Monday, February 15, 2010

Clancy's, New Orleans LA

Intentionally parking South of the parade routes due to my dinner reservations I did a lot of walking after lunch at NOLA – I wandered the Riverwalk and watched some Jazz provided by the Zulu folks, I went to Harrah’s and watched some terrible cover bands sing terrible Journey, I shopped the Canal Street Mall and the independents around the Quarter (Much love for tacky Mardi Gras colored antique cufflinks,) and I finally wandered down to the Avenue Café on St. Charles for some excellent Chicory Coffee – the best of the trip – because it was getting nippy out prior to Proteus and Orpheus.

With the evening getting more chilly by the minute I was glad for the warmth of the crowd as we watched Proteus pass but given my early reservation time of 7:30pm I was only able to watch twenty minutes of Orpheus before making it to my car and taking the GPS guided trip to what may be New Orleans best kept secret – Clancy’s. Arriving just moments after my reservation time I found parking in what appeared to be someone’s front yard and made my way to the comfy looking corner restaurant where I was greeted by a friendly older fellow who confirmed my reservation and led me to a nice two top in the middle of the room – handing me a copy of the hand-written menu I heard the now-familiar “put the bread on ‘em” uttered to one of the ancillary servers as he walked away.

Arriving before the bread I was greeted by my primary server – tuxedo clad, extremely professional, and with a thick southern accent – who explained the nightly specials to me, specifically the daily soup and sweetbreads prep (which unfortunately entailed mustard crusting) and fielded my menu questions. Ordering coffee, a rich blend with a good bouquet of floral and fig tones, to go with the meal I was offered a magazine – the newest issue of Food and Wine – to read while I waited (a nice touch I’d not seen since my visit to The Dining Room in San Francisco.)

Browsing my magazine and sipping my coffee one of the ancillary servers next brought me a loaf of delicate French bread still piping hot from the oven and a half-stick of salted butter. The best French bread of the trip without a doubt I had no difficulty finishing the loaf during the course of the meal and was offered more with my main – an offer which I declined but only with much restraint. Looking around the room I’m pretty sure I was the only non-local in the place and it seemed that even moreso than Brigtsen’s that Clancy’s is a place where the servers know everyone.

Arriving after about twenty minutes was a dish that came highly recommended – the Oysters and Brie. Cornmeal fried, juicy and sweet, the oysters sat atop pan seared crispy spinach and each of the four were topped with a sizable chunk of creamy and tangy Brie. A combination I’d not have thought of personally I was actually quite impressed at how the two main ingredients worked together with each brining out the subtleties of the other without masking their characteristic flavors – it is actually quite surprising more restaurants aren’t pairing this combination.

For my second dish – arriving approximately 10 minutes after I’d finished my Oysters and Brie…more Oysters…this time a half dozen. Served out of their shell and baked in a stainless steel pan the dish contained a 50/50 split of classic Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters with smoked Boudin – both topped with a creamy and buttery hollandaise. Beginning first with the Rock – a good preparation with sweet and salty oysters topped with ample garlic, onion, anise, and spinach mixed with bread crumbs. Moving next to the boudin, imagine the flavor of juicy oysters and spicy pork with a gossamer finish that tasted almost of foie gras…impressive and every bit worth the $13.95 price tag.

When it came to main courses at Clancy’s I was torn – did I want to get a few more appetizers (the crab salad, the shrimp and grits, the eggplant) or did I want to get the duck…at my server’s suggestion I went with the duck. Smoked in house and a very large portion (I’m pretty sure more than 1/2 a duck) I will admit that the Duck itself was phenomenal – it tasted almost akin to smoked pork ribs, but with the characteristic texture of duck and featuring a crispy and sweet skin…beautiful and quite different from any duck I’ve previously had. Where the duck shined its plate-mates unfortunately did not – some decent pan seared vegetables and a boring “out-of-the-bag” pasta with butter and chives – certainly not on par with the sides at Brigtsen’s, NOLA, or CP.

Finishing my duck my server returned and asked if he could tempt me with dessert. No menu available and recited perfectly from memory there were certainly some great choices, albeit no bread pudding. Suggesting the “famous” Lemon Ice Box pie but also praising the house made ice creams, a coconut cream pie, and a butterscotch pudding I decided to go with the Ice Box Pie – even though I don’t love lemons I’d heard good things. Table crumbed and coffee refilled my pie arrived quite quickly and what it lacked in presentation (hey, it’s a piece of pie on a plate) it more than made up for in flavor. Not tart like a standard lemon meringue pie I’m rather certain the secret to this dish was the use of Meyer lemons and balancing them with both gelatin and ice cream. Firm but not hard, cold but not freezing, sweet but balanced, fruity but also vanilla and creamy – very nice and certainly worthy of it’s praise.

Wandering past the bar to visit the restroom I noted a couple of folks dining at the bar while chatting with the bartender and was impressed by how quiet it was – very old school and homey, the kind of place I could imagine someone popping into after work for a drink and some appetizers. Returning to the table I settled the bill with my server and chatted a bit about how I’d heard about their restaurant. On my way out the door I was stopped by the host who thanked me for stopping in and strongly suggested I check out Brigtsen’s if I had the time – he was quite impressed when I told him I had. Requesting a copy of the menu he was very happy to pass it along and wished me a Happy Mardi Gras. Excellent down to earth food and excellent down to earth people – Clancy’s is the kind of place I expected to find in New Orleans.

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