Monday, February 15, 2010

Brennan's, New Orleans LA

Lundi Gras began on a sour note – I’d slept great after my meal at Commander’s and opted to skip my morning run because the temperatures had dipped below freezing in order to get to downtown early so I could visit some cemeteries. Packing up my belongings, showering, and driving down to the quarter I decided to continue my quest for the perfect almond croissant at Boulangerie before making my way to Lafayette Cemetary – unfortunately Boulangerie was manned by a surly staff, the croissant was overcooked, doughy, and filled with an almond paste that I’m pretty sure was mixed with glucose syrup or HFCS, and I forgot the memory card for my camera. With limited space on my phone memory card I did manage thirty or so shots of Lafayette before making my way east – thankfully finding an Office Depot that opened at 7:30am and had a great deal ($14.99 minus a $5 coupon for a 4gig SD card) along the way.

Continuing my eastward path along the bead-laden boulevard I was surprised to see the streets largely empty – it was the first time they weren’t flooded with crowds since I arrived. Making good time I stopped to snap some pictures of the quarter prior to getting in the growing line at Brennan’s for what I hoped to be a breakfast that was actually worth the substantial hype (and price.) Listening to the other persons in line I was somewhat relieved to realize that most of these folks were local and not tourists – a good sign I though.

Like clockwork the doors to Brennan’s opened at 9am and we slowly filed into the large and well lit lobby with decorations harkening a time well before I was born. Confirming my reservation with the hostess a small card was filled out and I was led along with a number of other groups to an excellent two-top in the sunlit hallway just off of the main dining room. Greeted as a group by the man who would be our primary waiter the menu was explained to us as a group – at first I found this a bit odd but when I heard the EXACT same presentation five more times during my 80 minute dining experience I realized why it was done that way – it was very rehearsed.

Browsing the menu and noting the myriad up-charges (essentially every item recommended by our server) I debated the a la carte selection versus the prix fixe but eventually decided on the prix fixe. Orders placed I was brought a bold and chicory laden coffee that was filled repeatedly without hesitation, a large glass of ice water, and a loaf of crispy French bread that seemed a bit cool and dried out – without a doubt the worst bread service of the trip.

Considered as much an “Experience” as a meal I must say I was pleased by the service at Brennan’s despite it’s well choreographed nature – while certainly refined fine dining service like one expects at a Michelin Starred establishment each of the servers, captains, and ancillary staff filled their role admirably and the theater of the meal (the history, the flaming items, etc) played out well.

Arriving approximately 20 minutes after I was seated, my first dish of the meal was the famous baked apple in double cream. Consisting of exactly what was stated this was a wonderfully sweet golden delicious baked in ample amounts of cinnamon and butter and then placed in a thickened sweetened cream accented with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Somewhat akin to an apple dumpling without the shell I was actually surprised that the dish was served cold but interestingly found it to be quite refreshing and tasty – while I wouldn’t spend the $7.50 a la carte price it was certainly a nice way to start the meal.

Arriving approximately 20 minutes after the apple my main course was delivered and although some may note that Brennan’s is expensive, I fully believe that this dish justifies the visit. Entitled Oysters Benedict the dish featured a dozen plump and juicy oysters fried in a crispy panko and cornmeal coating and resting atop two slices of savory Canadian bacon. Topping off the dish was a delectable paprika accented hollandaise sauce and alongside the oysters and bacon was a wonderfully sweet and almost fruity tomato topped with parmesan and baked before presentation. A wonderful balance of flavors I rather wish I’d have ordered the dish with some poached eggs, but on its own it was still quite tasty.

Finishing the meal – well, as much as I love bread pudding I just had to see what the Bananas Foster was all about. Presented uncooked first and then slowly prepared at a small station just behind me before our sever allowed a young girl to finish the dish with rum I have to say the theater and smell of the dish definitely outperformed the presentation and the flavor. For the price I personally found the use of bruised bananas somewhat off-putting and…well, it is just bananas, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and some liquor that is burned off. While I’m glad I experienced it I can’t say I’d order it again on return and if I wanted some good caramelized bananas in New Orleans I’d sooner go to Brigtsen’s for the banana bread pudding….it’s cheaper, larger, and quite a bit better.

Paying the sizable bill and bidding farewell to my server I wandered around the large building and marveled at the fact that it was only 10:15am and every seat was full – clearly word has gotten around that this is the place for breakfast in New Orleans. Having been to many a great brunch/breakfast places around the country, many of which are touted as “THE experience” I can say that Brennan’s more or less lived up to the hype – though at a relatively substantial cost. Was it worth it – yep, but mostly just to say I did it…on future visits I’d probably just head to Camellia Grill and save more money for lunch.

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