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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cocktails and Fine Dining at Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge

Not too long ago I dined at Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge for a great evening with a couple buddies.  Galatoire's Bistro is another location of the legendary Bourbon Street restaurant.  After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 the owners quickly opened a venue in Baton Rouge and it has been serving great food ever since.  I had the pleasure of being joined by Chef Eusebio Gongora from Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, and Brian Thom, bartender extraordinaire at Galatoire's.  So what happens when you put a chef, a bartender, and a food writer all at the same table to enjoy a luxurious meal?  Well, you're about to find out!

Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge
Our evening began with some custom cocktails at the bar.  Brian knew a thing or two about the adult beverages at Galatoire's first hand so he pointed us in the right direction... not that there is a wrong direction.  I began with a New Orleans Belle Martini.  The fruity concoction had a pleasant taste without an overpowering sweetness.  The martini featured Absolut Vodka infused with mango and white pepper, cointreau, pomegranate, and fresh lime juice.  The Absolut with white pepper provided a nice little kick that usually isn't found in martinis.  I followed that up with a classic New Orleans cocktail: the Sazerac!  The glass came lined with Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liqueur from NOLA) and carried a mixture of bitters, simple syrup, and rye whiskey on the rocks.  Believe it or not, this was my first ever Sazerac, but it surely won't be my last.  The tasty cocktail sipped fairly easy but with a bite to let me know it wasn't playing around.  Just what I needed to get the festivities started right!

Left: New Orleans Belle Martini
Right: Classic New Orleans Sazerac

I had another beverage at the bar consisting of Crown Royal, basil, strawberries, simple syrup, and a squeeze of lime before heading to the dinner table.  Galatoire's Bistro starts all of their guests out with some fresh New Orleans French Bread.  There's a funny thing about French Bread.  Like beer, it takes on characteristics of the water used to produce it.  Small variations in the water can lead to totally different tastes in the finished product.  For that reason, Galatoire's actually brings in their French Bread from New Orleans instead of baking it in Baton Rouge.  That NOLA water really does French Bread right!  

Left: New Orleans French Bread
Right: The Prisoner 2008 Napa Valley Red from Orin Swift Cellars

Once we got to the table the three of us made a shift from cocktails to fine wines.  Our first choice came from Napa's Orin Swift Cellars.  The Prisoner, a 2008 Zinfandel blend, featured a big fruit taste with its dark red color and hints of berry and cherry.  My kind of wine for sure!  We couldn't make up our minds on an appetizer so we did what anybody should do: we ordered four!  We chose the Galatoire Gouté, Oysters Rockafeller, Sweetbreads, and the Duck Crepe.  The Galatoire's Gouté included a duo of shrimp remoulade and crawfish maison.  The maison sauce on the crawfish tails included green onions, capers, lemon, and creole mustard.  Both items were served cold with reasonably light sauce.  The beauty of the dish is that it didn't try to do to much or pretend to be anything else.  Quite simply, the dish provided great shrimp and crawfish and allowed the diner to actually taste them... and they were fantastic!  

Left: Galatoire's Goilet - Shrimp Remoulae and Crawfish Maison
Right: Oysters Rockafeller

I've had a lot of Oysters Rockafeller lately, but I don't think any have come close to matching the mollusks we consumed at Galatoire's.  The gulf oysters were huge, and the spinach topping created a creamy compliment to the salty oysters.  As Brian said, "I can't imagine a better way to have spinach."  I have to agree!  Next up were the sweetbreads.  If you aren't sure what sweetbreads are, let me begin by saying that they aren't really sweet and certainly aren't bread.  Sweetbreads is the term used to describe food that comes from an animal's pancreas or thyroid glands.  Obviously if they called them that, people wouldn't order them very often.  Once you get past the thought of eating digestive or throat organs, you'll find that these tasty parts are most certainly worth eating.  The sweetbreads were sautéed with mushrooms and a little lemon.  I actually found Galatoire's sweetbreads to be tremendously flavorful with an incredible texture that I'd love to eat again and again.

Sweetbreads at Galatoire's Bistro
Our wonderful wait staff brought out the duck crepe as our final appetizer.  Roasted duck meat filled the pastry along with boursin cheese while a port-cherry reduction and pistachios smothered the crepe.  The dish had a unique flavor combination that paired awesomely with dark fruit flavors of The Prisoner wine that we continue to indulge upon.  As if I needed it, I also had a cup of Galatoire's crawfish bisque.  The bisque revealed a darker roux than I'm accustomed to with crawfish, and there were seemingly no crawfish to be found by looking at it.  However, I soon learned that the crawfish had been pureed to give the bisque a smooth texture while still delivering the flavor of the mud bugs.  The bisque had a nice spicy kick to it and some very earthy notes with the dark roux.

Left: Galatoire's Duck Crepe
Right: A Cup of Crawfish Bisque

Finally the time had come for the main course.  I opted for a daily special that made me salivate from just hearing the words.  The dish featured a fresh, fried, soft-shell crab topped with New Orleans-style barbeque shrimp.  Yes, a soft-shell crab TOPPED with barbeque shrimp!!  My heart may have skipped a beat as the special echoed in my mind, my mouth watered, and my decision process about what to order finished without ever so much as glancing at the menu.  The combination resulted in pure glee.  The Creole butter from the barbeque, the crispy fried exterior of the crab, the meat of the shrimp... it all laid there on my plate looking beautiful, and awaiting its gastronomic demise.  Devouring this entrée didn't fill my stomach, it filled my soul.  Fortunately the crab and shrimp were huge and I had plenty to share with Brian and Eusebio, though I found it difficult to part with even the smallest morsel.  I'm a good friend!

Galatoire's Special: A Soft-Shell Crab Topped with Barbecued Shrimp
Like many fine dining spots, Galatoire's does its sides a-la-carte.  We figured it would make sense to try a couple despite having no need for extra food.  The group opted for the classic Southern grits and the equally Southern smothered okra.  Both sides were nice, though certainly not the highlight of this feast.  Brian ordered the Grilled Poisson Provencal.  I don't recall which fresh Gulf fish it had that day, but I do know it was grilled with tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, and basil.  Quite tasty!

Left: Grilled Poisson Provencal
Right: Stone Ground Grits and Smothered Okra

Eusebio ordered the Veal Liver.  The entrée boasted two sautéed veal liver medallions and came served with caramelized onions and a couple strips of bacon.  Oops!  If you want to know what iron tastes like, you only need one bite of a veal liver.  That thing would have cured anemia (not literally, I'm sure).  Still, if you like the taste, or can at least appreciate the taste of a good piece of liver, this dish is a must.  I only had a couple bites of it, but I remember them fondly.  Each taste got better and better as I acclimated myself to the liver flavor.  

Left: Veal Liver Topped with Caramelized Onions and Bacon
Right: 2005 Amizetta Complexity, Napa Valley

Before the evening ended we had also gone through another bottle of wine.  We selected another Napa Valley red, this time a 2005 Complexity from the Amizetta Winery.  Complexity is a Meritage wine featuring mostly the Cabernet Sauvignon grape with a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc mixed in.  Once again, this wine was right up my alley.

Profiteroles With Ice Cream
Naturally, no good meal is complete without dessert.  Also naturally, we wouldn't be satisfied only getting to taste one of them.  The profiteroles included three pastries that were sliced in half and stuffed with ice cream, then topped with melted chocolate.  The puffy pastries were served cold and created a rather interesting ice cream sandwich.  However, I'd have to say they were bested by our second dessert.

Crème brûlée Cheesecake
The crème brûlée cheesecake combined two of my favorite desserts into one exceptional show-stopper.  I think cheesecake crème brûlée would have been a more appropriate name, but either way, the cream cheese filling worked well as a foundation, then with a torched top layer and selection of berries, Galatoire's found a great way to end my evening.  

There have been rumors circulating about them changing their location in Baton Rouge to somewhere a little closer to town.  That could mean great things!  For right now though, you can find them on Perkins near Highland Road.  Just make sure you bring your appetite!  Thanks to Brian and Eusebio for enjoying a great evening with me!

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