19 January 2012

GALATOIRE’S : New Orleans, Louisiana

What’s your favorite birthday tradition or most memorable birthday meal?

On this date last year, I was having an amazing birthday lunch at Galatoire’s in New Orleans. It wasn’t my birthday, but in celebration of my father’s 60th birthday. I agonized for months over the perfect birthday present, wanting to do something special after nearly 40 years of indulging me with celebration dinners, surprise parties, and special gifts. I had been to Galatoire’s once before for their well known Friday lunch. It was a fantastic 3 hour midday meal and throughout the entire experience I kept thinking… my Dad would love this place. I vowed then and there to get him to Galatoire’s, and 7 years later, as his 60th birthday was approaching, I knew it was the right time.

Galatoire’s is one of those grand dame restaurants and a perfect place for a celebration of any kind.  It has been in business for more than a century and owned and operated by the same family for four generations.  This New Orleans institution resides on Bourbon Street with an understated entrance, right in the heart of the Vieux Carré, serving authentic Creole cuisine in an old world dining room with a menu that never changes.

It wasn’t realistic to include the rest of my family in this extravagant dining endeavor, so I booked two tickets on a quick Southwest flight to New Orleans for a (most likely) once in a lifetime treat, returning that same evening fully satisfied.  After arriving at MSY, we took a taxi directly to Galatoires, arriving just as the rain dissipated so that we could stand in line and wait for the doors (and bar) to open at 10:30. Reservations are not accepted for downstairs dining, but I was assured that on a Tuesday, we would be able to get in for lunch.

Promptly at 10:30, we were whisked away to the bar upstairs to enjoy a Bourbon Milk Punch (me) and a Mint Julep (Dad). After our cocktails and a nice chat with another “birthday boy” who was also turning 60, we were seated downstairs where the feasting ensued.

Crisp and airy Pommes Soufflés with Béarnaise sauce arrived while we sipped our celebratory champagne, congratulating ourselves on the escape journey and toasting another year.

Things continued from there with a streaming array of courses… Shrimp Remoulade (recipe included below), Godchaux Salad, Shrimp stuffed Eggplant, and Grilled Redfish.

After several hours, we paused to enjoy the lively scene surrounding us (seersucker clad men, women in hats, all having a grand time) and chose to finish our already gluttonous lunch with a Banana Bread Pudding and an energizing-but-debilitating coffee and alcohol concoction, Café Brûlot. The shiny silver punch bowl arrived and was ignited table-side for a dramatic finale to our meal at Glatoire’s.  It was a special lunch and a memorable moment in my life as an adult, since I regrettably could not remember the last one-on-one time I had spent with either of my parents.

When we finally ventured back out into the daylight of New Orleans, we found refuge in a street car heading down the beautiful St. Charles. After a chilly walk through the garden district, we returned to Canal Street with just enought time to spare for a quick Pimms cup at the 200 year old landmark Napoleon House while waiting for our taxi and takeout provisions (muffalettas) for the flight home.

Galatoires is closed on Mondays and dress code is business casual for lunch and jackets are required for dinner and all day Sunday.

Also in New Orleans:

Crabby Jack’s (counter service Po’boy recently reviewed in Saveur)

And the very best Creole rémoulade:

Rémoulade Sauce
(from Galatoire’s cookbook)
Serves 6

3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup tomato purée
1/2 cup Creole mustard or any coarse, grainy brown mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons spanish hot paprika
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup salad oil (olive or grape seed)

Mince the celery, scallions, parsley, and onions in a food processor. Add the ketchup, tomato purée, Creole mustard, horseradish, red wine vinegar, paprika, and Worcestershire. Begin processing again and add the oil in a slow drizzle to emulsify. Stop when the dressing is smooth. Chill for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Correct the seasoning with additional horseradish, if desired, after the ingredients have had the opportunity to marry.

Toss dressing gently with peeled boiled shrimp and serve over a bed of lettuce.