Commander's Palace Stands Alone

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 01, 2024 21:43 in Dining Diary

Tom has always said that Antoine’s is his favorite restaurant, but when asked for “the best” restaurant in town, his answer was equally immediate: Commander’s Palace. I had never shared those sentiments, and I have sadly come to see his reasoning for these convictions too late. I have long ago appreciated the merits of Antoine’s, but it was only the last visit to Commander’s Palace that I realized just how outstanding a place it is on every level. My apologies to Tory McPhail for saying my favorite thing there is the garlic bread. It is otherworldly though, and if it is possible to improve on perfection, they have. The garlic bread IS even better than it was before.

Sitting with Tom in this place so hallowed for him, I finally understood how very special it is. The renovation that took place after Katrina looks as fresh as it did when they reopened 17 years ago. Really.

The welcome here is nonpareil. From the little foyer where they check for your name and table, to the row of waiters lining the entranceway to welcome you in, there really is nothing else like it anywhere in our experience. Certainly nothing else like it in this town.

Once seated, these waiters and their assistants then take exceptionally attentive care of you throughout the evening. I was brought to tears by Aaron, our waiter who expressed how much Tom has meant to him. This is a profession for these waiters. They are not passing through.

Everything in this experience at Commander’s Palace was sensational, and finally, I get it. I understand why Tom never hesitated to answer the “best restaurant in New Orleans” question with Commander’s Palace.

We started with Meg Bickford delivering the amuse. She is very cute and now very comfortable in her role as Executive Chef at one of the world’s most famous restaurants. The little tidbit she placed before us was a fried oyster mushroom with a dollop of hummus underneath. Very few restaurants still do this little palate-perker anymore, and I love it when they do. It is a very nice touch, and sets them apart.

We had already gone through a double order of the garlic bread. I wonder whenever I am there just how many I could consume if it wasn’t embarrassing to keep asking for more.

I ordered the crispy oysters and a gumbo for me, and also the Hokkaido Scallop Tostada for Tom. Then I remembered there was turtle soup, which I knew Tom would love so I called the waiter back and changed the order, which he graciously did.

I switched to the 3 Soup app and moved the scallops to Tom’s entree. I ordered the steak which we would share. We had to save room for his beloved Bread Pudding Soufflé, which I’m glad I remembered while ordering.

The crispy oysters app was a meal in itself. Gigantic crispy plump oysters came on a plate which included an enormous arugula, beet, and chevre salad enough for two, and a few thin slices of colored beets on the side. This was a delightful plate of food. 

These oysters were each at least a two-bite affair, which was not a problem for Tom at all. The salad was one of those that required deft handling to not look like a cow grazing. There were strings of pickled onions as well as large arugula leaves with stems and smoky chevre crumbles. The Green Goddess dressing was superb. Terrific.

Tom also loved the turtle soup. He has always loved the turtle soup here. I was not as enthusiastic about the two other demi soups on the plate. The gumbo was dark and quite spicy, and it was very good. The soup du jour was a curried sweet potato soup, which I liked well enough but not well enough to get a full portion. The demi worked fine for all three.

Tom loved his Hokkaido Scallop Tostada which was served with a horseradish scallop mousse with roasted garlic bagna cauda and spiced Chilton County peaches. This dish was as stylish as it was tasty.

My steak arrived, and it changed my life. Not in any fundamental way, but culinarily. I chose the steak by process of elimination. I would have gotten the Vol Au Vent of mushrooms, but the mushrooms were tempura- battered and fried. I didn’t want a pork chop, curried shrimp, or redfish. And I’ve had the Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish. The steak was the most expensive entree at $49, which is a normal price for a steak anywhere. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices. It was not nearly as expensive as I expected.

So how did it change my life? There was a blueberry demi-glace sauce napping the steak beside the traditional  Bearnaise. I would never have chosen a steak with any kind of fruit in the sauce but it was great. The smashed (mashed) potatoes were basic mashed red potatoes with a few young carrot stalks of purple and orange carrot. These were smoked and honey-glazed with Acadian honey. This was a delicious plate of food. The steak was exactly as I asked for it. No Wagyu, just basic Angus as I prefer. We both loved this.

Tom was ready to go by the time the Bread Pudding Soufflé arrived at the table, along with two other desserts. They were the Banana Cream Pie and another new one - Lemon Bars. I’m not a banana fan but this pie was superb. It had a single Nilla wafer standing out from the top as garnish, and a luscious cream filling with slices of banana studding it throughout. It was not really sweet but had an intense banana flavor. This was very good.

I’m one of those people for whom dessert isn’t dessert unless it's chocolate. But the lemon bars were really great as well. They had a tart lemon flavor offset by whipped cream. The crust was thick and flaky and the combination of the tart lemon, soft, whipped cream, and the flaky pastry was a ideal clash of texture and tastes. 

Tom did have a few bites of the Bread Pudding Soufflé before we left. Aaron did the requisite tableside presentation we have seen so many times, but it never gets old. The fluffy meringue parted easily to allow for the pouring of the sauce.

Lally Brennan spent some time visiting and it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. Many years have passed since our families socialized together when Dick Brennan Sr. was around. Just being there in a place that brought back so many memories heightened the experience. And it was fun seeing the full dining room of people making their own memories. Everyone should experience this place, at least once. It’s that special.