Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 27, 2009

Restaurant Review – Antoine’s of New Orleans


Ok – I am about to be grossly unfair.  But there’s something that’s been preying on my mind for over two years.  This is a restaurant review that I’ve had kicking around since before I started blogging.  The place I’m about to review was not at its best.  About two years ago, I attended a medieval re-enactment near New Orleans, Louisiana.  And I dragged my poor friends an hour and a half into the city to eat at a world-famous restaurant named Antoine’s of New Orleans. 

At the time of this event, hurricane Katrina was only about fourteen months in the past, and much of the housing around the city of New Orleans was still in a shambles.  Like most businesses, Antoine’s was hurt, and badly.  Many of the staff, with no affordable place to live, had left town. The building itself had suffered storm damage, and was still under repair. In short, I caught Antoine’s at their worst, and they may very well have resolved the problems I experienced the night I dined there.

But for all of that, the sign in the door said “Open for Business,” right next to the one that said, “Help Wanted.”  They took my reservation, they seated me, and at the end of the evening, they took my money.  They had a reputation to live up to.

And I sold it hard.  Antoine’s was founded back in the late 1800’s by an émigré from France who built up the business and reputation in the days before air conditioning was invented, and when men wore morning coats in the morning and evening kit in the evening.  When I was a lad, Antoine’s had a reputation such that Cordon Bleu trained chefs in Paris would, when informed that you had trained at Antoine’s, would admit that maybe, just maybe, you were fit to touch a pot in their kitchen.  Not a knife of course. Let’s not get crazy. Antoine’s shows up in popular culture.  The most famous example is the Francis Parkinson Keyes novel, Dinner at Antoine’s.  For the more visually oriented, you might remember an old Bug’s Bunny cartoon wherein the plot mcguffin was a recipe for “Back Bay Bayou Bunny Bordelaise a la Antoine.” On their list of previous patrons are three Presidents, a Pope, two lesser Prime Ministers, and Sir Winston Churchill. 

So you can imagine what I was expecting.  My unfortunate friends bought semi-formal clothes.  The women brought dresses, makeup, and pantyhose to a medieval camping event.  Think about that:  pantyhose in southern Louisiana.  The men brought ties and jackets.  So we stripped off our suits of armor, tarted up, and drove ninety minutes into the city, parked, and walked a quarter mile, half of us in high heels.

Antoine’s is located in the French Quarter, in the heart of old New Orleans, surrounded y historical buildings, cobblestone streets, museums, music, and, of course, alcohol.  Despite the vehicle traffic, a walk in the Quarter always takes me back in time.  In my mind, I can still hear the hoofbeats on the cobblestones and the creak of carriage harness in the streets.  And then the disappointment began.  Antoine’s is reputed to have almost a dozen dining rooms.  We were seated less than seven feet from the door.  It was raining outside, and the constant opening and closing of the door allowed traffic noise and wind and rain to blow in.  The room was over-lit.  I sympathize with people whose low light vision is poor, and would prefer restaurants be more brightly lit.  But this was like dining in a gymnasium.  And it gave me a merciless view of my fellow diners.  While we were struggling with ties and pantyhose, our fellow diners were slipping into ratty jeans, t-shirts, and baseball caps which they never removed.  (I’m glad the kept the t-shirts and jeans. But I could have done without the baseball caps.)

Our waiter, while not surly, clearly did not want to be at work that night. His description of the specials was utterly lackadaisical.  He had no interest in selling us anything, and no enthusiasm for what he was saying.   I can’t complain about his dress, though.  At least he was dressed crisply.  It took about twenty minutes to get our drink orders on the table, and the waits between the courses were also overlong.  You can never tell – delays can come from up front, or from the kitchen.  But if there are delays in the kitchen, your server should be telling you what’s going on and keeping you appeased with bread, crackers, and drinks.  And that wasn’t our experience.  Our table appeared to have a team of staff assigned to it.  In addition to our waiter, Pokey McSlowbert, we had two servers on our wineglasses and water glasses and clearing away.  The support team was great.  They were quick, unobtrusive, and attentive.  We’d have been happier to have the support team rather than the presumably more experienced waiter.

Now let’s talk cuisine.  Antoine’s kitchen is where Oysters Rockefeller was invented.  It’s a dish that is synonymous with elegance, delicacy, and refinement.  Mine had the consistency of Stovetop Stuffing.  I’ve had Oysters Rockefeller before, in restaurants with far less reputation, and they’ve been highly superior.  They were bland, had a poor mouth-feel, and seemed over-cooked. The salad was fresh, but featured a preponderance of iceberg lettuce, known for its lack of flavor and texture.  If the dressing was made in-house, they were made using ingredients from the local Kroger and left around until the flavors had fled.  I could make such a salad from the salad bar at the local steakhouse.

Now, my entrée.  Antoine’s reputation and advertising promises continental service and world class continental cuisine.  I don’t remember what I had.  I’d been looking forward to this dining experience for six months, I paid a week’s salary for it, and I don’t remember what I had.  One fellow diner recalls poor presentation.  The gravy from her entrée had slopped all over her asparagus side dish.  Yet another says that the seafood crawfish etouffee was the best he’s ever had.  As a native of Louisiana, he’s in a position to know.

For dessert, we had the Baked Alaska, also a signature dish for Antoine’s.  It was crispy, flavorful, and sweet.  We also had a very popular cherries jubilee with brandy flambé. The Peach Melba, however, was half of a canned peach, a slice of SaraLee pound cake, and some raspberry sauce.

I had thought that this dining experience would be a jewel in the crown of culinary delight.  And it was not.  We had mediocre service and a wildly mixed cuisine experience, all surrounded by the atmosphere of a five-dollar lunch counter. 

I give Antoine’s of New Orleans:

  • Two pints of five for atmosphere.
  • Two pints of five for cuisine.
  • Two pints of five for service.

That comes to an average score of two.  Yes, I’m giving one of America’s premiere dining establishments an overall below average dining experience.  I finished the evening both disappointed and embarrassed.

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Responses

  1. I beg to differ we were a full TEN feet from the front door.

    *grin*

  2. I could have told you not to eat there if you’d asked me… 😉

    Seriously, Antoine’s has gone WAY downhill in the last ten years. My friends who are natives say that it’s not been “amazing” for the last 20 years, and it’s slid down to “decent” over the last 10, and, really, has only been hitting “adequate” since Katrina.

    When I moved to Louisiana, I was dead set on going to eat there. I went to Commander’s Palace and thought it was fairly good, but not worth the price (or the hype). I went to Emeril’s and thought pretty much the same. My friends advised against going to Antoine’s, but I went, anyway.

    …Emeril’s was better in terms of flavor, presentation, quality, and price; Commander’s Palace was better in terms of ambiance; and Ruth’s Chris Steak House blew them all away in virtually every category except liquor selection — I’ve got to give Antoine’s credit where credit is due: their liquor selection is (or was, anyway) second to none.

  3. I enjoyed your review. I could not have aforded to join you at that Antoine’s. But when my finances are a little better would like to accompany you out to eat if possible.

    • Any time. A new dining companion is always welcome. A cautionary note: writing restaurant reviews makes one pretentious as hell. I can hardly stand to listen to myself talk sometimes.

  4. As a former NOLA resident, I am not a fan of Antoine’s. Of the big names, I like Commander’s better (but I only go there at lunch), but there are any one of a number of smaller, less prestigous places – NOLA is blessed, even now, with an overabundance of really great food.

  5. I agree totally on the atmosphere. Even when I was kicked out of Antoine’s (well, not let in because I was in ‘dungarees’), I thought the first dining room was a bit bright and open for my taste.

    Maybe next time, we can try the Court of Two Sisters. Been there a couple of times, great food, nice atmosphere, decent service. (of course, that was pre-Katrina.)


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