Wednesday, December 13, 2017. The Eat Club Gala.
2017 has been a fallow year for the New Orleans Eat Club. After more than twenty years of programming our wine dinners as often as weekly, we shifted to doing them weakly. Some of this owed to our hitting a number of restaurants too often. That effect was its own demise. It has been months since our last dinner. The venue for this one was the new Brennan’s on Royal Street. That has long been the most popular of all our dinners, usually selling out to forty or fifty people every year. Today, we had fifteen. The prices are the same as they have been for the last five or ten years, so that’s not it.
Something else contributed to this: the evolving tastes of the younger diners. The idea of a formal dinner of six courses with wines to match is not as appealing to the Millennian as it would be to a Baby Boomer. Too many rules. Ours are not the only dinners that felt this slowdown. I go to dinners like ours often, and they’re feeling the same effects.
Onto the better news. I had a feeling that the menu chef Slade Rushing created for the Christmas Gala might have been a little too hip for the room. Pâté with blueberries. Smoked pumpkin soup. Duck eggs. Shrimp with kimchee. Vietnamese lamb chops. Nary a dish appeared with even a hint of Brennan’s pre-meltdown style or dishes. Maybe this was offputting, but if it were, one bite of any of the food sent our way convinced us that the new Brennan’s is at least as good as the old one. If any of the Eat Clubbers had a problem with the food, he kept it to himself. This was a brilliant exercise of the skills and palate of Chef Slade.
A few high points. That country-style pâté was unique in having a soft and almost wet texture. When the flavors released, they were literally caressed the taste buds. And those blueberries somehow were exactly right, too.
If it had not been a soup, the smoked pumpkin potage would have been revered as the dinner’s best course. Even with all the pumpkin soups and sauces we get this time of year, this exercise stood out. If this had been an ordiary meal, I would have asked for more.
Ever since the new Brennan’s emerged three years ago, our Eat Club galas there have had an egg dish. (Come to think of it, we also did that in the old days, too. This is, after all, the home of Breakfast at Brennan’s.) Slade’s version used a duck egg, not something we see often. Poached in butter? How delicate can you get?
Now we have big (under ten to the pound) shrimp wrapped with kataifi–a sort of bread dough run through a shredder. That’s a Greek item. Sharing space with it on the plate was house-made kimchee–the marinated root vegetables with a mild kick of pepper.
The main course of the evening left as a mystery what Slade meant by the Vietnamese aspect of lamb loin. No problem: the lamb, cut into a bunch of miniature filets, had all the tenderness, flavors, and general interest for it to be my nominee as best dish of the evening.
I think that the influences in the dessert course came from Ralph Brennan, who has always had a taste for a strawberry-wrapped crepes. The wrapper was as interesting as the rest of this, being made from buckwheat. The punctuation provided had added allure from a fascinating Sauternes. That’s the definitive sweet French white wine. So why is it a rose? Or is it? The color, really, was a slightly-reddish orange. I’ve heard of Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes. In fact I faintly recall having tasted it before. Tonights was from vintage 1990–not something that shows up on a lot of wine lists. Served in a high-stemmed glass, it was intriguing all the way through, except for the two or three wine connoisseurs who found it a little too offbeat. Or too old, or something.
Speaking of the wines, the opinion at my table was that the best white of the evening was the En Route Chardonnay from Far Niente. The most-liked red was Cain Cuvee (meaning no vintage), a red blend that comes from all over the place.
My own favorite red was a sort of generic David Clark Cote de Nuits-Village 2007. Red Burgundy.
Although we didn’t attract the numbers of most Eat Club galas in the past, the spirit was there in a great party. I arrived a good deal before we started, giving me time to get a craft cocktail from the bar, where I engaged in a conversation with a guy who is a freelance classical music conductor. He personally knows Alissa Rowe, the director of NPAS, where I warble. Yes, that’s how it is: there are only 500 people in New Orleans. Maybe that’s why the Eat Club is recruiting for the future.