Thursday, July 9, 2015

Commander's Palace - New Orlean's Finest

When you think of New Orleans, I'm sure the first thing that comes to your mind is Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. But I know immediately following those memories of incessant partying, jazz music and beads flying from the balconies, your next lingering thought of NOLA is the food - that spicy, tongue-tingling Creole and Cajun cuisine that stays with you long after you've left. 

Jazz Street Musician

After a recent trip to the Big Easy, I really can't think of anything else besides the food. From the different varieties of gumbo and the flavorful Jambalaya, to the fun Po' Boys and Beignets, there really is an incredible foodie culture in that city that supersedes all of its sometimes dark history and ghost stories.

World Famous Bourbon Street

But although there are plenty of spots to dine in and get a memorable taste of the culture, there is one particular place that kept being referred to by the locals as the "best" restaurant in New Orleans, and a must-visit anytime you're in the city.  This place is Commander's Palace, located at 1403 Washington Avenue, in the Garden District, roughly two miles outside the popular French Quarter.

Commander's Palace

I first heard about Commander's Palace on Twitter, by one of my virtual friends, who suggested I go check it out during my foodie trip to NOLA. (Thanks for the tip.) After that, other friends seconded his suggestion and were more than enthusiastic to share with me the great experiences they had had there. So after all of that buzz, I put Commander's Palace on the top of my list and made my reservations to visit.

Photo Courtesy of Commander's Palace

Before I tell you about the food, let me give you a little of its history. To say this place has won awards is an understatement. They have been named Best Restaurant in New Orleans for three years straight; they've received the title of Most Popular Restaurant in New Orleans by Zagat for 18 years; their Executive Chef, Tory McPhail, won the James Beard Foundation Award for "Best Chef South"; the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurant Award; and they also won the Wine Spectator Grand Award. I think the accolades speak for themselves, but there is nothing like personally living out the experience to see if in fact it merits all the hoopla.

My foodie friends.... Commander's Palace not only meets the expectations set forth by their numerous awards, it far exceeds them. As often as I experience fine dining, I walked away truly impressed beyond words by the level of service and the quality of the food at Commander's Palace.

Chef's Playground Menu - White Tablecloth BBQ

We decided to try out the Chef's Playground Menu for the month of July, that had just been launched a day or two before, featuring Chef Tory's very creative and elevated take on a summer White Table Cloth BBQ. But this was not your ordinary backyard BBQ.. oh no. This was Commander's Palace very creative, gastronomically supreme interpretation of this American summer tradition, playing with the finest of Haute Southern BBQ. All I can say is, if heaven hosted a BBQ, this is what it would be like.

While we relaxed in the luxurious setting, sipping on a glass of wine, the chef brought out an Amuse Bouche to awaken our palate. It was a bite of flavorful lamb belly and vegetables, lightly placed on a brioche and drizzled with a honey-based sauce. We were ready...

Lamb Belly Amuse Bouche

Our first course were the Half Shell Oysters. These were very fresh, meaty and prepared with cane vinegar, which gave them a unique flavor that made me want to pucker up and kiss each one. They were also served with coriander granite and sea salt. The next course was a Smoked Red Fish and Caviar, consisting of pecan smoked red fish and BBQ caviar with pressed lemon, crab boiled potatoes, Mexican corn and charred parsley. The combination of textures and flavors went very well together, and provided a subtle kick to the dish that hinted at Southern USA meets French Creole.

Half  Shell Oysters

Smoked Red Fish and Caviar

Before starting with the entrees, they introduced Le Coup du Milieu, or a small glass of St. Arnold, chili and lemon infused El Jimador tequila and a shot of rather light beer. Together they cleansed our palates and prepared us for the meat feast to come.

Le Coup du Milieu

The first entree was laid on our table and our mouths began to water. It was a plate of Smokehouse Spare Ribs that were perfectly cooked and tender. A savory delight of crispy confit duroc pork danced on the dish with baked corona beans, pickled watermelons, cucumbers, pieces of pork fat corn bread and sweet molasses. I seriously had to savor every bite slowly to ensure I didn't miss an ounce of culinary pleasure. The second entree was the Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope, which I feel highlighted Chef Tory's playful and innovative style. The creation consisted of smoky beef fat-injected loin with antelope tamale, smashed chipotles, tomatillo and queso fresco. Now we were adding a Latin flavor to the mix. The result was spectacular and we couldn't stop talking about it well after the meal was over.

Spare Ribs
Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope

With the fabulous presentation and flavor we had experienced in our adventure thus far, we couldn't wait to see what BBQ twist the Chef would come up with for dessert. Once we dipped our spoon in it and closed our eyes, we realized: the perfection continued. The sweet finale was a Peach and Sweet Tea Cake prepared as a roasted peach streusel, served with sweet tea sorbet and a strip of BBQ chicken cracklin'. Yes, you read correctly. Everything just went up yet another notch with this inventive sweet and salty combination. Adding to the fun and N'awlins theme, was a dollop of Southern Comfort Custard. 

Peach and Sweet Tea Cake

While food is the main focus of most of my posts, and the level of quality of the cuisine at Commander's Palace merits the detailed descriptions, one aspect of this place that stands out far beyond any other restaurant I've been to is the service. I hate to sound cliche, but ladies and gentlemen, they make you feel like royalty from the moment you walk in to the moment you reluctantly walk out. I felt at times the server could read my mind, so I was making sure to be thinking pure thoughts. You didn't have to ask for anything because they were there, making sure everything was perfect, and you hardly even noticed they had come by the table. Forget the water running low. If the ice melted, they would immediately provide you with a new glass of iced water. Whether a table had just two guests or twelve, everybody's dishes came out at exactly the same time by an entourage of staff, and they placed each plate on the table simultaneously. Seriously, I didn't want the night to end and I wanted to take them all home with me. One of the Co-Proprietors, Ti Adelaide Martin, constantly circled the restaurant and talked to the guests. She was friendly and welcoming, and I could tell that there were many repeat customers there. For an upscale, luxury restaurant, the ambiance felt homey and relaxed.

While you can obviously conclude that a meal at Commander's Palace is not going to be inexpensive, it really is very reasonable for the level of excellence they provide. The Chef's Playground White Table Cloth BBQ we indulged in was only $65 per person for the five courses, and they offer a local craft beer pairing from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, for only $20 more. If wine is your thing, you can choose a specially selected wine pairing instead for an additional $43.25. Personally, I found the price to be extremely reasonable and am so excited about returning  to Commander's Palace on a future trip to the Big Easy.

And while I was planning out my other foodie stops, I happened to find out they own several other restaurants in the area, including a newer one called SoBou. This one is a more trendy spot, but after dining there as well, I can tell they are owned by the same family and also hold themselves to the same high standards. The meal was amazing and it also ranked high on our list.

For more information on Commander's Palace, or to make reservations (which I encourage you to do), you can visit their website  or call them at 504-899-8221.

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