I was talking to my friend Chana the other day about dining in New Orleans, and we have the same philosophy:
- If you charge $5 for something, it doesn't have to be fantastic. Kudos to you if it is fantastic.
- If you charge $40 or $50 for something, it better be awesome. It better not be something that I can taste and say, "You know, I think I could make this better."
We went to August the other day for a celebratory family lunch (see #2, above). I've only been to one other John Besh restaurant, Luke, but I've been there a few times and enjoyed it. The food at Luke is not fine dining, but it's quality. August is in a different league of dining experiences, along with places like Stella!, Herbsaint, and Bayona, where you arrive expecting a fantastically prepared meal and usually leave shaking your head in disbelief of how good it truly was (see #2, above, again).
Kathy's salad: artichoke hearts, pretty greens, crawfish tails (I forgot to get a menu, so the exact descriptions of dishes are missing--oops!). The crawfish are kind of camouflaged/hiding under the leaves, like they're in a natural habitat...it does look a little like a terrarium, doesn't it?
My appetizer: potato gnocchi with blue crab and Perigold truffle. It was hard to decide what to order, of course, but I rarely turn down gnocchi--especially when crab and truffles are involved. The sauce was light and buttery, and the truffle was just enough to scent the crab, so its delicate flavor came through. They look ginormous in the photo, but I was just in really really close.
John Besh arrived at the restaurant during our lunch to do some filming for one of his new television shows. Of course, we blushed and asked if we could meet him. He graciously stopped by our table and chatted (and posed), right as the main courses were coming out. I was still a bit giddy when the server was explaining my dish to me, so I have more impression than fact to tell you about it--and we have no photos! But that's okay, right? It was a bass fillet. Crispy skin. I honestly don't remember what the pureed sauce underneath was. It had a vegetable-ness to it, a little legume-ish. I remember cardoons in the menu description. There was roasted red pepper in the "relish," and other than that, I can only say there was a combination of herbs and flavors that were coming from some unidentified, invisible source. I kept thinking that I would figure it out by the time I finished it, but it actually got more elusive with each bite. I like this kind of tasting, this shock that happens when food is expertly prepared. It keeps your mind active and a little drugged at the same time.
I recommend, wholeheartedly and pounding my fist on the table, that you order the "breaded" speckled trout (again, no photo--sorry!). At least one person in your party should order it and let everyone taste it. It's too good to describe in words, but I'll try. It's like they build a rich, buttery cracker from scratch and lay the trout on it. Then bake it or roast it--who knows these things?--and the cooking crisps those cracker ingredients into a crunchy, toasty, ever-so-sweet-with-butter anchor for the fish and its toppings. What are the toppings? Oh, just some lump crabmeat and hollandaise. You know. Just the tastiest stuff on the planet. When I think of how this tasted, I shake my head "no," like I do when things are getting a little awesome--like a winning touchdown, or a second line parade of Elvises.
My dessert: chocolate crepes filled with ricotta, blackberry sauce, bitter chocolate ice cream. I was torn between the strawberry ravioli and the crepes, but our waiter suggested the crepes. The ricotta was sweet and fluffy, and I think some blackberry puree was mixed into it. The ice cream was really dense--almost chewy with chocolate. Is that possible? And not very sweet, which I like.
Martha's dessert: a collection of local cheeses, with accompaniments of house-made apple jelly, fig preserves, and other things I don't remember. They were served with super-thin rosemary crisps, which provided a nice salty counter to the sweet and rich cheese. We sampled a couple of these pairings, and they were spot on.
The macarons and salted toffee were endments--final treats from the kitchen. The macarons: imagine being a little girl attracted to all foodstuffs pink: strawberry-iced doughnuts, Hostess sno-balls with the pink coconut, Dolly Madison raspberry zingers. My favorite treat, when I was eight-ish, was raspberry zingers. They were so pretty, with their velvety pink coats and feathery coconut, and they smelled rich and fruity. They tasted of more than raspberry, too--a little vanilla, a little coconut, a little whipped cream-like something...satisfyingly ladylike. The macarons! They looked like tiny hamburgers (a little disc of chocolate peeked out from some of them), but they tasted just like pink. They tasted so, so pink. I felt like Marie Antoinette.
So I'm sure you've sensed this coming, but I sincerely recommend visiting August whenever you can. Build a whole vacation around it--you won't be sorry. Or go for their prix-fixe lunch: 3 courses for $20.