Monday, August 31, 2009

Luncheon at Galatoire's

In 1983 I was passing through New Orleans on a tour of South Louisiana. It was my first visit to the Crescent City and my pal Tommy Curtin was driving. Tommy had been here before and told me of a restaurant that had been around for nearly a century. Not only was it world famous, it was Bob Hope's favorite restaurant. Well, that sounded good to me, let's go!

The restaurant in question was Galatoire's. It was opened in 1905, by Jean Galatoire when he bought out Victor's restaurant on a VERY different Bourbon Street. It has stayed in the family for generations and won many prestigious awards over the years. Always listed in the top restaurants in New Orleans it has been consistent in its stellar service and amazing food.

On my first visit to Galatoire's I vividly remember ordering the Trout Meuniere Amandine, which was recommended by my friend Tommy. Honestly, this was the best fish I'd ever eaten. Actually it was the best meal I had ever eaten. This beautiful trout was sautéed in clarified butter, and topped with toasted almonds. How many meals can you remember 26 years later?

When I was considering going back to Galatoire's, I made up my mind I was going to have to Soft Shell Crabs, they've been my favorite food for years. My decision was made easier by watching a video of soft shells being made by Galatoire's Head Chef Brian Landry. (To view this video CLICK HERE.)

I made my way over to Bourbon street to the restaurant with its classically appointed green awning. Entering from Bourbon is like stepping into a different world. The white linen covered tables, and real waiters dressed like waiters and not like the flair-festooned, suspender-bound, "wait-persons" you see at Bennigans and the like.

I was seated and introduced to Peter, my waiter and his lovely assistant Evangelyn. She served me a personal loaf of nice crusty french bread with butter. Ice tea came and I made my choice for the soft shells with a gumbo appetizer. I asked Peter if Chef Landry was on the premises, to which he said "yes, would you like to meet him?" "I would love to," was my reply.

Soon I was shaking hands with one of New Orleans' youngest head chefs, especially in such a prestigious appointment. A friendly face let you know that meeting a customer was not a laborious chore, but an honest gesture of welcoming me to his place. We chatted for a moment about what a big fan I was of him and the restaurant, he then excused himself to get back to work. This simple, friendly encounter really made my visit special and memorable. By the way, make no mistake, my mention of his age has no bearing on his abilities, which are beyond impressive.

Peter first brought out a bowl of seafood gumbo, which was the best I've EVER had, and that's no easy task. Chock full of shrimp and lump crab meat, the base was dark and flavorful, the way it's supposed to be. After finishing the gumbo, I was served my entrée. There on the plate were two large, expertly pan fried, "busters," covered in toasted almonds and sautéed lump crab meat. I almost got teary at the sight and aroma of this heavenly crustacean.

Words can barely express my emotions from the first bite to the last of this wonderful meal. The dish was absolute perfection. My favorite food just got "kicked up a notch." Where could it go from here?

OK, maybe I am going overboard, but it was a great meal. I topped it off with coffee, and as I was finishing up Chef Landy came back to my table to ask how my meal was and bid me farewell. What other "Top Rated" restaurant does the Head Chef take this type of personal approach? Not many I'd recon. I paid my bill and made my goodbyes to Peter and Evangelyn. On the way out I grabbed a menu and a couple of recipe cards and headed back out into the garish trappings of Bourbon Street.

A wonderful day with an exquisite meal. An exceptional New Orleans experience that I will cherish. Did this meal top my first Galatoire's encounter? Not sure, but if not it's a close tie. Chef Landry, his staff, and the owners should be very proud of this crown jewel in New Orleans' lofty epicurean crown. Galatoire's is located at 209 Bourbon St., just a block off Iberville. Reservations are not required for the downstairs dining room, but dress respectably, no shorts, etc. Click HERE to see their website.