Josh and David decided that my one formal meal in New Orleans would be at Galatoire's. So on the second night of our quick three-day trip, Jill and I, and even the boys, got all dolled up and went down to the Quarter.
Galatoire's is where people in New Orleans go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, their daughters' Sweet Sixteen Parties, and whatever special occasions life throw at them. This is the kind of place that is at once grandiose and uncouth, not unlike the city of New Orleans herself.
We sat in the raucous downstairs dining room, not the newer and posher one upstairs. That's the way to do it, the two New Orleans boys Josh and David insisted. We had made a reservation, of course, in the wonderfully quirky reservation system that they have. At Galatoire's one doesn't call the restaurant for a reservation. One calls one's favorite waiter, who would make certain there is a table waiting on arrival.
Our table was reserved with -and by- John, Josh and Jill's favorite man in that house. As soon as we arrived, we were led to our table in the middle of the airy room lined on both sides by mirrors. The rather clubby and severe green wallpaper was that night lightened by the remaining red Christmas adornments and the yellowish glow from the many chandeliers. The mood was made even lighter –and more raucous as the night progressed- by the loud and cheery patrons occupying nearly every table in the room.
At one point, a demurely dressed old lady stood up as if on a dare and belted out the Tigers' Fight Song, and was immediately joined in a rapturous chorus by the large part of the room. The following night was to be the epic battle between Louisiana State Univerity Football team –the Tigers- and the 'Fighting Irish' of Notre Dame. (That game, by the way, turned into a good-old fashioned ass-kicking with the Tigers beating the Irish 43-14 –a victory which meant so much more for having taken place right in the very symbol of the city's rebirth, the restored Superdome.)
Galatoire's menu is Classic New Orleans. Some might call the menu boring, but the folks at Galatoire's pride themselves in never changing with the times. I was told that the three things I should order were the Crab Maison, Shrimp Remoulade, and the Trout Amandine, so that's precisely what I did. We also got Pommes Soufflés and some Oysters Rockefeller to start things out properly.
A short and outrageously Cajun man, our waiter John greeted every menu choice we made with "c'est si bon" -ok, more like "say see bong", but we got the point. He also told the best off-colored jokes, and by off I mean way off. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard at a dirty joke. Ask him to tell you his 'penny joke' next time you are at Galatoire's. I dare you.
We began the night with a glass each of Pernod –I normally prefer the 51, but regular Pernod is what they have and I was in the going-with-the-flow mood. The cloudy yellow drink arrived pre-mixed and perfectly chilled, accompanied by an almost overflowing glass of iced water. Then the bread came, that peculiar 'French' bread that's so much a product of the subtropical climate of New Orleans that it resembles the baguettes I am used to in Southeast Asia. The bread has a spongy interior, with a crisp thin crust that must have something to do with the fact that here in New Orleans the moist and hot air practically turns the entire city into a proof box most of the year.
The food began to arrive, first the flavorful Oyster Rockefeller –I have yet to meet a New Orleans oyster I didn't like- then the crisp Pommes Soufflés, done properly so that the whole pieces potato puffed up without fail. There were also spicy Shrimp Remoulade, tangy Crab Maison, and finishing with the trout, with John popping by to inquire how we were doing in one breath, and telling us yet another off-color joke in the next. We smiled and laughed and exchanged many a Santé with each other and even perfect strangers all around, while chowing down the flavorful and substantial fares. How anyone could have a bad time here is completely beyond me.
Perhaps some of the food could stand to be more focused: the Pommes Soufflés could use a little more salt, purists might want the fabulous local shrimps to shine brighter with less dressing, or the brown butter in the Trout Amandine could be a little less brun. But ultimately, the meal was Galatoire's at its best. It's not just Galatoire's the dinner but Galatoire's the experience.
So, what should they change? Not a thing. Not a damned thing.