There are plenty of ways to enjoy food in New Orleans and no one is going to tell you which is the right or wrong way. Slurp oysters straight from the shell at Casamento’s, enjoy artfully plated courses at Stella!, or pick up a few po-boys from Guy’s and enjoy them on the floor of your living room with friends, TV, and ice cold beer. Truth is, food is so darn good here it doesn’t matter how much you pay for it or how dressed up you have to get to eat it. But, I believe there is a single dining experience in New Orleans that every food loving local should strive to achieve. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m talking about the mac daddy of dining: the Chef’s Table at Commander’s Palace.
First of all, this is a “save for a few months and splurge” kind of meal, but in my opinion well worth every single hard-earned penny. I had the honor of joining a friend and some of his business colleagues for a twelve (!) course dinner at the Chef’s Table and weeks later, I’m still dreaming about it. Here’s how it went down:
Upon arriving to Commander’s Palace, we were immediately shown to our table located in the kitchen. Yep, I said in the kitchen. Seated amongst all the hustle and bustle, you’d think it would be distracting, hot, and noisy but in actuality we experienced an indescribable sense of calm. The kitchen at Commander’s operates like a well-run ship – everyone mans their station, works efficiently, and helps out others when asked. There wasn’t any yelling, cursing, or putting out kitchen fires. Things operated with surgeon-like precision and the proof was all over our plates. Chef de Cuisine Chris Barbato (he and his wife, Lisa, also own Rivista) took excellent care of us all evening since Executive Chef Tory McPhail was out for the evening. Chef Chris, Argyle (our head waiter) and their crew did such an incredible job of exceeding our expectations with flavor, presentation and service that, looking back, I’m not sure how the meal could have been any better.
We started the meal by each ordering an Old Fashioned – strong, sweet and excellent conversation juice. To accompany our cocktails we were served the first course, an amuse bouche of smoked redfish with mango relish, thus beginning the feast of a lifetime.
Amuse Bouche of Smoked Redfish with Mango Relish. Gone in one bite.
First course: Stone Crab Claw with BBQ Mushrooms and Wasabi Crema. Cold, buttery crab highlighted by savory mushrooms and tangy wasabi cream.
Second Course: Fresh Gulf Oyster with Choupique, Tabasco and Mayhaw Caviar. The bowfin caviar was flavored with ghost chili for some mellow heat, and the Tabasco and mayhaw were mixed with gelatin to create caviar-like pearls. Each caviar, layered on top of one another, had a flavor that unfolded slowly once we slurped the oyster straight from the shell. First, the briny, saltiness of the oyster, then sweetness from the mayhaw, and finally, subtle heat from the Tabasco and ghost chili. I’m comfortable with saying that this oyster changed my life.
Third Course: Soft-Shell Crab with Crawfish & Creole Succotash. Delicate, lightly fried softshell crab on top of a smoky, spicy sauce studded with plump crawfish tails and tender edamame.
Fourth Course: “Fish in a Bag”: Sheepshead with Clams and Oysters en Papillote. Each pouch of soup was unwrapped and unfolded upon serving, allowing us to breathe in the steam of white wine, herbs, vegetables and seafood. Intoxicating is an understatement. This broth was so good, in fact, that we called in our French bread lifeline so we could soak it all up.
Fifth Course: Le Coup de Milieu – The Saint 75. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this drink. The Saint 75 is Commander’s take on the French 75, made with gin and fresh basil. Very good and very refreshing. This was served to each of us in a small shot glass as a palate cleanser.
Sixth Course: Yellowfin Tuna 2 Ways. I’m not sure why it was called “two ways” since we received three pieces of fish but let’s just say that tuna on top of fried black eyed peas and cilantro does not suck.
Seventh Course: Foie Gras with Local Berries and Honeycomb. Commander’s asks their Chef’s Table guests beforehand if there’s anything the party would or would not like to see on their plates. Foie Gras was a must have for our group and here we had it seared and in mousse form with tart berries and warm, sweet local honey. Wow. Just wow.
Eighth Course: Boudin-Stuffed Quail. Boudin, quail, Steen’s syrup gastrique. Need I say more?
Ninth Course: Braised Lamb Belly. Belly topped with tenderloin. Braised with wine and herbs and served to us perfectly pink.
10th Course: A Selection of Artisan Cheeses. So stinky and so delicious. Pecans, fruit, fresh honeycomb and mayhaw jelly were served as accompaniments.
11th Course: The Dessert Bomb. Yep, they dropped the bomb on us, baby. All 8 desserts. All at once. And it was all I could do not to make myself sick eating them. I had one (okay, maybe two) bites of each. Favorites included the Strawberry Shortcake, Praline Sundae, and Creme Brûlée. The White Chocolate Bread Pudding Soufflé with Whiskey Sauce is a mainstay and always a crowd-pleaser.
Ahhhhmazing. If you’ve never had a Louisiana strawberry then you probably haven’t lived.
I can’t even with this soufflé. Can you?
I swear I didn’t enjoy myself at all…
To top things off, we had four incredible bottles of wine throughout our meal. First, a bottle of the 2011 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru “La Forest”, a sophisticated chardonnay with floral and citrus notes that held up nicely to our first three shellfish courses. Second, the 2005 Clos Mogador Priorat, a complex red wine from Spain that was perfectly aged and adapted well in our transition from seafood to foie gras. Third, the 2010 Justin Isosceles, an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon full-boded wine with notes of dark fruits held up nicely to the Boudin-Stuffed Quail and Braised Lamb Belly. And lastly, it’s never a celebration (or proper dessert bomb) without some bubbly. We said “cheers!” to our incredible meal with the Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve, a champagne that donned the most beautiful golden hue I’ve ever seen.
What else can I say? New Orleans is the most unique city in the world to dine in because of meals like this one. From beginning to end, the entire evening was sophisticated without being stuffy, decadent without being ostentatious and elegant while still maintaining a desired level of “cool.” Restaurants like Commander’s prove that 100+ years of operation is not at all indicative of predictable or played out food. The dishes we sampled were fresh and inventive, but still held true to the strong culinary heritage of our city. A celebration of food like I’ve never experienced, the chef’s table at Commander’s Palace is a true gem of the New Orleans dining scene.