They said a week was too long. But you know what? The Big Easy ain’t that easy when it comes to deciding where and what to eat.
New Orleans is a city of great chefs and restaurateurs where what we imagine as “southern hospitality” is prevalent at every turn.
We visited a wide array of dining options, from a bar with a chef leased kitchen out on the bayou, to absinthe bars, to burlesque shows, to some of the city’s most renowned restaurants. Every stop, we witnessed passion firsthand. Never did we feel that we were the nine-millionth tourist to ask that same question.
I came home with a better understanding of restaurateurs that are fully-invested and dedicated to the business. Yes, we have some amazing local restaurateurs here in Southern California, but for the most part, we lack the history engrained in families like the Brennan’s and other restaurants, grocery stores, and bars that have been in the same spot with some same menu items for 100 or so years. It’s really something to experience. Can you imagine being in the business for over 70 years as was the case of Ella Brennan?
I’m really glad that I visited Commander’s Palace. When the Brennan’s took over in 1974, the then dilapidated, Commander’s Palace, was already over 120 years old. In the early days, the predominant cuisine served in New Orleans restaurants was Creole. It was Ella Brennan at Commander’s Palace and her Chef Paul Prudhomme who “made it acceptable” for Creole and Cajun cuisine to meld on the plate.
The Caribbean Blue exterior and crisp white accents of the building are notable, but it’s the greeting and the service that is most remarkable. Based on service styles learned by Ella at 21 in New York City, the service team knows your name, and the style of gang service assures that you never have to search out help. Locals and tourists mingle in the restaurant’s many dining rooms. Insider’s order local dishes that aren’t on the menu and when you have history with Commander’s, you sign your bill and pay later. Dinners are placed in synchronized service and though these service styles are typically found in a formal atmosphere, the fun and comradery of Commander’s Palace is in the air.
Through both family, and nature’s storms, Ella presided over restaurants for over 70 years. She recently died at the age of 92 in her home, right next door to Commander’s. To discover more about the restaurant and this remarkable restaurateur, we recommend watching Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table on Netflix.
Steeped in hospitality and genuine love for the business, Chef-owned restaurants are plentiful in New Orleans. Just to name a few, there’s Nina Compton’s Bywater American Bistro and Compère Lapin, Isaac Toups Meatery or Toups South, John Besh’s August, and the list goes on. We can’t forget Emeril, whose career took off at Commander’s when he as a fresh-faced, 24-year-old and his four restaurants in New Orleans.
Don’t be fooled when you see that non-descript sign and long alleyway that seemingly leads to nowhere. In many cases there’s a restaurant in a courtyard just beyond.
I got some grief and I did wonder about using one of my precious dinner-time slots to visit a restaurant with an outlet here in Orange County while in New Orleans, but we experienced an evening worthy of a rock star at House of Blues. We blew the budget on our first night, but it was so much fun, it was worth it. Upon arrival, a little early for our reservation, we visited the House of Blues Restaurant and Bar, courtyard restaurant on the ground level, then ventured up to our reserved table at The Foundation Room, the VIP dining room (located in every HOB, nationwide), our home base while we travelled to two concert venues and two terrific shows. What an experience. James Beard, nom, Executive Chef Nathan Winowich and wife, Erika, also a chef, prepared one of the best meals we had in New Orleans.
We dined with mostly a reasonable budget and it’s certainly possible, but I have to go back with a huge budget. There are so many restaurants I still need to try. Yes, I said need.
Here at home, many local, predominantly seafood restaurants touch on Louisiana cuisine. Others give it a big kiss, while others, mostly Creole restaurants, fully embrace the cuisine.
In this issue we present a few of the delicious options for Cajun and Creole dishes on the menu in Southern California establishments. We’ve included bushels of tasty tidbits, but we’ve not even touched on the “seafood boil” craze that has exploded in the area or the few restaurants that offer Cajun and Creole dishes made in steam kettles. Perhaps another issue.
In Spring, I was lucky enough to visit New Orleans and find out first-hand what it is about “all that jazz”.
It was worth the visit, and it’s an experience I highly recommend. As you’ll see inside, it’s a city full of great food and industry professionals dedicated to service.
Here’s to the industry pros!
Dive into this magazine, which features these admirable restaurants and their chefs:
Chef Ross Pangilinan, Executive Chef of Terrace by Mix Mix – Costa Mesa (Recipe Included)
Corporate Executive Chef Gabriel Caliendo, VP of Research & Development of Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar – All Locations
Chef Aliza Duplantier & Chef Guy Duplantier, Executive Chefs of Crazy Creole Gumbo House – Long Beach
Chef Darrin Finkel, Executive Chef of Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen– Anaheim
Chef Kate Chiarot Wright, Executive Chef of Barcadia – New Orleans (Recipe Included)
Proprietor Lisa Wagoner, Proprietor of Iva Lee’s – San Clemente
Chef Andrew Vaughan, Chef de Cuisine of Mar’sel at Terranea Oceanfront Resort – Rancho Palos Verdes
Chef Jeremy Cantwell, Chef de Cusisine of House of Blues – Anaheim (Recipe Included)