Plaudits: Times-Picayune Dining Guide 2011
Neighborhood: Canal Street, New Orleans
For our big dinner in New Orleans, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas decided to go to John Besh's Restaurant August.
Restaurant August is, in a word, well, august. You enter into the bar area, bathed in dark wood with a six seat marbletop bar to the back, and five or so high-top bar tables. It's elegant and stylish, reminiscent of a billiards room or a library in a grand old mansion. The service is also pretty accommodating: on our night, a clearly intoxicated couple came and sat at the bar, and ordered up a storm before trudging out without taking a bite; the staff took this pretty in stride all in all.
The main dining room is the perfect picture of a Southern-style dining room. Glorious chandeliers hang from high ceilings, illuminating a brilliant crimson and cream room. Huge colonial windows are framed by draped curtains and exposed brick, with handsome furniture and dark wood floors. It's just a gem of a room, and one I can only imagine is pretty magic to sit in; sadly, with our last minute decision making, we were relegated to the bar area.
To start, we were served an amuse bouche - egg custard served in an egg shell, topped with a brioche crouton and caviar. Surprisingly sweet, flavorful, and a nice start to the meal.
Texas's first course was a chilled consomme of blueberries, goat cheese, and a pine nut crumble. Unlike my salad, this was brilliantly composed, a good balance of sweet and savory, soft and crunchy. Despite what you might think about what essentially is berry soup, it actually wasn't overly saccharine either. Instead, it was wonderfully light, which was a bright and appropriate start for this summer meal.
My second dish was yellowfin tuna with artichoke, fava bean, and chickpeas on a sauce verte. The fish was cooked perfectly with the center remaining tender. The problem I had with the dish was the accompaniments, a bit insubstantial on the sauce, a bit undercooked on the beans and chickpeas. It meshed decently well, and the protein was solid, but it was just missing that extra step.
Texas's dish was ricotta stuffed squash blossoms with sun drop tomatoes and sweet peas in a saffron vinaigrette. The concept was well-executed, and it definitely was one that I enjoyed just as much as my dish, but it just missed that critical wow factor that might have propelled it into greatness. The saffron or the tomatoes, either of which I expected to punch through more, sort of got lost.
I had an extra dish on my menu: roast breast and slow cooked leg of duckling with creole cream cheese, blueberries, and rapini. This was great execution, and more of what I was expecting from John Besh: not only the technical precision and quality food, but an interesting blend of flavors including a Southern twist. Quite good.
The two main courses were both cast iron roasts: mine a flat iron beef with tete tortellini, a pea pesto, and sweet corn, hers centered around broccolini and sunchoke with pecans, candied fennel, and aleppo pepper. Our eating habits what they are, we both tended to favor our own choices; I liked mine because it featured the protein prominently and was cooked cleanly, while she enjoyed hers for the variety of flavor patterns and textural shifts.
Still, there were now-common problems with the two dishes: mine was fairly ordinary when compared to other high-end places, while hers was basically a side dish without a single one component asserting itself; it was essentially a much more interesting salad, and not what should be the penultimate course of the night.
For dessert, I had the dark chocolate pate with a raspberry and brown butter ice cream. The cake was rich and filling, but the ice cream was the winner, with an interesting creaminess that went well beyond the form of the dessert itself. I chalk it up to the brown butter base, which added a wonderful savory counterpoint.
Texas's was a blackberry upside down cake: a cornbread base filled with the fruit, with a bourbon-based sauce and white corn ice cream. Hers was the clear winner of the dessert battle, a wonderful touch of Southern cuisine with the corn shining through, while still retaining a pointed sweetness.
There's no doubt that the food is all cooked perfectly. But it just lacked that transcendent moment we were expecting. Really good food always on the cusp of great.
Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)