Say you find yourself in one of your favorite cities. At liberty on a glorious autumnal afternoon. Fortified by a nice lunch and a martini. Or two. You amble about soaking up the breezy sunshine. Thinking of the plot for that noir thing you are writing. Follow me for a little stroll. Into a full fledged, class five, participatory dining fantasm.
You are, of course, staying at a G.O.H. [Grand Old Hotel]. Deep in the French Quarter. You exit and turn right, strolling in an amiable way down toward Royal Street. Then farther. Toward the river. Left on Chartres. The Cafe Pontalba beckons with its two sides of full length doors open to the fall breeze and afternoon sunshine. Right on Jackson Square. So you sit at a table and have a cognac. Just like at Fouquets. Well, except for the Paris thing. After a bit, you leave the Cafe and wander past the Cathedral. Down Chartres Street. Past cute little shops. You do a bit of window shopping. Paying attention to the reflection of your Wayfarers and your new sports jacket in the window glass.
Just because you are in the mood, you walk farther down Chartres Street than you have been before. You give a smile to a couple of ladies walking your way. Eventually you pass by a little alley. It's on your right. Sort of looks like a parking alley. It is just late enough for dinner when you see the sign on your left. Inside the alley. Your sixth sense for dining and cocktailing starts a five alarm drumbeat in your skull. You ponder the menu posted by the door. Intrigued, you enter just as dinner service is beginning and ask the stunning young lady behind the maitre' stand if she could find you a place. No doubt taking note of your jacket, she flashes a smile and leads you to the front room. You notice the place is already crowded. In the middle of the week. In the off season.
And with good reason. The dining spaces are lined with rough antique brick and dark woods. Muted lighting. Lovely paintings. Just the thing for a tete a' tete. The service is spectacular, refined and unobtrusive yet perfectly attentive. There are crystal bowls of fresh roses on each table. Like the country place of a very well off pal that you were invited to for a weekend party and then six days later required a mention that perhaps you had better....oh. A story for another time.
As you gaze at the roses afloat in reflected candle light, a martini appears [!!]. The glass containing it is the most beautiful you have ever seen. A martini glass of the typical sort, but the stem is fluted and twisted right at the top. Allowing the muted light of the room to sparkle up into and refract among the contents of the glass. You are momentarily astounded. Because you have seen a lot of martini glasses. And this one is the finest.
The waitress seems amused by your almost giddy enthusiasm over the menu. An amuse bouche arrives in the form of a lovely shrimp in a champagne kimchi sauce. So good your enthusiasm tops giddy and heads straight for vertiginous. You finally decide upon an appetizer of soft scrambled egg. Mixed with fresh lobster. Served in the egg shell. In a silver egg cup, no less. With a HUGE pile of shaved black truffles on top. Arranged so you must shove them down into the egg and lobster with a little silver spoon. Then spoon them out again. You momentarily consider abandoning the rest of your order in favor of a bottle of iced Veuve Clicquot and a half dozen more of these eggs. But you calm yourself after the arrival of the second amuse. A wonton of braised Kobi beef with just a dot of hot mustard. Better to explore the delights that certainly remain in store.
Such as a fish called Walu. Rather like very good sea bass. Pan roasted. And encrusted, as is often the case in such a dish. Except, that at this place, the chef encrusts the fillet with crushed buttered popcorn. A stroke of GENIUS. The flavor of this dish was outstanding. Served over a bed of snappily fresh yellow corn maque choux and crawfish tails. With a small pool of marvelous burre blanc under it all just for good measure. The flavor combinations in this dish are simply marvelous. Just the thing to compliment the very good Rhone red you are drinking as an accompaniment.
Reeling from the towering grandeur of the two previous courses, you pause to sip your wine and catch your gustatory breath. You consider the fact that they make all their own breads at this place. A significant fact as you scan the dessert menu. The desserts are just as creative as the appetizers and entrees. And just as refined. Barely able to pass over "chocolate cake with hot buttered pink lemonade" or ginger/Grand Marnier creme brulee, you settle for the "grilled cheese sandwich". Lightly grilled, buttery brioche lined with a layer of triple creme cheese. Oh, and the darkest, almost bitter, chocolate ganache. With a compote of blackberries on the side. Just for the heck of it. As an aside, you notice that the chicory coffee they serve is so good that you can smell it as they are bringing it to your table. Along with an Averna on ice, the perfect compliment to the dessert course.
You leave this place and step out into the air of a clear, sultry New Orleans evening. New Orleans evenings are always sultry, even in autumn. It is part of the magic of the place. You wonder if you have ever had a better meal. It is a fair question. You are tempted not to tell anyone about it. Yet, you want everyone to know. I've given you all the clues you need. When you find it, drop me a line. I may be at the next table.
John le Carré.
20 hours ago