Dozen Best Escargots
Snails were the foie gras of their day, an era that ended around 1987. Before then, if a restaurant served escargots, it was at least trying to appear gourmet. If it didn’t, it wasn’t. Snails went out of vogue, mainly because fresh Helix snails are unavailable (they’re actually illegal in Louisiana), and all snails came out of a can. (They still are.) But chefs seem to have gotten over this issue, and we’re seeing more snails lately than at any time in the past.
The classic way of serving snails is in a baking dish (or the shells, if they can be found) with butter, garlic, and parsley. That accounts for much of the popularity of escargots. The comedian Orson Bean once said, “I hate snails, but I love garlic butter. So I say, ‘Bring me an order of escargots, hold the slugs.'”
The French word for the garlic-and-herb-butter version is escargots bourguignonne. But many more recipes have come to the fore in recent years. Here are my dozen favorite versions, which include some of those new snail dishes and a lot of garlic butter.
1. Chateau Du Lac. Old Metairie: 2037 Metairie Rd. 504-831-3773. Brittany-born Chef Jacques Seleun’s repertoire of recipes for escargots is wide than any other local chef commands. It’s always different, and always great. The wine sauce is the most memorable.
2. Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. They make two distinct versions of escargots: bourguignonne and bordelaise. The first is with the familiar garlic-and-herb butter. The bordelaise is unique: a thick brown sauce made from red wine, sherry, roux, garlic, and a light sprinkle of cheese over the top.
3. Cafe Degas. Mid-City: 3127 Esplanade Ave. 504-945-5635. Cafe Degas, the longest-running of the city’s French bistros, and has consistently sent out the best bubbling, garlic-fragrant escargots bourguignonne around.
4. La Crepe Nanou. Uptown: 1410 Robert. 504-899-2670. Textbook version of French bistro style snails in the standard bourguignonne preparation for the world.
5. Steak Knife. Lakeview: 888 Harrison Ave. 504-488-8981. Classic, always served bubbling, great French bread to go with it.
6. Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. Brennan’s is the only NO restaurant still serving snails in actual snail shells. Garlic-and-herb butter again, green from the herbs. You can get a taste of it in the garlic bread they serve at the beginning of the meal.
7. Cafe Lynn. Mandeville: 3051 East Causeway Approach. 985-624-9007. They come in a thick, light green herb sauce that’s almost a soup. In fact, you will be eating it with a spoon.
8. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. They get creative. Escargots with bacon, fennel, mushrooms, and garlic butter, all spooned over a puff pastry.
9. Keith Young’s Steak House. Madisonville: 165 LA 21. 985-845-9940. The standard garlic-herb butter, best on the North Shore. It’s a light appetizer (if you don’t eat too much bread). Which is a good thing, because you need the stomach capacity for the steak.
10. Nuvolari’s. Mandeville: 246 Girod St. 985-626-5619. Escargots and crawfish with demi-glace? Yes. Call them “snails and tails,” or “slugs and bugs.” More than a little garlic and pepper in there.
11. Ciro’s Cote Sud. Riverbend: 7918 Maple. 504-866-9551. The very French bistro and pizza maker brings the classic bourguignonne version out smelling great, with more than the average amount of butter.
12. Irene’s Cuisine. French Quarter: 539 St Philip. 504-529-8811. Like everything else at Irene’s, the fragrance and flavor are amplified well above average levels. It almost competes with the house’s baked oysters.