Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brigtsen's, New Orleans LA

To cap a day that had begun at 3am EST I watched the Tucks parade in the Garden District and then made my way back along St. Charles to watch the first half of Endymion near the end of the route – sunburned and heavily beaded I cut out midway through Endymion and made my way to my car, caught the highway, and found myself at Brigtsen’s five minutes early for my 8:00pm reservation. Parking only 20 feet from the door I made my way up to the eponymous eatery, smiled at the rustic feel of everything from the doors to the decorations inside, and introduced myself to the hostess – a pleasant elderly lady who would come to check on myself (and the rest of the restaurant – all locals, no tourists from what I gathered) multiple times throughout the meal.

Seated at a comfy two top in the corner of the main room I noted the heart shaped confetti at the center of the table and realized that nearly everyone in the room was celebrating Valentine’s Day a day early because Brigtsen’s was to be closed on Sunday – the couple next to me even announced that this was their 25th consecutive Valentine’s Day at Brigtsen’s and Chef Frank came out of the kitchen to personally deliver them their dessert later in the meal. Presented with my menu and a few off-menu specials by my waitress, a lovely lady whose name I unfortunately do not recall, I was left with her recommendations as she went to get my water and coffee. Returning shortly I placed my order – an order that both she and (later) the elderly hostess approved of whole heartedly.

Sitting and sipping my coffee – another bold and floral blend with less prominent chicory than that of Antoine’s – I read about Chef Brigtsen’s training, ideals, and contributions to the local economy while I waited…to say the least this is an impressive man who loves his community. Finishing my first cup of coffee the glass was immediately refilled (and remained this way throughout my stay) and I was brought a loaf of French Bread along with a salted butter. Crispy and buttery on the outside with a light and wispy interior the bread was on par with that at Clancy’s and August for best of the trip and I consumed a whole loaf before my main course even arrived.

My first selection of the evening was one of the soups du jour – and apparently something served quite rarely according to my server. Entitled Oyster Soup with Spinach and Brie the soup was an absolute show-stopper and amongst the top 5 savories I consumed during my visit to New Orleans. Similar in texture to a thick New England Clam Chowder, the soup featured 5 large and juicy oysters swimming in a creamy broth with subtle hints of garlic and chives complimenting the smooth and subtle brie with only a mild vegetal component lent by the spinach - imagine if someone dissolved oysters Rockefeller in the best chowder you’ve ever tasted – it’s kind of like that, but better.

Having sopped up all the left over soup with my bread I talked with my neighbors and my servers for a bit while I awaited my next dish – honestly, I was dumbfounded by how friendly everyone was from the moment I arrived until the moment I walked out the door (stuffed!) Arriving after approximately ten minutes, Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads with potato leek cake, mushroom, capers, garlic lemon cream was another resounding success, but in a completely different manner from the soup. Not subtle in the least, three enormous (and perfectly pan-seared) sweetbreads sat atop a crunchy and pungent potato cake and the vertical presentation was subsequently topped with a ragout of fried mushrooms and a sauce of capers, garlic, and lemon. Not a fan of capers in most cases I was quite pleased at hoe the garlic and lemon acted to temper their bite and everything about the dish served to accent the creamy gland without hiding its signature flavor.

More coffee, more chat, and more bread preceded my main course and the hostess stopped by to chat about how I’d heard about their restaurant, where else I’d be visiting while in town, and why “such a handsome young man was dining alone so close to Valentine’s Day.” Telling me that my main course was her favorite dish in all of New Orleans the plate arrived almost as if on cue – and it was enormous. Entitled Roast Duck with Cornbread dressing and Honey Pecan Gravy the dish was certainly not pleasing on the eyes – quite frankly it was presented quite haphazardly. What the dish lacked in visual appeal, however, it made up for in flavor with a roasted half of a duck presented skin on, moist, and savory. Flanking the duck on the upper portions of the dish were smashed buttery potatoes and perfectly steamed fresh vegetables without salt and accented with only lemon and garlic while the plate beneath the duck was covered by a sweet and toothsome cornbread dressing sauced with a sticky sweet honey and pecan gravy. While I can’t say the duck was my favorite of the trip – it actually ranked as the fourth best duck of the trip – it was delicious and its companions were superb.

Though my server strongly recommended I try the pecan pie I deferred and instead opted for the bread pudding – a decision I most assuredly do not regret. Entitled simply “banana bread pudding” the pudding itself appeared constructed of a buttermilk biscuit accented with cinnamon, ginger, and banana liquor and was topped with an ample dollop of whipped cream. Flanking the bread pudding were three chunks of caramelized (Fosters-esque) banana and the entire dish sat in a rum-laden banana cream sauce with a drizzle of caramel. As I’ve said before, bread pudding is my favorite dessert and this version absolutely wowed – quite possibly the best fruit based bread pudding I’ve ever experienced.

Finishing yet another cup of coffee my server and the hostess stopped by and asked if they could get me anything else. Jokingly I stated “how about that pecan pie?” to which they both chuckled as though they didn’t think I could still be hungry (I wasn’t, but there is always room for pie – right?) Chatting a little while longer with my neighbors I was brought the modest bill and after paying was bid farewell by not only my server, the hostess, and my neighbors – but also two other servers and a few people in the lobby.

Thinking back on my visit to Brigtsen’s after experiencing much of New Orleans fine dining scene during the subsequent three days I still think of it very fondly as an overall experience. No pretense, no “show,” no “fussiness” - from the old house and the somewhat dated food to the local feel and indescribably friendly demeanor of everything about the meal Brigtsen’s felt like eating dinner with family in the home of your grandmother – if your grandmother were a Beard Award winning chef.

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