Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Galatoire’s — Whatever NOLA Wants

Le Dejeuner Manifique!

If one is going to jump the wall, by God, JUMP THE WALL. Not the Wishbone Café, not Birmingham pretenders, make Le Grand Saut. Drive 312 miles southwest of the Gump to the quintessential New Orleans experience, Galatoire’s Restaurant.

The line at Galatoire’s for lunch on Fridays is a sacred Bourbon Street tradition. It forms at about 9:30 or 10 for the 11:30 opening and is a great equalizer—theoretically. When you arrive you go to the back of the line and, from time to time, the maitre d’ comes by to get your name, the number in your party, and the name of your regular waiter, if you have one. While the bank president may be in line behind the legal secretary, it is much more likely that the banker will have hired a surrogate (The Help) to hold his place until he is dropped off like a Miami recruit at Shapiro’s yacht, just as the doors open.

The good thing about waiting in line is that you get to meet some very colorful people. The three out-of warranty socialites we had chatted up were non-plussed when a crusty street person stopped to give us his world view, which was rendered unintelligible by his dental shortcomings. He clearly would have been eligible for Doc NBA’s express lane, since he certainly had ten teeth or less.

At 11:15 the upstairs bar opened, so we hustled up and—for the first time in a dozen visits over the years—were able to get four seats at the eight-seat bar. That’s when the fun began. The two expert bartenders quickly took our orders for a bloody mary and three milk punches (one with bourbon, one with brandy and one with Crown—the brandy was best), all delicious and near Reggie-strength. The bar quickly filled with prosperous-looking locals and a couple of touristas. We took up with a cute young couple, she a lawyer and he is general counsel for the NO Hornets basketball team (and, no, he didn’t know Doc NBA). We ordered another round and were soon summoned downstairs for the main event.

Le baguettes et beurre....

The dining room is a mirror-lined rectangle, roughly the size of a tennis court, filled with waiters in tuxedos scurrying among seersucker-clad gentry and their behatted, bejeweled and soon-to-besotted lady friends. Our waiter, John (our usual waiter, Bob, was on vacation), greeted us like long-lost relatives, though we had never met him. After taking drink orders from those who didn’t transport from the upstairs bar, he said simply, “Lemme bring ya some appetizuhs.” As he left, a busboy brought out THE BREAD, the best french bread in a city known for its french bread, with a giant pat of THE BUTTER. The only way it could have been improved was by toasting, which we asked them to do, and they did. Perfection.

Le Grand Goute
The drinks arrived—my Harvey Wallbanger putting me one short of drinking for the cycle—and were followed shortly by the “appetizuh”, aptly named Le Grand Gouté (the big taste), an overwhelming array of Shrimp Rémoulade, Crabmeat Maison and Oysters en Brochette. By now the room full of former sophisticates was getting a little rowdy as the champagne, Sazerac cocktails, and milk punches began to kick in. After laying waste to the bread and massive appetizer, we got up to stretch our legs and tablehop to check out how those we had met upstairs were doing. We weren’t surprised that our fully-ripened debutantes were on their second bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and hadn’t thought about ordering anything but more bread. Such is the pace of play on Fridays—even with a line at the door, the table is yours for as long as you can last.

Le Gumbo Mariner

Since a menu was never remotely offered, we relied on our waiter’s description of various house favorites and our own memory. The results were Seafood Gumbo, Trout Mèuniere Amandine, Trout Marguery, and Poisson Crabmeat Yvonne, accompanied by a nice Chardonnay (thus completing the drinking cycle). Waistlines expanded exponentially as we savored every bite. The Marguery—a cream sauce with shrimp and mushrooms swathed around a perfect trout filet—might have barely nosed out the Amandine. Too close to call.

Le dessert and Bud Legere
 After a leisurely gastronomique orgasm, there was, incredibly, still room for dessert. John’s lyrical recitation of offerings (he of the Mandeville Fontenots) yielded the Bread Pudding (a la mode) and Sweet Potato Cheesecake (a la whipped heavy crème), served with the traditional Bud Light pairing.

At meal’s end, we had been at Galatoire’s for three-and-a-half hours and loved every minute of it. You are absorbed by the old-world ambience and everyone’s unwavering commitment to enjoying it. But it was not without heavy cost, as the bill, not including angioplasty, was over the Frazer Lanier line of $75 per person.
As we said goodbye to our new friends and stumbled out onto Bourbon Street, it was sweet consolation that a nap at the Ritz was only a block away.

Galatoire's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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