Thursday, August 28, 2008

Restaurant Review: New Orleans

I ate last night at Arnaud's, the grand dame of New Orleans restaurants. It opened in the 1940s on Bienville Street in the French Quarter. It may be only steps from the hubub of Bourbon Street, but once inside the restaurant's main dining room, the smoked glass windows and rich wood paneling put you in a gracious state of mind.

This is an expensive restaurant, even by N.Y. City standards -- with most entrees priced in the mid- to upper $30s. If there is any consolation, the wine list is more reasonable.

Judging from the entree prices, I'd have expected a high-quality bottle like Ridge's Three Valleys Red Zinfandel to be priced in the upper 60s or low 70s; it was $55. Not a steal, but not too bad in relative terms. There were no half-bottle options at Arnaud's, which is inexcusable for a restaurant of its reputation.

The food was very good, but not quite up to the prices. If I had to grade the duck breast au jus and blueberry sauce, I'd give it a B+ or A-. Likewise, the gumbo was very good, but not dazzling.

I had heard good things about MiLa so I went there earlier this week. But the restaurant's layout and ambience was soooo L.A. that it felt plain silly in there. (I thought if I looked under my table I might find O.J.'s isotoner gloves.) The menu also struck me as too fussy and self-important -- "horseradish jus"? And what, may I ask, is a "date reduction"? A date isn't a liquid -- so how does one reduce it?
I knew I'd have too many questions to ask about each entree, and I wasn't in the mood for a lengthy back-and-forth with a server. So I decided to leave and go to my favorite restaurant in the city. Maybe I should have stayed and given it a chance, but the vibe just seemed wrong.
The food at MiLa may be excellent, and maybe I'll give it a chance to dazzle me. But, for now at least, I believe that Cochon is the best damn restaurant in this city. I had rabbit and dumplings a few nights ago, and it was a subime dish. If Cochon improved the quality of its desserts, it would be a slam-dunk.

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