Mid-City: 310 N. Carrollton Ave.
Chateaubriand was the unluckiest major New Orleans restaurant in modern times. When it opened in mid-2001, it seemed to have everything going for it:
1. The market seemed prime for steakhouses (especially USDA Prime steakhouses). Several major national steakhouse chains that previously had not given New Orleans the time of day were moving in with large investments.
B. The location was perfect. The center of Mid-City! Carrollton at Bienville! Two blocks from Carrollton at Canal, the center of the known universe! Where restaurants were opening right and left, filling their tables with hip young diners! Lots of parking!
iii. And the chef! Gerard Crozier, who had been called by more than a few avid diners the best French chef in New Orleans. Who, after twenty years of running a five-star bistro in New Orleans East and then Metairie, retired to discover that he wanted to get back into the game.
4. And what a concept: a French steakhouse! You know, serving the steaks the way an upscale French restaurant does? With bearnaise and demi-glace and foie gras and all that. Appetizers like escargots and side dishes like pommes de terre Lyonnaise. Gerard was from Lyon, for heaven’s sake!
This is what Gerard and his partners created at Chateaubriand. At Crozier’s old restaurant (which by then had been thoroughly diluted by the new owners), steak was a major part of the menu, and excellent. On special occasions, Crozier would feature chateaubriand, and sold as many of them as he could cook.
A chateaubriand is, strictly speaking, the heavier end of the beef tenderloin, five to eight inches thick, roasted whole and sliced at the table. Cooking a steak this way results in a flavor and texture different from what you’d get from grilling the same exact beef cut into steaks. The chateaubriand cut retains more juices. And it makes for a beautiful presentation. The crusty part surrounds the perimeter of each slice, with the rosy rare center beautifully visible.
Chateaubriand upped the ante on its namesake dish. Instead of using the big end, they served the center cut of the tenderloin. That’s a much better piece of beef, even though it’s a bit smaller in circumference. This mighty slab weighed in at 20 ounces. Given that there is almost zero no waste in a tenderloin, it was a lot of eating even for two people. At $63.75, it came with pretty assortment of vegetables, and gratin Savoyard–a cheesier version of the incredible gratin dauphinoise Gerard wowed people with at his old place. (The ultimate potatoes au gratin, is what it was.)
They also served all the other classic American steak cuts at Chateaubriand. All were USDA Prime, oversize, and broiled in the now-universal appliance that uses firebrick to radiate a powerful blast of very high heat.
There was a little difference in the presentation. They sent out the steaks with butter, but not sizzling. Blended with herbs, it melted over the steak onto the plate. Not bad, and some butter flavors actually come out of hiding more efficiently when the butter is still in its opaque state.
Only one steak was non-standard. The onglet–the French name for the suddenly-popular hanger steak–is long a standard in French bistros. Interesting cut: only one onglet is found per cow. It was a bit on the chewy side, which was why they sliced it up for you in the kitchen. But the flavor was distinctive, a good bit more assertive than that of a filet.
The menu went on to include double-cut pork chops, racks of lamb, and seared steaks of salmon and tuna. They had lobster, as all steakhouses must, big and expensive.
The restaurant was comfortable and impressively designed–the all-time best conversion of a Shoney’s in history. The building was the historic old Reuter’s Seed facility, and interesting in its own right.
Eveline Crozier, Gerard’s wife ran the dining room. In the kitchen as chef de cuisine was Patrick Perie, the talented former chef from the Meridien Hotel. One day he ran a special of tripe with pork belly that is at the very least in the top ten dishes of my life.
So why did the place last only five years? Here’s what happened.
Fall 2001. Chateaubriand was only a few months old when the disaster occurred on nine-eleven. Only restaurateurs remember what happened to dining out in the weeks after. Everybody stayed home. It was as scary as Katrina would be.
Streetcar construction. All of 2002 and most of 2003, a spur streetcar line from Canal Street to City Park went under construction. Carrollton Avenue and the streets around it were dug up and blocked. Although there never was a time when the restaurant couldn’t be reached at all, trying to figure out how to get to Chateaubriand was enough to make people think of other places to eat. Half-full dining rooms were typical.
The Mad Cows. In 2004, the frightening mad cow disease turned up in Canada, where a lot of American beef comes from. The supply of beef from all sources got tight, and prices went way up. All of this kept people from eating as much steak as they otherwise would. This was when some of those chain steakhouses here began to close.
Chateaubriand had just hit its stride again in 2005. The food was great and the place was jumping. And then came Katrina. The flood waters were deep enough to destroy everything at Chateaubriand. Including the Croziers’ will to go on. They had already retired once, and they did again, this time for keeps. They moved to Nashville, where they ran a UPS store and Gerard became a greeter at Wal-Mart. (He didn’t need the job, but he liked meeting people and hearing them call him “Frenchy.”)
In 2010, at just 69, still a marathon runner, Gerard died one evening while watching television.