Tom is often asked about his favorite restaurant. One would think that would be something he has to ponder, with all the fantastic restaurants here, and his full access to them all. But he has never wavered on the answer to that question. It is immediate and firm. Antoine’s is and always has been Tom’s favorite restaurant. He will concede that it is maybe not the best restaurant in New Orleans, but it hits all the right notes for him. Always.
For me, the planning of a big milestone birthday for Tom is also never an extended thought. Tom celebrated his 60th birthday there, and his 70th would be not exactly a repeat of the 60th, but another very special evening.
The 60th birthday was an excuse for Tom to drink some of his very good wines with his gourmet buddies who would know and appreciate what they were drinking. The remainder of the guest list was Tom’s sisters. It was an extremely small and select group of his oldest friends.
Because of his age and declining health, the guest list for this one was different. Wines were not the focus. College friends and other really close friends at all stages of his life were included, as well as family.
My siblings came to town, feeling that life is so uncertain now they would grab the chance to be together. Tom’s sisters stayed home because of COVID. The COVID policy was anything anyone felt comfortable with. That meant a number of people stayed home, others wore masks. The restaurant observed all protocols, and tables were spread out in a very large room. Balcony windows were open.
The wines that were such a focus last time were scooped up and sorted out later. Most of them came from Tom’s office, and I knew nothing about any of them. AJ, the wonderful sommelier at Antoine’s helped steer me. And the incredible Charles Carter counseled me with “save these for your children.”
Soon guests began to arrive, and one of them was unforgettable, wearing the tie of the evening. It was silk and had a collage of images of Tom. So fun. He told me there was one in his gift bag for Tom.
A gigantic ice bucket was set up with bottles of champagne and other wines. Glasses of champagne lined up on a table awaited guests when they arrived.
Unlimited platters of souffle potatoes with Bearnaise sauce were a great way to start the evening. Souffle potatoes everywhere are hit or miss for me, but these were excellent. Soft in the right places, crispy in the rest, these were the pinnacle of the legendary dish.
After sitting Charles and his able sidekick the young Silas supplied us with stacks of loaves of the delicious cap bread served in the Grande Dames. This was followed by the crabmeat ravigote and shrimp remoulade, as well as Oysters Rockefeller. And constant wine. Even I drank four glasses of champagne that night.
Entree choices were the New Orleans signature, Trout Amandine, or the steak with Marchand de Vin Sauce. One doesn’t think steak at a place like Antoine’s, but why not? It’s a first class restaurant and steak is ubiquitous, so it follows that a steak at Antoine’s would be great. We had dinner there recently and the steak looked like one of the best I’ve seen, so we included it in the choice birthday night. There were at least as many steaks on the tables that night as Trout Amandine, and Charles brought the birthday boy his reigning favorite, Speckled Trout Florentine. I was glad the birthday boy was sitting next to me, so I could scoop some of his creamed spinach every now and then. The Speckled Trout is pan seared with breadcrumbs and covered in cheese, surrounded by creamed spinach. This seems a pedestrian dish for Tom but it’s really delicious.
My Trout Amandine was the best I have ever had. It was perfection. Hot, crisp, napped in brown butter and covered with almonds and crabmeat, this was a great version of the classic. The steak people were just as enthusiastic. The three inches of beef was accompanied by mushrooms and Marchand du Vin sauce. Green beans and mashed potatoes filled out this plate.
There was wine aplenty and great conversations, good memories shared, pics taken, and soon Charles brought in the enormous Baked Alaska. It had Tom’s birth year and was heavy enough that Charles looked anxious to put it down.It was surprising how completely it disappeared. There were several people in the room who had never had Baked Alaska, and they were instant fans.
When one person leaves the others follow, and soon the party was over, leaving only wonderful memories behind.