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Sunday, September 2, 2012

COOLinary New Orleans: Commander's Palace

Commander's Palace Restaurant
Somehow I had managed to not dine at Commander's Palace during my first 31 years on this planet.  I knew I had been missing out.  The legendary New Orleans restaurant is known around the world for their Creole cuisine and commitment to service.  While in New Orleans this past August, the New Orleans CVB invited me to take part in the COOLinary New Orleans program.  During August every year, restaurants around the Big Easy create a prefix meal for just $20 at lunch at $35 at dinner.  This offers tourists and locals alike a chance to visit some of the city's best eateries for a fraction of the normal price tag.  Since I got to pick my spots for the COOLinary trip, I knew that my time had come to check out what Commander's Palace has to offer.  The previous day I visited Superior Seafood, one of NOLA's newest joints, so on this day the most iconic of all Crescent City restaurants called my name.

The staff at Commander's started Michele and I off with a couple different amuse-bouche.  French for "mouth amuser," these sometimes single bite appetizers are usually just a little something to get a meal started.  The first dish remains a bit of mystery to me, though it was incredibly delightful.  It had some infused honey swirled around a plate topped with a brittle of some sort, goat cheese, and a bit of fruit.  I recall the nutty brittle and creamy goat cheese pairing very well together along with the sweetness from the honey.

The second amuse to be placed in front of us also impressed.  It had a well seasoned Louisiana shrimp wrapped around some pickled okra and onions.  The shrimp itself had been tossed in a hot sauce bath.  Everything rested on a splendid pool of pepper jelly.  This dish had a spiciness that contrasted well with the first amuse.  The shrimp reigned supreme while the pickling of the okra and onion were cause for celebration.  The multitude of spices in the pepper jelly worked even better as a dip for the crusty french bread that Commander's placed on the table.

My appetite had grown and my palate was properly prepared for the rest of the meal.  But first... a little something from the bar!  Commander's Palace offers 25 cent martinis for lunch with the purchase of an entree.  That's right, a quarter!  I would have preferred for my martini to be a tad dirtier, but it still wasn't bad at all for a the measly price.  With an option to get up to three of these cocktails for lunch, you could definitely need to take a nap afterwards or just call it a day!


Commander's Palace $0.25 Martini
Pig & the Peach
I'm a sucker for anything with pork belly.  Throw in some peaches and Louisiana cane syrup, and I can't think of much better.  Sweet fruit pairs so well with salty, fatty pork that it is nearly indescribable.  The Commander's Palace version will make anybody a believer.  The "Pig & the Peach" dish features a root beer braised pork belly over house made boudin with whiskey-soaked peaches, Abita beer cane syrup, and red pepper coulis.  I have tasted few more magical dishes in my life.  Seriously... this plate of food would wind up in the my death-bed meal.  It is Bite and Booze put together at its finest.  Supreme compliments to Chef Tory McPhail on this one.  I probably should have ordered two... or stolen Michele's portion, at least.  It'll bring me back, for sure.
   
Commander's Turtle Soup with Sherry
The two-course COOLinary offering for Commander's included a soup or salad and an entree.  We made sure to sample as much as we could, so Michele ordered the famous turtle soup while I went with the smoked chicken and garlic gumbo.  My gumbo had a rich, dark roux and plenty of chicken and garlic flavor.  It came with no rice whatsoever, which I thought to be a little odd, but because of its thickness, the gumbo certainly didn't need any.  Michele's turtle soup won the prize though.  Spiked with plenty sherry, the soup hit multiple delicious notes on my taste buds and I wish I could have stolen a few more bites!

Chicken Saltimbocca
Griddle Seared Gulf Fish
The COOLinary menu had several entrees for us to choose from at only $20 each including the soups as well!  Michele opted for the Chicken Saltimbocca.  The plate featured paneed chicken filled with tasso, mozzerella, and sage.  It came over a pasta salad with tomatoes, olives, grilled eggplant, basil, and more with a smoked tomato butter sauce.  I went with the griddle seared gulf fish as my entree.  The black drum came delightfully seasoned and placed atop a bed of andouille, legumes, tomatoes, and summer corn with sauce Acadian.  Despite being stuffed, I managed to eat every bite of the flaky fish the readied myself for dessert.  

Creole Bread Pudding Souffle
We decided that splitting dessert would make the most sense.  Our fantastic wait staff convinced us that we couldn't leave without trying the Creole bread pudding souffle.  It didn't really take much arm twisting.  The souffle featured a decadent bread pudding that had been whipped up and coerced into rising in the oven.  The puffy souffle was delivered to our table where the waiter punctured the top only to pour a whiskey sauce into the gorge.  Each spoonful of souffle popped fireworks of flavor in my mouth.  The creamy, smooth texture along with the sweetness of the bread pudding and bite from the whiskey made this an absolutely all-star dessert.  It capped off the entire meal with the flare that the Commander's experience deserved.  And that was just lunch on a Tuesday.  I can't imagine getting spoiled with dinner on a Friday at Commander's Palace.  Maybe one day!

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