Diary For Sunday, 11/18/2018: Lakehouse. The plan for the day was originally to for me to go to Mass at St. Jane de Chantal in Abita Springs, where I sing with the choir every week. Mass ends at 11 a.m., at which time I would meet Mary Ann at Impastato Cellars for brunch with MA’s friends from California, who were in town for a few days. But the weather was so pleasant that MA suggested that we go to Lakehouse in Mandeville instead. A brunch buffet served outdoors has been successful for Lakehouse when the conditions were nice. A recent chef change involving Chef Peter Kusiw–long a force in and around the kitchens of Mandeville–brought an unusually appealing assortment of new food.
The first evidence of this was flounder fillets topped with poached eggs and hollandaise and wrapped around an almost ridiculously generous pile of crabmeat. Somewhat similar egg dishes were flanked by a creamy panful of hummus, whose color was almost like that of pureed guacamole, sprinkled with black olives. MA says that this is the way the serve hummus in the West Coast film crowd that Lakehouse serves a lot of when films are in progress in our end of the earth. But it still looked unusual here. Tasted great, though.
MA’s favorite dish here was some roasted corned beef, of which she could not get enough. She also went for a made-to-order omelette made mostly of perfect (she sez) vegetables–tomatoes and mushrooms and the like. Over here was a vegetable medley including broccoli and Brussels sprouts, the latter being one of MA’s favorite veggies. A crabmeat ravigote turned up, and butter lettuce salad with an olive oil dressing.
Chef Pete was trying out some big soft-shell crabs, and shared a couple of them with a Mediterranean garlic-and-herb topping. By this time I had made the bend into the sweet stuff–a fluffy white-chocolate bread pudding with a great background of cinnamon, and a waffle with a pumpkin background flavor. All of this was excellent, at $33 a person. That’s high for brunch on the North Shore, but by any other standard a great deal, considering the quality of the groceries.
Also here was a trio of extraordinarily listenable musicians, with a wonderful young woman taking the vocals. It was all my kind of music, from the Moonlight In Vermont/Autumn In New York kind of sound. I asked if I could join the group with a reading of “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” which certainly describes her well. This trio plays regularly at Lakehouse, which alone gives me a reason for coming back more often than we do–to say nothing of the food. Topping at all off was the offer of bottomless free mimosas, which are a bit much for me. The coffee was better.
I have a feeling we might turn up here often at the rare weekends when it’s not raining or freezing. The premises are other wise noteworthy. The main building is on Lot #1 in Mandeville, and dates back to the early 1800s. It was a restaurant called Bechac’s for over a century.
Lakehouse. Mandeville: 2025 Lakeshore Dr. 985-626-3006.
Few restaurants make oysters Bienville anymore, but that doesn’t make it bad. This classic baked-on-the-shell dish, named for the founder of New Orleans, is seriously delicious. However, there’s no gold standard for the dish. Nobody is sure who invented it, in fact. Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, and Commander’s all make claims, and Pascal’s Manale and Delmonico are also famous for their versions.
I’m persuaded that the ingredient list must contain bacon, shrimp, mushrooms, bell peppers, sherry, a butter-based light roux, Parmesan cheese and some lighter cheese, and bread crumbs. Other ingredients lurk in the background. You can bake oysters Bienville classically on the shells, but I find they’re just as good made in a small casserole or au gratin dish. I serve them that way at Thanksgiving instead of oyster dressing.
When cooking, oysters release a good deal of water, and that can rip the sauce apart. The solution is to use more bread crumbs than looks or feels right. And to have the sauce fully cooked and hot before it goes into the oven, so that the dish can be cooked mostly by heat from above.
- 1 lb. small shrimp (50 count), peeled, rinsed, and chopped coarsely
- 1 stick butter
- 1 rib celery, chopped coarsely
- 1 large, ripe red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, chopped coarsely
- 8 oz. small white mushrooms, chopped coarsely
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 4 strips lean bacon, fried crisp, crumbled
- 2 green onions, sliced finely
- 1 cup of oyster water (or as much as you can get, plus enough water to make a cup)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2/3 cup warm milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 dozen large oysters, well drained
1. Heat 1 tsp. of the butter in a skillet until it bubbles. Sauté the chopped shrimp until it turns pink. Remove and set aside.
2. Add 2 Tbs. butter to the pan and heat until it bubbles. Add the celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Sauté until they get tender. Add the sherry and bring to a boil for about one minute.
3. Add the shrimp, bacon, and green onions. Cook for another minute, then add the oyster water. Bring it to a boil and cook for about two minutes. The sauce should be wet but not sloshy. Remove from heat.
4. Heat the remaining butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a blond roux. When you see the first hints of browning, remove from the heat and whisk in the hot milk to form a béchamel. (It will have the texture of mashed potatoes.)
5. Add the egg yolks to the béchamel, stirring quickly to combine it before the eggs have a chance to set. Whisk the mozzarella slowly into the béchamel.
6. Add the béchamel to the pan with the shrimp mixture. Stir to into combine completely.
7. Combine the Creole seasoning, salt, bread crumbs, and cheeses. Blend two-thirds of this mixture into the sauce.
8. Cover the bottom of a shallow baking dish with oysters, leaving just a little space between them. Top with the Bienville sauce. Sprinkle the top with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the baking dish). The dish is done when it’s bubbling and the top is browned.
Serves eight to twelve.
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. 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: three courses, $40. Regular menu also available. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Annadele Plantation. Covington: 71518 Chestnut St. 985-809-7669. Three courses from a special menu, $48, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. A special four-course menu for $47, 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, entrees $26-32.
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.
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.
Five Happiness. A Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving Day? Yes. What happens here is that people who either missed the turkey dinner or already had one earlier in the day. Five Happiness is open into the evening for those people, and is very busy.) 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.
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. $55, $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.
Maple Street Cafe. Uptown 4: Riverbend, Carrollton & Broadmoor: 7623 Maple. 504-314-9003. Both locations, special menu. Three courses, $25, $13 children. under 12. Noon-7 p.m.
Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Special menu, featuring free-range turkeys. Noon-8 p.m.
Muriel’s. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Special menu, three courses, $45.
Palace Cafe. French Quarter: 605 Canal. 504-523-1661. Regular menu with Thanksgiving specials (entrees $26-42), 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Ralph’s On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Very substantial special menu, three courses $46-54.
Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. Buffet 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., $47, kids $15, under 6 free. It’s not an enormous hotel-style buffet, but the food is fresh and distinctly Creole. Lots going on for the kids.
Restaurant des Familles. Marrero To Lafitte: 7163 Barataria Blvd. 504-689-7834. Way out on the bayou twenty minutes from downtown, and quite an environment. Special menu.
Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St83. 504-529-7045. Special menu. four courses, $37-51. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Roosevelt Hotel. CBD: 123 Baronne. The Roosevelt Hotel serves Thanksgiving dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, the grandest and largest space in the hotel. In addition to the buffet, there are several other action stations cooking to order. On a smaller scale, the hotel’s Fountain Lounge will also be open.
Roux On Orleans. French Quarter: 717 Orleans (Bourbon Orleans Hotel). 504-571-4604. The restaurant of the Bourbon Orleans, a block in back of St. Louis Cathedral. Buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $59, tax and tip included (!).
Royal Sonesta Ballroom. French Quarter: 300 Bourbon. 504-553-2278. Now that R’evolution is the main dining room at the Sonesta, the holidays bring forth special arrangements. The buffet you remember from the days of Begue’s is now in the hotel’s big ballroom. $75 is the price; $35 6-12 years, free under that. Seatings begin at 10:30 a.m., with the final seating at 1:30 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3633 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-3600. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. CBD: 525 Fulton St. 504-587-7099. Thanksgiving specials ($40, complete dinner) and regular menu, both locations. Noon-8 p.m.
Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676. Usual table d’hote dinner, with fresh turkey and other Thanksgiving dishes, about $40. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Vacherie. French Quarter: 827 1/2 Toulouse St. 504-207-4532. This boutique hotel in the French Quarter (it’s where Louis XVI used to be) hase continually expanded the reach and goodness of its restaurant, particularly on holidays. Thanksgiving brings a buffet from noon until 4 p.m. The price is $39 adults, $18 children.
Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. Special menu, four courses, $95. It’s offered all day long: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.