Hitting Pause On A Great Favorite

Tom Fitzmorris January 15, 2020 11:50 Dining Diary

Last Friday, Mary Ann said that we should have dinner at Brennan's on Royal Street, because we haven't gone there in quite a long time, and people are asking us about it. Also, there's a new chef whose new menu we have to check out. It was already a busy day when Mary Ann decided she and I should drop in at both Antoine's and Brennan's for different reasons.

Immediately after the show we head to Brennan’s and are told that we can be seated at 6. Mary Ann reminds me of something she mentioned constantly during the show: the news that Antoine's--which is around the corner from Brennan's--has an interesting promotion. All day today you get an appetizer of six oysters Rockefeller--Antoine's most famous dish--for the price of just $5.

That was just too attractive an offer to let it go. What's behind this? All I could see was that the waiters took a little longer to serve the deal. Which seemed reasonable enough. While I was eating, I ordered a Vieux Carre, a whiskey-based cocktail in the realm of an Old Fashioned. I don't think I ever had one before. It was the creation of the Monteleone Hotel's Carousel Bar. And the Vieux Carre Cocktail was just what I was expecting, and very well made.

And then the great deal entered the scene. When the bonus oysters Rockefeller arrived at our table, they were unlike any I ever remember having. It wasn't completely different from the others, but they weren't the same, either. The sauce from Antoine's had the texture of very light mayonnaise. Definitely unlike the usual version I've seen at this, my favorite restaurant. The only other time I've ever seen them like that were the ones we had recently at Pascal's Manale. Now I have two Rockefeller experiences to talk about, both of which I've eaten dozens of times before. But these were not the Oysters Rockefeller I remember, easily explained by the volume leaving the kitchen from this special promotion.

I didn't have time to investigate all this. We had a reservation at Brennan's scheduled for after the Rockefeller oddity, and so did a lot of other diners. We didn't want to lose our table.

Luckily, we got to our reservation before the “courtesy call” from Open Table. The front-desk staff at Brennan's had the table written down and ready. I was recognized by almost all the staff, my goofy rigamarole had the staff joking with me so nobody would get too serious.

Brennan's is in its second chef in the current era. Chef Ryan Hacker has taken over for Slade Rushing, the original chef from the Ralph Brennan-Terry White era. It's too soon to make any judgments, but one particular matter came up that I thought was interesting. Consider this:

I was having dinner with a couple of chefs I know not long ago. Their feeling was that chefs and management teams today are purposely trying to keep most of the cooking down to dishes that are easy for diners to comprehend, rather than the type of cooking of Chef Slade Rushing, who has a history of cooking somewhat on the avant-garde scale. The menu we had tonight was in the new, conventional, styles.

This is probably a good way to go, given the people who were in the room when Mary Ann and I were. Chef Slade was much more adventuresome. It'll be interesting to see where Brennan's and its customers wind up.

Our dinner was assembled from a surprising menu that offered just shy of a dozen appetizers and soups, followed by a choice of eight entrees and about six desserts. This was somewhat limiting and therefore disappointing The evening began with turtle soup, a long-time specialty of Brennan's, and something I order anywhere that sells it. But this version is very different from the old days at Brennan's. It was a very dark soup and very little (if any) like the magnificent old version. 

MA raved about a file seafood gumbo with Basmati rice and an awful lot of shrimp. There was Poche andouille here as well as oysters. This was a very generous portion for $10.

After this first course, the kitchen was very kind to send out a surprising dish from the old days,  Riz Au Lait– a rare-Cajun dish from popcorn rice, white truffle Anglaise, black truffles and some very unexpected other ingredients like D’Anjou pear.

The manager generously shaved black truffles in front of us. MA summed this dish up well. She thought with all the black truffles you felt compelled to think it was wonderful, but it really didn’t have much flavor at all. The sweetbreads appetizer was good, with ample nuggets of sweetbreads in a flavorful buttery white wine (or really yellow wine, hence the name Vin Jaune) sauce sprinkled with mushrooms. 

From here the evening shifted from those above to some familiar dishes. Blackened Redfish. Satsuma Lacquered Duck.  Raviolo with offbeat cheeses. I had the smoked scallops next and found it the best dish from the new Brennan's. But there are more entrees: Garlic shrimp, which Mary Ann got and was underwhelmed by. Bayou Cora grits which she declared watery, large slices of mushrooms she considered a little tasteless. And shrimp that were good. Rabbit Kottwitz, (named for a regular customer of the original Brennan’s, an attorney in town.) is usually seen as Veal Kottwitz. A Gulf Fish Amandine, and Grilled Prime Ribeye, which tops out at $43. 

Okay then. Where are the specials?. Surely there are some. But I haven't run into any here, unless they're in hiding. I'm sticking with it until the kitchen starts showing its capabilities.

Brennan's

417 Royal St New Orleans

504-525-9711

9am-10pm Seven days

brennansneworleans.com

P.S. --It must be said. Whatever the food and service presented at Brennan's, the dining rooms are stunning. It's probably the best restaurant in New Orleans from a visual perspective. I want the rest of one of my favorite restaurants to come back the way I like it.