My wife Mary Ann has always put a lot of work into my birthday, and for a lot of reasons. One of them is that we have a few family holidays jammed into the same calendar times. After my big day on February 6th, MA assembles our wedding anniversary on February 11th. Finally, we have St. Valentine's Day on February 14th. Note that all of these celebrations include romantic times.
One of the first such events this year was coincidentally also the beginning of Broussard's 100th celebration. Because we knew this would be a great party I chose to have two birthday celebrations. The place filled all the many rooms with some original food and a lot of friends. Most of those people stayed all evening long, discovering Broussard's, live music and a bustling restaurant with a lot of fun.
As pleasurable as that was, the biggest celebration feast was brought on by Mary Ann the following evening at Antoine's. She has me all figured out, starting with the well-known fact that Antoine's is my favorite restaurant anywhere. Period, so my birthday is always marked festively there. My 60th birthday was a high watermark in 2011, with a surprise party for thirty that my wife threw for me, including all my old oenophile friends, who helped seriously depleted my wine collection. But the peak of my pleasure is, the grandiosity always to be found at the 1840 restaurant.
It's the history, the familiarity, the environment, and the many old friends that show up to make dinner at Antoine's what I think about when I want a big evening. It wasn’t a milestone birthday like the 60th, but it was still a wonderful surprise to see all my sisters and best friends Oliver and Carolyn, the best man at our wedding and his wife. Already this evening on February 7th was everything I hoped for.
The three of us got right down into Antoine's eating. I was immediately pleased to see that the souffle potatoes, which were overly crackly the last time we were here. This time around, the potatoes were exactly as they were supposed to be--a touch fleshy, with the exterior crackly.
My favorite waiter Charles Carter was too busy with a large party in the back, but as always, he attends to every detail, giving us wonderful waiters who were very attentive and anticipated our every need. Before he left he announced gleefully, “We have trout tonight!”
Rick Blount, the owner and best-ever steward of this Grand Dame, dropped over to say hello. He is such an affable host MA was very disappointed she missed him. She was outside helping ML with the cake.
With nine people at our table, there was much to assess. The waiter came in with an assortment of appetizers to be doled out to the eaters. This persuaded them to try dishes that they might otherwise leave behind. For example, oysters Foch--a longtime Antoine's special--would strike a first-timer as odd. The oysters are fried, then coated with a thick brown sauce. Not visually appealing I admit, but it's possibly the best dish in the house.
The appetizers included all the classics, Besides the oysters, there was shrimp remoulade that MA declared the best she had ever eaten. It was unusually pungent, with enough horseradish to get up your nose. This sounds unpleasant, but it definitely was not. There was unanimous agreement to her hypothesis. Also on the table were two very generous portions of crabmeat au gratin, with large lumps of crabmeat in a cream sauce that was not overladen with cheese. This was very good, and very popular at the table. The least of these offerings was a crawfish dish, but no one complained of this either. All of this was just fantastic, and all mopped up with the perfect bread served here.
My birthday guests were mostly interested in eating seafood tonight. My little sister Lynn had as an entree of chargrilled oysters, a lot like Drago's. But that dish is everywhere these days. She was quite satisfied with her choice. My other sister Karen got gumbo and was almost too full to eat that. She did just fine, though, and was equally happy with her choice. My niece Holly got Portier de Porc, a pork porterhouse with a dark cherry sauce and sweet potato mash. She loved this, and there was a lot of envy at the table. My buddy Oliver got a soft shell crab amandine that he loved
Quite a few trouts with toasty almonds filled the table. My sister Judy, the Marys, and Carolyn all got a large piece of fried trout covered in shaved almonds and Beurre Blanc sauce. This was devoured by all. As for me, I asked for a variant of Antoine's pan-sauteed trout (usually drum, but Charles Carter’s announcement was welcome news). But my addition makes a bottom layer of what I think is the best creamed spinach in town. It's great. I call it Trout Florentine. You have to ask the chef to cook it for you. It's not a tough recipe, but it is a very good one. Maybe someday I can get the kitchen to put my name on it.
After the main course, we had some desserts. One of them was a birthday variation on Antoine's famous Baked Alaska. Great, as always. But my delightful daughter, a pastry chef in her own right, baked up a magnificent three-layer cake, with candles that thrilled all the girls at the table. The cake was beautiful as always, vanilla with a basic buttercream. I don’t go for chocolate as the girls do.
It was a beautiful way to spend my 69th birthday. Two celebrations, but the best was Antoine’s, a special restaurant with all my special people. Very special indeed.
713 St. Louis St. New Orleans
Mon-Sat Lunch 11:30-2
Mon-Sat Dinner 5:30-9
Sunday Jazz Brunch 10:30-2