My parents always used to tell me that if I couldn’t say anything nice I shouldn’t say anything at all…well, if I chose to follow that advice 24/7 I wouldn’t even be writing my review of Arnaud’s “Jazz” brunch that I experienced on Valentine’s Day 2010. Present in New Orleans since 1918 and billing itself as the ultimate New Orleans experience I at least figured I would get some good Creole food in a nice setting along with some pleasant Jazz – what I got instead was mediocre to bad food, lousy and rushed service, and approximately 8 minutes of Jazz before I was hurried out the door.
Arriving three minutes early for my 10am reservation the doors were still locked – they remained so until 10:05 when they let myself and 5 other couples in. Greeted by the server my opentable reservation was confirmed and I was led to the dining room along with another couple while others were seated in the Jazz bistro section - a section that was decorated with heart shaped balloons (ours would later be decorated by a particular dining room attendant who had a scowl on his face throughout my meal at Arnaud’s.) Taking my seat a young man approached me, filled my water, and asked if I’d like a cocktail. Declining the cocktail and opting for coffee another waiter, my captain (I guess,) presented a menu and explained to me as though I were about 5 years old how the 4-course prix fixe worked. Thanking him I perused the menu until my coffee arrived.
Preparing my coffee in my standard style with artificial sweetener I hadn’t even managed to tear open the packet before my captain arrived, pad open and pen in hand, asking “so, what can I get you.” Thankfully I’d already looked at the menu online and knew what I’d be ordering, but this event let me know straight up that we were on a clock – turnover time was of the essence – and as such I began keeping track of time. Orders placed I finished preparing my coffee – a decently nutty and thick blend that lacked the chicory so prominently featured at most of the other restaurants in New Orleans.
With a “put the bread on him” I received an admirable loaf of French Bread with a peculiar design but excellent flavor, crisp and golden crust, and fluffy interior. While it wasn’t as warm as other presentations during my visit, the butter was salted and more pleasant than that at Antoine’s. Unfortunately, the bread would serve as the best thing I ate while at Arnaud’s.
Quickly following the arrival of the bread was Shrimp Arnaud – approximately 7 shrimp that were no larger or better than the flash frozen and bagged versions I can get in Ohio. They were served over a tomato and some iceberg lettuce and accompanied with lemon slices. Topping the dish was the “famous” tangy remoulade sauce – essentially a thick and pungent orange sauce that tasted largely like curry, paprika, and capers – perhaps some horseradish as well. Poorly conceived and featuring inferior ingredients all I could taste was the sauce – a taste I could do without having experienced.
Finishing the shrimp and the tomato the surly man I mentioned hanging the balloons appeared with my second course in hand and “swapped out” one plate for the next. No presentation, just one plate collected with right, the other deposited with left. Now less than 10 minutes after being seated I was on course two and there was no jazz in sight or hearing range. Dish two was a lettuce salad topped with Creole vinaigrette – decent but nothing to write home about. Feeling again as if I was being rushed I picked at my salad and ate some bread only to have the surly man come back 7 minutes later and ask if I was “all done” with his hand already on the rim of my plate. Stating “no” he retracted, walked away, and stood eyeing me from the doorway. When I did finish the plate I moved it to the opposite seat so that he would know to come collect it. At this point my coffee stood empty and I had to request a refill.
My third dish, the “main course” arrived only moments later – and it was cool to the touch. Once again presented without explanation, this time by the young water boy, the Crabmeat cheesecake featuring “Fresh Louisiana lump crabmeat, Brie and cream cheese,eggs, cream, fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Served with a sherry-infused Cream Sauce” was approximately the size of a wedge door-stop – and being both undercooked and questionably fresh it was flattened and soupy. Taking a bite (one of four that it would’ve taken to finish the dish had I not been babying it waiting for some/any jazz) I was greeted by a decent crab flavor and the heaviness of the cream sauce – no real detectable essence of brie or any spice other than parsley. I will say the asparagus was good – crisp and buttery with a nice texture.
Finishing my main dish by 10:40 and requesting another cup of coffee, the jazz finally started…and then stopped…and then started again. It wasn’t good jazz, not even close, but at least it was something. At 10:44 my dessert arrived – Bread Pudding Fitzmorris described as “Arnaud's famous cap bread, rum-soaked raisins and custard with warm Walker's Imperial Bourbon Sauce.” Again a miniature portion and clearly made in advance the dessert was definitely more “bread” than pudding or custard and the dish lacked not only sweetness but any semblance of nuance – it was essentially day old bread baked with eggs and cream and doused in a bitter and liquidy shot of bourbon. By 10:50 I’d eaten all I wanted (yes, I left bread pudding on the table – unheard of) and requested the check.
Paying and leaving the worst tip I’ve left since I was unapologetically elbowed in the head at Spiaggia I made my way back out to the street and to the Aquarium of the Americas followed by Krewe of Okeanos Parade – both of which cheered me up significantly. Looking back on the whole debacle that was Arnaud’s Jazz brunch it is my personal belief that this is potentially the worst dining experience in my last 3 years of eating and I can wholeheartedly say that there is absolutely no circumstance under which I would return or recommend anyone do so. Bad food, bad service, high prices, and bad jazz…in New Orleans? That sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident, it takes effort to be that bad.