Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Commander's Palace (New Orleans - Garden District)

Ask any local or tourist alike to name the best restaurant in New Orleans, and I'd be willing to bet that the answer you'd most likely get is Commander's Palace.

Located in the cute Garden District, the Commander's Palace is an institution in the city. It had been highly recommended to me by a colleague who had lived in New Orleans for a time, and I received two additional recommendations from fellow conference folks within a day after arriving in New Orleans.

But I almost blew it: I had planned on making a solo trip there one day when I could sneak away from the conference for a bit, and didn't think I would want to make a reservation for one. At the last minute, however, I managed to convince R. to play hooky with me, and suddenly I realized I needed to book a table. By the time I checked the online reservation system, it looked as if it'd be impossible to get in. I was ready to accept my cruel fate, but decided to call the morning of our intended visit anyway to see if they might have something available.

They did! Seats were available at 2:00 pm - even though the website lists Saturday jazz brunch as running from 11:30-1:00 pm only.  But no matter, I was ecstatic that luck was on my side!

We arrived right on time. Despite being housed in a sizeable property, the Commander's Palace was packed even at 2:00 pm. We were led upstairs to the sunny Garden Room which overlooks the courtyard.  Both R. and I agreed it was the best room in the house for its cheerful and inviting atmosphere.  (Check out this video from Access Hollywood for more views of the restaurant's interior.)

Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Commander's Palace

The Garden Room at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
The Garden Room at Commander's Palace

When dining at a restaurant, there is good service, and then there is the Commander's Palace service. As if on cue, our waitress came by as soon as we were seated to offer us drinks. But the most impressive part was that she knew my name, presumably from my reservation. It was a little thing but I sure felt like a million bucks.

The weekend jazz brunch is a three-course meal that ranges in price from around $29-42 depending on the main course chosen, with the option to add a cocktail and/or a side. Because I love oysters, the Oyster & Absinthe "Dome" was a no-brainer for my appetizer. The poached oysters are cooked with bacon, artichokes, tarragon, cream, and a splash of Parisian absinthe, and served covered in a flaky pastry shell (the "dome" part). It was an interesting dish with well-balanced flavors.

Oyster & Absinthe "Dome" at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Oyster & Absinthe "Dome"

Oyster & Absinthe "Dome" at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Oyster & Absinthe "Dome"

Oyster & Absinthe "Dome" at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Oyster & Absinthe "Dome"

My main course was the Cranberry Molasses Lacquered Quail, stuffed with cochon de lait boudin (suckling pig sausage) and served over caramelized onions, bacon lardoons, and garlic wilted greens with sticky cranberry-apple jus. The meat was incredibly tender - in fact, I don't know that I had ever had quail this good. The sauce, too, was heavenly. Really, everything about this dish was just perfect.

Cranberry Molasses Lacquered Quail at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Cranberry Molasses Lacquered Quail ($38 for three courses)

I also managed to sneak a photo of R.'s Blue Crab Stuffed Flounder. The flounder is butter roasted and stuffed with crabmeat, melted leeks, wild mushrooms, and brie, and topped with tomatoes, confit shallots, and Swiss chard.

Blue Crab Stuffed Flounder at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Blue Crab Stuffed Flounder ($42 for three courses)

We enjoyed our meals with a side of the fresh Warm Buttermilk Biscuits, as well as crusty complimentary garlic bread.

Warm Buttermilk Biscuits
Warm Buttermilk Biscuits ($4)

Garlic Bread at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Garlic Bread

A nice surprise awaited us when our dessert was served. Earlier, when the maĆ®tre d' was leading us to our table, she had asked casually if we were celebrating a special occasion. We weren't, but we just so happened to have gotten married exactly eight months prior, so I offhandedly remarked that, "well it is our eight-month wedding anniversary."

Never in a million years did I expect our Sticky Molasses Bourbon Cake to be served with a little happy wish for us:

Sticky Molasses Bourbon Cake at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Sticky Molasses Bourbon Cake

I mentioned earlier about the Commander's Palace service - and this truly exemplifies the effort the staff puts into making your visit personable and pleasurable. And considering the size of the restaurant, and the large number of patrons the restaurant serves at any given moment, this level of attention is quite extraordinary. It is truly the little touches that make Commander's Palace such a special place.

The cake itself was excellent, too: A warm bourbon and molasses cake topped with fruits and ginger compote, served with a pecan toffee sauce. Mmm...toffee.

Sticky Molasses Bourbon Cake at Commander's Palace (New Orleans)
Sticky Molasses Bourbon Cake

In the end, I'm really glad I got to share this lovely dining experience at Commander's Palace with R. The food, the atmosphere, and the service were all top-notch. I can now see why everyone raves about Commander's Palace.

Indeed, count me in as a fan, because I cannot recommend a meal at Commander's Palace highly enough.

Restaurant info:
Commander's Palace
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
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