WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Emeril Lagasse has one of the greatest disadvantages a restaurateur can have in New Orleans: he’s very successful. Visitors to New Orleans, unaffected by this disease of local diners, get a disproportionate number of the tables. But the restaurant has been one of the best in town since it opened, and it still is.
The kitchen led the local trend with its emphasis on finding the best ingredients and making everything from scratch, and innovating consistently without leaving the New Orleans flavor palette. No local restaurant has a better waitstaff or wine cellar.
Emeril Lagasse needs no introduction other than to say that the guy you see on television is not the real chef. He’s a lot calmer and nicer in person. After entering the cooking trade in his native New England, he charmed the Brennans at Commander’s Palace into letting him run the kitchen there in the early 1980s, when he was still in his twenties. He opened Emeril’s in 1990. It was the first big-time chef-owned restaurant in New Orleans history, and it took off immediately, spawning two other local eateries and many more elsewhere (the empire now stands at eleven). After the hurricane, Emeril took a lot of flak for not being in town much–even as he raised several million dollars for the recovery in his travels. Although he does show up in the restaurant now and then, the day-to-day is handled by others.
It’s a renovated warehouse, its industrial aspect softened with improved acoustics (although it remains a loud restaurant) and artfully designed but casual furnishings. Particularly interesting is the arch over the food bar, where those most interested in cooking can watch the action while eating atop barstools. A second large dining room runs alongside the wine cellar, with a bar at the intersection of the two rooms.
»Andouille and boudin, greens, beer braised onions, homemade Worcestershire sauce
»Escargots and Yukon Gold potato fondue, chorizo
»Thai BBQ lamb ribs, crunchy Asian pear slaw, sesame
»Barbeque shrimp, rosemary biscuit, fresh chives
Creole marinated fried calamari, olive salad, smoked tomato sauce
Smoked salmon cheesecake, green onion coulis
Angel hair pasta, crawfish tails, Creole cream sauce; or with smoked mushrooms, tasso cream sauce
Soup of the day
»Gumbo of the day
Yellowfin tuna salad, grilled fresh bacon, butter lettuce, citrus hoisin, jalapeno, crisp rice noodles
Chopped romaine salad, teardrop tomatoes, pancetta, preserved lemon dressing, boquerones
»Truffled shrimp Louie, with butter lettuce, citrus, bacon, chopped egg, asparagus and tobiko caviar
»Emeril’s salad, baby mixed greens, balsamic vinaigrette, sun-dried tomatoes, pepper jack cheese and seasoned croutons
»Arugula, endive and radicchio tossed in a walnut vinaigrette with Maytag blue cheese, candied walnuts
»Maple-rosemary glazed chicken breast and confit leg, caramelized root vegetables, kale, Benton’s bacon, mustard jus
»Cast-iron skillet roasted filet of beef, BBQ shortrib shepherd’s pie, greens, valdeon and apple walnut salad
»Fish of the day
Sautéed gulf shrimp, trofie pasta, vermouth cream, guanciale, brioche crumbs
»Sorghum smoked duck breast, “dirty” fregola sarda, red cabbage choucroute, truffle pate
»Saffron-chili dusted jumbo shrimp, sweet potato-smoked corn grits, skillet beans, Benton’s bacon, mango chow chow
Cowboy ribeye, crisp vidalia onion rings, fresh watercress, roasted garlic-marrow butter and sauce carmouche
»Andouille-crusted drum, grilled vegetables, shoestring potatoes, glazed pecans, Creole meunière sauce
»Grilled double cut pork chop, caramelized sweet potatoes, tamarind glaze, green chile molé sauce
Sweet barbecue glazed salmon, andouille-potato hash, crispy onions, Worcestershire
»Emeril’s banana cream pie with graham cracker crust, caramel sauce and chocolate shavings
Chocolate peanut butter pie, Oreo crust, caramel
»Vanilla bean crème brûlée with seasonal cookie
»Black Forest doberge, vanilla bean semifreddo, cherry compote
Chocolate chip-blackberry crumble tart with coffee ice cream and cocoa nibs
»Lemon-tarragon ice box pie, vanilla wafer crust, torched meringue
»Strawberry shortcake, vanilla pound cake, cream cheese ice cream, strawberry jam
Warm sticky toffee pecan pudding cake with vanilla ice cream and satsuma toffee sauce
»JK’s warm chocolate soufflé
Ice cream or sorbet trio
FOR BEST RESULTS
Nine times out of ten, the specials are the best food in this restaurant on any given night. No other restaurant puts more into devising these. It is a tremendous help that the post the specials on line every day. With the small plates menu, it’s easy to construct a tasting menu of many courses–a good strategy. Dining at the food bar, with the chefs working within eyeshot, is fun. It helps to let all the staff know you’re local.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The food here tends to the heavy side, the sauces rich and powerfully flavored. Some dishes could be kicked down a notch.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +3
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Emeril led–perhaps even started–the most powerful current local trend in cooking: finding the best local ingredients and making everything from scratch. His flagship restaurant innovates consistently without leaving the New Orleans flavor palette or ignoring the preferences of diners. A good example is its recent shift to a menu dominated by small plates. That not only made dining here more varied and interesting, but also made it more affordable, at a critical time. Also here: the best restaurant pastry shop in town, with fresh breads and an amazing dessert list.