Sunday, April 10, 2011

Palace Cafe's Shrimp Tchefuncte (Part 1: The Back Story)

For those of you loyal readers who have been following my food adventures since my first food blog, you may find this story familiar, as I had previously written a post about my experience at - or obsession with, depending on how you look at it - the Palace Café in New Orleans.  I have since continued to refine my skills in replicating the Shrimp Tchefuncte at home, and thought it would be appropriate to redo my blog post on the subject.  This blog is actually broken up into two parts.  In Part 1, I describe my experience at Palace Café, and in Part 2, I explain how I made it at home, modeling after several recipes I found online and the real thing from Palace Café.

In June 2002, I was in New Orleans for a professional conference, which was held at the Sheraton on Canal Street, just outside the French Quarter. One day I decided to venture out on my own for lunch, and I decided that, despite my measly grad student budget, I was going to have real New Orleans food no matter the cost. (You can see I was already a foodie in the making!)  I crossed Canal Street whereupon I found myself standing in front of Palace Café. I took a look at the menu outside and thought, "Well, it's a bit pricey, but the menu looks good and this seems to be a cute place. I'll just order something small." So into the restaurant I went.

As soon as I entered the premise, I knew I was in trouble. First, I was stunned by the hospitality. Turns out the restaurant was much more upscale than I had thought. I was greeted by a sharply dressed hostess, and had a total of three servers - all wearing bowties - waiting on little petite me. Pretty soon I also noticed a string trio (or was it a quartet? can't remember now) offering private musical treats from table to table. I looked at the menu and decided it would make me look real lame to "just order something small," so I went with the Shrimp Tchefuncte, described as "sautéed Louisiana shrimp with Creole meuniere, green onions, roasted mushrooms, and popcorn rice." It sure sounded delicious!

Inside the  Palace Café
in New Orleans (Photo from Yelp)

Meanwhile, the string trio (or quartet) has made its way to my table, and asked if I had a request. I didn't. I was actually a bit embarrassed and felt out of place.  So I just asked them to play whatever they wanted.

But let's cut to the chase and talk about the food: Shrimp Tchefuncte. I took one bite and OH. MY. GAWD. It was absolutely the best thing I had ever tasted. (It's been nine years now and it is still one of the best things I've ever tasted.) 
The creamy sauce was absolutely brilliant.  I was instantly in love.

Anyway, a couple of days later I left the Big Easy and headed home. I might have forgotten what I learned at that conference, but I never forgot
Palace Café and their Shrimp Tchefuncte.

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to attend another conference in New Orleans in January of 2005. (Yay for meeting planners!) And as if the food gods heard the prayers from my stomach, the conference was once again held at the Sheraton on Canal Street! (Double yay!!) I stuffed my credit card in my pocket made my way over to
Palace Café as soon as I got the chance. And needless to say, I ordered the Shrimp Tchefuncte. It tasted just as amazing as I remembered it. This time, I also got the crabmeat cheesecake (like, how could you not??) and a dessert. I was out $40 by the end of the lunch hour, but that's a small price to pay for absolute bliss in the tummy.

As I left the cafe, I told the staff about my story, how I specifically came back to their restaurant after three and a half years just to enjoy their Shrimp Tchefuncte. Then, to my absolute delight and surprise, they offered me the recipe!! I could not believe how nice they were about it, and even though I didn't cook back then and knew I didn't have the skill to pull off such a heavenly dish, I happily accepted their gift, brought it home with me, and stuffed it in a manila folder along with all the poster handouts I picked up during the conference.

Fast forward another four-plus years into 2009, when I was writing my first food blog.  I was still thinking about the Shrimp Tchefuncte, but the recipe from
Palace Café was lost long ago during one of my many moves in that time period.  Then, I had the brilliant thought of googling it online. Sure enough, I found a few that claimed to be the Shrimp Tchefuncte recipe from Palace Café! Even though there were some slight inconsistencies across recipes, I figured it'd be worth a try to see if I could recreate one of my favorite dishes in the world...

Click here for Part 2: The Recipe and see my attempt at making
Palace Café's Shrimp Tchefuncte! 

Restaurant info:
Palace Café
605 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70130