 1920s, its private second-level dining room became a place for riverboat captains and "sporting gentlemen" to rendezvous with women while the lower level maintained a respectable veneer to cater to families. Today, it is one of New Orleans' most highly regarded establishments, serving up Creole and American cuisine.

We sat at an indoor patio flooded with light and music, and festooned with the festive balloons that have somehow become essential to this jazz brunch experience. We started with some delicious cocktails: a Bloody Mary for Ben and Milk Punch spiked with bourbon for Melissa and I. The brunch menu has an extensive list of entrees that come with your choice of an appetizer and dessert for prices ranging between $29-39. So pigging out is not optional.

The best appetizer on the table was Phil's hen's egg carbonara, which had a delicious poached egg cradled atop a bed of creamy handmade linguini, Louisiana soy beans and large hunks of bacon. Amazing.
John's appetizer came in a close second: Shrimp and Tasso Henican, a plate of wild Louisiana white shrimp stuffed with spicy Cajun ham, drizzled with Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc, and served with pickled okra and five pepper jelly. This dish just screamed with flavor.
I couldn't pass up the chance to order something strange and traditional, so I went with the classic Commander's turtle soup finished tableside with a splash of sherry. John thought it tasted just like the pork and beans you get out of the can in the Philippines. Fair assessment. I thought it was hearty and full of flavor, but nowhere near as good as the other appetizers on the table.
My entree, however, certainly lived up to my expectations. I ordered shrimp 'n grits, which was everything I expected in Southern brunch fare. The shrimps were well seasoned with a bit of heat, plump and just delicious. The cracked corn-jalapeño grits coupled with the Hennessy cognac and roasted mushroom sauce was sinfully rich and a smidgen heavy but that's just what I expect from Southern cooking.
I only took a tiny bites of the other entrees as I had way more than enough food to deal with but everything was delicious. John had pecan-crusted gulf fish with champagne-poached jumbo lump crab, spiced pecans and crushed corn sauce.
Phil ordered Southern fried chicken dish topped with yet another egg. In a word: YUM. He definitely had all the best orders for the day.
We were rapidly descending into a food coma by the time they took our entree plates off the table but there was still a dessert course to come. We ordered chicory-spiked coffee to jostle us out of our gluttonous stupor (and because coffee makes dessert all that yummier). I wish I had an extra stomach for dessert because Commander's Palace definitely brought it. The most delicious dessert was Melissa's: the Creole bread pudding soufflé finished with whiskey cream sauce. So light and fluffy, and that sauce just delivers a punch! It is love.
I had to order strawberry shortcake because it's my favorite dessert. Not as thrilling as the soufflé but yummy nonetheless. The fresh strawberries were especially good after all that rich food.
The pecan pie tasted like coming home to Momma. Warm pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream, and that bed of chocolate sauce and Fleur de Sel caramel ... so comforting. 
Finally, there was the European dark chocolate cake. The rich chocolate fudge cake with anglaise, Bordeaux reduction and a honey pecan tuile is pure romance.
To go with all that delicious food was some great jazz. It really was an experience to visit Commander's Palace, dine in that lovely Victorian style home and listen to all that jazz. Here's the jazz trio performing a bit of Sinatra for the New York crowd.
After our lunch, we needed to walk off all that food so we took a lovely stroll around the gorgeous Garden District. Before coming to New Orleans, I always wondered why Hollywood actors kept buying homes here. After seeing the place for myself, I understand why they get so smitten. We found Sandra Bullock's beautiful NOLA home.
I also found the New Orleans home of my dreams, which I will buy when I become a filthy rich billionaire who just buys homes in random places.
It was a lovely, lovely morning in New Orleans that I hope to revisit someday. If you're ever in New Orleans, I highly recommend a day with jazz, great food and strolling through one of the city's prettiest neighborhoods!

I give it:

Commander's Palace is located at 1403 Washington Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130. Phone (504) 899-8221 for reservations. No shorts. Jacket preferred for dinner.


Cathy said...

I'd have to try that hen egg carbonara sometime! Love that New Orleans house too. Let us know when you do get to buy it.

Catering New York

celine said...

Buying the NOLA house is tops on my billionaire to-do list! And another bite of that hen's egg carbonara is pretty high on my more achievable life list!

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