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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thanksgiving is not the busiest day in the year for restaurants, but it is the time when things have a way of becoming most frantic. It’s also a day in which finding a reservation is most difficult. Calling ahead months is a very good idea, particularly if you’re planning on having Thanksgiving dinner with many family members and friends. Tables in famous restaurants are also hard to nail down. Finally, if what you want from the restaurant is a big feast, it’s essential to make your reservation in, say, September or earlier.

There is an escape if you still don’t have a reservation a few days ahead of Turkey Day. When you call a few says or hours before dinner time, laugh to show that you understand how dear Thanksgiving tables are, then ask whether there are any last-minute cancellations you can fill. That works even for the toughest seats.

The Thanksgiving experience is is different from other meals in other ways. Buffets–which have almost disappeared from fine dining in recent years–have a way of popping up in many restaurants. Most of these are high-end hotels. If you go that route, know that it will be much more expensive than what you remember from years ago. It may even go higher than $100.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving has a way of inspiring restaurants to create special menus that may be surprising. Three courses for $around 50 have been common in recent years. Here is a list of the 40 best restaurants. And there are always children’s menus.

All that said, here is my list of the forty best restaurants for Thanksgiving in 2018. Enjoy!

Andrea’s. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Special menu. Regular menu also available. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669.

Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A special four-course menu, with a mix of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and Arnaud’s specialties.

Bistreaux. French Quarter: 1001 Toulouse St. 504-586-8000.

Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860. A special four-course menu, plus a limited regular menu.

Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. Regular menu and Thanksgiving specials.

Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.

Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. An especially beautiful setting, with the courtyard open.

Café B. Old Metairie: 2700 Metairie Road. 504-934-4700. Special menu, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Three courses, around $45.

Chophouse. CBD: 322 Magazine St. 504-522-7902. This high-end steakhouse is promoting its steaks as an alternative to the standard turkey dinner. If that appeals to you, there they are. Handsome place.

Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Special menu. Very likely already to be sold out.

Compere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas. 504-599-2119.

Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal. 504-523-3341. The new restaurant in the Monteleone Hotel serves its second Thanksgiving. It’s a handsome restaurant with an imaginative, current New Orleans-style menu.

Crystal Room. CBD: Le Pavillon Hotel, 901 Poydras. 504-581-3111. Buffet, a bit less expensive than in the other hotels, and for that reason fills up early. Food is good as buffets go.

Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467. Regular dinner menu and Thanksgiving specials, 3-9 p.m.

Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020..

Five Happiness. Mid-City: 3605 S Carrollton. 504-482-3935.

Fleming’s Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3064 N. Causeway Blvd.. 504-799-0335.

Fountain Lounge. CBD: 123 Baronne, Roosevelt Hotel. 504-648-1200. The Roosevelt Hotel will certainly serve a Thanksgiving buffet somewhere, but they haven’t announced the details. My guess is that it will be in the Blue Room and expensive.

Fountain Lounge Roosevelt Hotel Ballroom). CBD: 123 Baronne, Roosevelt Hotel. 504-648-1200.

Latil’s Landing. River Parishes: In Houmas House Plantation. 225-473-9380. This is the grand restaurant in Houmas House Plantation, on the River Road, halfway from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Buffet, noon-4 p.m. $65, $25 children.

Lebanon’s Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 1500 S Carrollton Ave. 504-862-6200.

Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. John Besh’s most popular restaurant. Special menu.

M Bistro. French Quarter: 921 Canal. 504-524-1331. The flagship dining room of the Ritz-Carlton offers a high-end buffet 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Before the cruise, many of the 82 people on the trip vexed a lot about making reservations in the specialty restaurants.

As the anti-planner, I never understood this. There is always room. Things happen. And Rufinia Dinio (or someone like but not nearly as wonderful) is there to help.

The night of our arrival we were still full from Boston eating. But on the second night, we went in search of food. Any hostess can reserve any table on the ship for you.

Fortuitously, we presented ourselves to Rufinia Dinio on the 13th floor, between two meat-centric restaurants: Cagney’s Steakhouse and Moderna, the Brazilian Churascaria.

Within minutes we were led to a lovely table at Cagney’s Steakhouse, tucked into a back corner up against a window. I had a great view of the open kitchen, so I could peek at the possibilities for ordering.

Tom was delighted at the price of a favorite Chardonnay on the menu, so he ordered it. I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but one of the perks of cruise ship dining is the storing of half-finished bottles of wine. It followed us for days, it seemed.

Determined to hold onto my cruise ship eating program, I ordered a wedge salad. Period. Watching the food all around me, knowing whatever I ate was already pre-paid, and hearing Tom order, mine suddenly expanded to include a filet, baked potato, creamed spinach, and mushrooms. Whoosh! Goodbye cruise diet plan!

Tom got his usual strip steak and asparagus, after an order of Oysters Rockefeller and lobster bisque. He was underwhelmed by the chewiness of his strip steak. (I keep wondering when he might catch on to the fact that this cut, by its nature, is chewy.) My baked potato was ordinary, the mushrooms were fine, and the creamed spinach was the saddest I’ve ever encountered in a steak place. (No steakhouse visit is complete IMO, without this dish, so I’ve had a few.) Tom ordered dessert so unmemorable we can’t remember it.

The following day our Rufinia, the reservation fairy, got us into Moderna, the Brazilian Churascaria. Tom is too snobby to appreciate the brilliance of this kind of buffet eating. Everything is first quality, beautifully presented, and, (to again overuse a grossly overused expression), “cooked to perfection”. Unlimited meats on long skewers!!! Can this idea be improved upon??? I don’t think so! A waiter dragged out our day-old wine and we commenced buffeting. It’s a genius concept, really. Make a salad bar so appealing suckers like me will have a pile so high the dining companion is barely visible, and there is no tummy room left when the disc turns green. But we buck up. There were gorgeous beef bones here (with that yummy grease patina,) as well as the usual suspects: sausage, bacon-wrapped everything, chicken, and lamb, which was Tom’s favorite. (Figures.) Another thing I love about these places, they elevate beans to an art form.

On the third night, even the genius Rufinia and her magic dust could only find us space at Los Lobos, the Mexican place.
Even I was moved to get a cocktail, they were so pretty! The James Beard award-winning cocktail menu was extensive. I made my usual mistake of ordering a cocktail requesting that it not taste like one. It did, but I drank it anyway. (It’s a cruise ship – stumbling back to the room is permitted.) Tom must have had a few I didn’t see, because he uncharacteristically ordered a quesadilla as an appetizer. ????

We also got guacamole, which had an odd flavor note, but can anything made with avocados actually be bad? Doubtful.

Trouble with pre-paid meals (besides grotesque waste) is how orders happen without even thinking. It goes without saying, but Tom got mole poblano enchiladas. So did our friend.
His wife had skirt steak that she liked and I got something I always try, (and am usually disappointed with) Cochinita Pibil. I should find out what this means before I order it again. I adore pinto beans, but the refried ( which I never like )version was so not good I didn’t eat it. Again, another odd taste. After we had eaten, I remembered I saw a queso fundido I didn’t get!! This was sacrilegious. I got one at the end. Again, odd taste. I didn’t eat it, which is impossibly sacrilegious.! Tom followed this meal with his usual flan, which he deemed delicious.

The eating stopped for me the next day when the squall hit. Tom pressed on and found himself with some of the group at the teppanyaki tables. As expected, he was not impressed, and wasted a perfectly good specialty dining credit on this. He just doesn’t have the proper appreciation for flying shrimp caught in a hat. (Or sometimes into.) He came back to the room smelling like an Asian grill. Not good for my heightened state of nausea.

The following night Rufinia was back in the groove, scoring us a two top at the hottest spot on the ship, Le Bistro. My need to eat was long gone by this time, but curiosity prevailed. This was the place everyone talked about.
Tom had a pile of mussels he gave a thumbs up to, and I had a crab salad that was so pulverized it could have been tuna from a can. Very disappointing. The lobster bisque Tom had was again a high score for him, and in front of me was the mushroom soup of my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I dig a trough of cream as much as the next person, but in the US, I think maybe we rely too much on that rich fattness as a base. This was pure mushroom, and also creamy (from a broth) but silky too! A celebration of the mushroom. Utterly divine!!!

Tom got a sea bass as a final course, and liked it very well. I think I have only had Dover Sole once, but I tried it again here. My fish “thing” is complex. Thicker fish is okay if it’s flaky and white. This Dover Sole was about 1/4″ on each long piece. It got better with each bite, and I am now a fan. Tom had some housemade vanilla ice cream, and in cruise mode, I had chocolate.

As much as I wanted to hit the Churascaria a last time, we tried the Italian place the final night. Rufinia could only score us a table outside the main dining room, where we had to suffer a band playing Seventies music.

Tom had carpaccio as a starter, which he liked quite a bit. My pasta fagioli soup was fine but unremarkable. Fondly remembering Tom’s carbonara from Antico Forno in Boston, I was moved to get my own here. Not as good as Boston, and I’ve decided I can forever do without pancetta. Tom enjoyed his Veal Scallopini.

Again, ice cream for dessert for both. I gotta get out of cruise eating mode!

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