Restaurant: Commander’s Palace
Last visited: May 25, 2012
Location: New Orleans, LA (Garden District)
Address: 1403 Washington Ave
Transit: St Charles at Washington
Where I stayed: Le Richelieu Hotel (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Executive Chef Tory McPhail
- 2012 Best Chef of the South Nominee (James Beard Award)
- Award winning
- Fine dining
- Local ingredients (100 Miles)
- Business casual
- Patio seating
- 2-course lunches starting at $16 + 25¢ martinis
- 3 or 6 course Tasting Menus
- Extensive wine list
- Reservations recommended
- Complimentary valet
- Lunch Monday – Friday: 11:30 am – 2:00 pm
- Dinner Monday – Sunday: 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm
- Jazz Brunch
- Saturday: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
- Sunday: 10:30 am – 1:30 pm
**Recommendations: The Chef’s Playground menu, Lobster & Creole Cream Cheese Gnocchi, Black Skillet Roasted Foie Gras, Turtle Soup, Gumbo, Truffled Stone Ground Grits, Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. Cocktails: Ponchatoula Strawberry Flip, Saint 75, and $.25 martinis at lunch.
Are you serious?! This is “touristy”?! Sure there were tourists and yes it was on the pricey side, but “touristy”? I think it deserves more credit. I had done my research for Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans and I knew I wanted to try Commander’s Palace. In the context of sophisticated dining it was at the top of my list along with Cochon, Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant, and La Petite Grocery. However when I mentioned “Commander’s Palace” to a few locals the general consensus seemed to be “touristy”. I was a bit hesitant, but I wanted to see for myself.
I was invited to the restaurant and I admit that upon arrival it felt a bit like “Disneyland”, but all my judgements quickly melted away after the first few dishes and even first sips of cocktails. How could this be “touristy”? The ambiance and clientèle were perhaps mature and a few things may have been old fashioned, but the ingredients were carefully sourced and the flavours well developed.
It might have been because I ordered from “The Chef’s Playground” menu, but I also tried a few items from their a la carte menu (see here) and all across the board I wasn’t disappointed. In spirit of traditional (Northern) French cuisine there were a lot of sauces, but the tasting menu featured them with more fruit based ones rather than typical brown butter ones. The quality of food and what was being delivered was exceeding my expectations and pre-assumptions.
If I take a step back and come down from the hype I can see that a few things were perhaps “standardized” and made on larger scales, but the idea of “hotel banquet food” never crossed my mind. The restaurant has 7 dining rooms and seats hundreds of people so I probably wouldn’t want to come on a busy night. The kitchen and staff is huge so I wouldn’t worry about the food taking forever, but it just might not feel as personal.
The Chef is Chef Tori McPhail who is incredibly talented. He was nominated as Best Chef of the South at the James Beard Awards 2012 and the restaurant has already collected several James Beard Awards and other National awards in the past.
About 90% of their ingredients are sourced within 100 miles and some from their back door. I wouldn’t say this was typical of many NOLA restaurants, but I respect honest farm to table philosophy especially being from Vancouver. This concept is currently the backbone for many successful restaurants in the last couple years. Just for a Vancouver reference, my satisfaction and experience here was in between Le Gavroche and La Belle Auberge.
I think a lot of the “touristy” comments come from the fact that it is under the famous “Brennan’s” family restaurant group. There are 12 popular restaurants in New Orleans under this brand and I would say a good amount of them attract tourists – see my breakfast post at Brennan’s. I think some of the locals carry that image of it never changing and being predictable, but I honestly think they just need to try The Chef’s Playground Menu.
As a tourist I could see how some things may have been typical, but even those were still good and the recipes have withstood the test of time to still be on the menu. It’s not like there were modernist techniques and very fine details, but some things just kept with traditions that haven’t failed. It might not have been as inventive, but I was never bored and the ingredients were fresh and never bland. That being said, I’m also from the West Coast so New Orleans cuisine isn’t as familiar and it was rather new for me.
It’s known as one of the priciest restaurants in town and people think of it as a place where mom and dad might celebrate their 50th anniversary, but honestly good food is good food. I’m sure there are other funky and hip neighbourhood restaurants that have better value and excellent food, but there’s only one Tory McPhail and talent is talent. I have no regrets coming to Commander’s Palace. “Touristy” or not, I came in as a tourist with expectations of it being “touristy” and I still enjoyed the food I tried. I would gladly come back to Commander’s Palace and feel confident to recommend it for a classic New Orleans fine dining experience.
Depending on which side of the menu you ordered from it was either going to be old style American Creole cuisine or new style American Creole cuisine. I ordered from both, but this post features the new which is the tasting menu or The Chef’s Playground Menu. My post on the a la carte menu is here. The Chef’s Playground menu is $95 featuring 6 courses and an optional wine pairing for $54.75/person.
On the table:
The Chef’s Tasting Menu or “Playground Menu”
- It’s strawberry season in Louisiana! The best strawberries in the country come from Ponchatoula, and we’re putting them into a cocktail. We combine a puree of Ponchatoula strawberries with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, bitters, sugar and egg white to make a drink you’ll ‘flip’ over! $10.25
- *Flip*… what I would give to have this all year! This was amazing!
- This was the best cocktail I had so far from my Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans food trip.
- It was a pretty small cocktail, but I savoured every sip and I would definitely order it again.
- It was chilled, but not a slushy or frozen drink.
- It was frothy and light and almost like a smoothie with the little bit of whipped egg white, but it wasn’t too foamy.
- I know the egg white thing might be a cocktail “trend” from last year, but it had purpose in this case and I personally like the egg white trend.
- It was fruity without being too sweet and they shook the fresh strawberries with the ice so it was slightly pulpy with natural and fresh strawberry juice.
- It was strained before serving, but I wonder what type of cocktail strainer he used because the thickness of the cocktail was perfect.
- The drink just had so much texture and little bits of pulp and the Bourbon cut through the sweetness without being aggressive.
- The Bourbon was subtle enough to not destroy the well balanced layers of the cocktail and it was a dangerous drink that went down too easily… but it wasn’t too “girly” either!
- The ingredients were simple, but it was the execution of the drink that made it stand out.
- It’s festival season in New Orleans! Time for great music, lots of fun in the sun, and refreshing drinks! Seasonal fruits, orange curacao, and red wine make up our thirst-quenching red wine Sangria. $8.50
- This was a very good Sangria, but perhaps not as special since Sangrias are all so common.
- It was a good dry red wine and it was light and flavourful from the wine more so than the fruit.
- I could taste a bit of orange and it seemed like blueberries in the background too.
- There wasn’t much acidity from lime or lemon, but I prefer a bit more fresh fruit flavour and I thought it would be more creative.
- I wonder if all Brennan’s restaurants have a signature complimentary bread and butter unique to each restaurant.
- At Brennan’s they featured a delicious cinnamon and sugar French bread to start (see here) and at Commander’s Palace it was this house made garlic bread.
- It was a very crisp and light French bread covered intensely with good butter, fresh garlic, a bit of dill and a sprinkle of cheese.
- It was naturally a bit oily and it was more garlic bread than cheese bread. It was hard not to fill up on!
- House made duck bacon, chèvre goat cheese, tomato caviar
- The duck bacon already showed more creativity for the amuse bouche especially since duck doesn’t show up often on a New Orleans menu.
- The chèvre was quite strong and gamey, but it was nice with the salty crisp bite of bacon and sweet and spicy chili mayo.
- The tomato brought a nice acidity and there was a hint of black pepper to finish.
- A velvety French soup spiked with cayenne, whipped corn cream and local caviar
- Wine pairing: Aubry Brut, Premier Cru à Jouy-les-Reims, Champagne, France
- It seemed a bit thinner than a traditional velouté and velouté is one of my favourite kinds of soups.
- Velouté is the mother of all French sauces and it’s creamy and rich and made from a roux (butter, flour and stock – in this case blue crab stock).
- It wasn’t as thick as a bisque and it was still creamy and rich, but just not as strong with crab flavour.
- I didn’t get any crab in it, so I think it was supposed to be just the crab essence which was on the mild side.
- There was a mild heat and spice from cayenne and a hint of corn in the base for sweetness.
- I lost the local Choupique Caviar used in it so I was hoping it would be on top of a toasted brioche crouton.
- I always like to try a bit of the caviar on its own especially if it’s high quality.
- Personally I liked the trio of soups from their a la carte menu better and especially the Turtle Soup and gumbo.
2004 Stony Hill Chardonnay, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley - I really like chardonnay, but this one was so different and unexpected. It was dry and acidic with crisp apples and had a long finish that was reminiscent of rum.
- A selection of local vegetables with whipped goat cheese, petite shoots, poppies, hibiscus, liquefied pumpkin seeds, and black truffle sea salt
- Wine pairing: 2004 Stony Hill Chardonnay, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
- This one sounded better than it tasted, but it didn’t taste bad at all. It was good, but just slightly under delivered with that description.
- It wasn’t that fancy or formally presented, but the quality of ingredients were fresh and high.
- It was a creamy rich and salty strong goat’s cheese, but it wasn’t so gamey that it tasted like meat.
- The salad was served with a deep fried crispy zucchini blossom and I wouldn’t mind a bit less batter, but it was well seasoned.
- There was no dressing required and the ingredients were so fresh that I could enjoy them as is with the sprinkle of black truffle sea salt.
- The poppy seeds I thought were black sesame seeds, but they were a nice addition to the plate and good for texture and originality.
- I paired the goat cheese with my strawberry cocktail and that tasted like a strawberry cheesecake and it worked really well.
- Maine lobster knuckle and hand-rolled gnocchi, flambleed with Hennessy cognac, hand foraged mushrooms, spring vegetables, lemon-thyme & fond de veau
- Wine pairing: 2011 Chateau d’Oupia, Minervois Rosé, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
- Oh god. Just thinking back at this dish makes me smile.
- Although gnocchi is Italian it was very French in style with a rich and heavy buttery sauce.
- It was a very classic range of ingredients and just reading the description you knew all the flavours were in perfect harmony.
- It was deliciously rich, indulgent and meaty especially with the fond de veau made from reduced veal stock like a demi glace.
- It was hand made gnocchi that was melt in your mouth tender, soft and pillowy light and they just squished in my mouth with little chew.
- The cream cheese in the gnocchi just made it extra rich, but the fact that there was less flour made them not doughy and very creamy instead.
- The only thing was that the gnocchi were quite flat and all a bit oddly shaped and inconsistent in size.
- I always appreciate the finer execution with traditional fork ridges as well.
- Lobster and mushrooms are a perfect match and to sautee them in a rich, syrupy and creamy brown butter gravy was to send me straight to heaven.
- A cognac cream gravy with thyme is a very classic French sauce often served with peppercorn steaks, but it was ideal with the lobster too.
- It reminded me of surf and turf, but I didn’t even miss the steak.
- The sauce was savoury, sweet and tangy and I could taste all the ingredients (lobster, veal stock, and mushrooms) in the sauce.
- There might have been lobster oil in the sauce and it just coated my mouth with a lasting umami flavour.
- The pops of sweet peas were a nice addition, but unfortunately the lobster was slightly overcooked.
- The mushrooms retained their crunch and there was good acidity from the lemon-thyme and perhaps a touch of tomato paste.
- This could have easily been the main course and they do offer a Louisiana Crawfish Gnocchi on the a la carte menu with basically the same sauce.
- St. Germaine Elderflower liquor, Bombay Sapphire Gin, crushed citrus and basil syrup
- And when I thought it couldn’t get any better than my Ponchatoula Strawberry Flip… it did!
- This was something else and I was tempted to order a full size version.
- It was perfect timing for a palate cleanser especially after that extremely rich and decadent gnocchi.
- I’m a fan of gin so I already liked the sound of this drink.
- It was so refreshing and clean and aromatic without being herbal or herby.
- The St. Germaine is a sweet Elderflower infused liqueur and it matches so nicely with gin.
- It was a bit carbonated, not too sweet and the citrus gave it a nice balance and acidity.
- There were bright and vibrant notes of lemon and lime and the basil was sweet and fragrant and it was citrusy, but not sour.
- The ingredients were just so fresh and intense and the infusions and flavours were so pure and obvious in quality.
- It reminded me of the Elderflower Mojito from La Petite Grocery, and although I loved that one, this one was ever better!
- It was a version of a classic French 75 cocktail which I also enjoyed at The American Sector, but I’ll take a Saint 75 any day.
2008 Anne Amie Curvée A Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon - The Pinot was fruity, dry and tart from raspberries and there were a lot of flavours going on for a Pinot. It was juicy and a bit oaky and I appreciated the use of an actual pinot noir glass.
- Muscovy duck breast over duck confit & tasso dirty rice, pickled mushroom salad, and crispy sweet potatoes with strawberry gastrique and foie gras rôti
- Wine pairing: 2008 Anne Amie Curvée A Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon
- Stacking might seem like a dated form of presentation, but it’s hard to make dirty rice appealing. The most important thing is that it tasted good, which it did.
- Duck is considered an “exotic meat” in Louisiana and it doesn’t show up as often as it does on West Coast menus.
- It seemed like a sous vide duck breast and it was tender and sweet, but it looked quite small.
- The duck quality was pretty good, but it was sweeter than normal too.
- I didn’t taste any cracking and it didn’t seem like a crusted duck, but the duck skin was crispy.
- The layer of fat underneath wasn’t as well rendered though so it was still quite chewy.
- Dirty rice is a classic Louisiana side, but it was slightly mushy and perhaps prepared in a big batch so it lost a bit of texture.
- The rice was well flavoured though with spicy sausage, roasted pulled pork and duck so it was quite meaty and flavourful.
- The sweet potato crisps added some texture, but I’m not sure where the foie gras rôti (roast) was supposed to be.
- The pickled mushroom salad was rich from perhaps being confit, but the acidity helped balance things out.
- Strawberry and foie gras or duck go together like pork and apples so the gastrique was a nice sweet and tangy contrast.
- The sauce wasn’t that acidic from vinegar, but it tasted like fresh and pure sweet strawberries and it was well reduced and thick.
- It was a very good and flavourful course, but not particularly original if you’re familiar with duck dishes.
2009 PSI Tempranillo, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain - This Tempranillo was bone dry. It literally sucked the saliva off my tongue. It needs to sit out for at least a couple hours because it’s very intense with dark fruit flavours and tannins. It was almost like the flavours of black plum skins, red grape skins and grape seeds. The tannins were a bit aggressive for me, but it was a good wine.
- Parmesan-sweet potato pavé, parsnip puree, lion’s mane mushrooms and a blueberry-elderflower jam
- Wine pairing: 2009 PSI Tempranillo, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain
- This was a modern take on steak and potatoes and the game meat and fruit sauce pairing felt very Canadian to me.
- You have no idea how excited I was to try antelope! I’ve never tried it before and I’ve never seen it on a menu.
- Since it was my first time trying it, I have nothing to compare to, but it looked like it was cooked properly.
- It’s a free range antelope from Creek Stone and it was prepared medium rare with a crispy dry rub.
- The antelope is a very lean meat like bison or elk and it actually tasted similar to elk.
- Although considered a game meat, it didn’t taste gamey to me. Lamb tastes gamier to me and this was more like beef.
- Since the meat is lean, chef injected it with foie gras to give it more fat and richness while keeping the meat moist.
- It was well seasoned and a bit spicy and very juicy thanks to the foie gras.
- I couldn’t really taste the foie, but I don’t think it was there for flavour.
- Personally I prefer elk or bison to antelope, but I did enjoy the antelope and would gladly eat it again.
- The blueberry-elderflower jam was the perfect sauce to the antelope and it just gave it a nice sweet contrast.
- I couldn’t taste the elderflower much, but the blueberries were naturally sweet and the first of the season.
- The Parmesan-sweet potato pavé was the best pavé I’ve had to date! I’ve had many and this one really stood out!
- It was super saucy, buttery and tender without being mushy and losing texture.
- The middle layer was sweet potato layers and it was just well executed and seasoned.
- I could bite through each layer and it was cheesy and melting in my mouth with the creamiest texture and richest flavours.
- This course kind of reminded me of the Coffee Crusted Muskox, Sunchokes, Fiddleheads, Elderberry Jus from Fraîche.
- Another similar game meat and fruit combination I liked was the Bison Ribs with Wild Blackberry BBQ Sauce and the Elk Medallions with Chocolate and Sour Cherry Jus from Pair Bistro.
- It was also my first time trying lion’s mane mushroom and it’s a flavour and mushroom I’ll never forget. I’ve never had anything like it.
- It looked like a giant cauliflower floret and it was incredibly spongy and juicy and absorbed any flavour it was touching or cooked with.
- The texture was almost of a fiberous scallop meets the gills of a Portobello mushroom and it had a medicinal flavour at the end.
- It’s anciently used in Chinese medicine and the after taste is actually quite bitter.
- It was a meaty mushroom, but the flavour was also a bit like a scallop meets a lobster followed by a slight nuttiness from being roasted.
- Due to its bitterness I would think it was chosen to contrast the richness of the plate, but the plate wasn’t that rich.
- This mushroom is a highly prized mushroom, but it has an acquired flavour. I ate it all, but I needed a bit of the blueberry jam as a “chaser”.
- Jones Family Farm peaches slowly roasted down in thick apricot-brandy jam with peach ice cream, “beer nuts”, and sheep’s milk fondant
- Wine pairing: 2010 Govone Terre Sabaude Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy
- This was beautiful. I loved the freshness of this plate and the ingredients were just so well sourced.
- It was a de-constructed peach cobbler and I would actually consider it a bit simple for this level of dining, but I did love it.
- I would have appreciated more of a hot and cold contrast, and the peaches were a bit cooled, but it really was fantastic as is.
- The peach ice cream was custard based and smooth, but it wasn’t bursting with as much peach flavour as I had hoped for.
- I could have used more vanilla bean as well as peach in the ice cream, but it was good.
- The peaches were still a bit crunchy rather than tender and the natural peach and apricot jus was bursting with vanilla bean seeds and a touch of cinnamon.
- The beer nuts were one of the best parts. They were salty, smoky and spicy peanuts and it added great crunch and contrast in flavour to the sweet and fragrant dessert.
- I expected typical pecans, which I do like better, but the peanuts were fine and did the job.
- The sheep’s milk fondant was lost, and that was the part that made it sound special for me.
- I was actually hoping for more cheese flavour so it would play nicely as a fruit, cheese and nut plate. Nonetheless I still wiped the plate clean.
French Market Coffee - This is the classic New Orleans coffee and I just couldn’t do it so late at night. I’m sensitive to caffeine and I had a sip of this and it was just really strong. I knew I had to stop after that. The chicory is aggressive so it’s very bitter. Chicory is the root of an endive plant and it was added to coffee back when coffee was scarce. They serve it at Cafe Du Monde too – see my post here.
- Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé with warm whiskey cream. $8.50 (Additional for a complete meal 3.00)
- This dessert was probably the best bread pudding I’ve had to date. I would absolutely come back for this alone.
- It was the love child of a bread pudding and soufflé and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of the Top 10 Best Desserts I have internationally this year.
- To see my post on this dessert and other desserts at Commander’s Palace see here.