A Lark By The Park

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 13, 2021 07:44 in Dining Diary

It was a big milestone birthday for Tom last weekend, and my two expat sisters came in to celebrate with us. The birthday party was at Antoine’s with wines from our collection. I had to bring them to Antoine’s on Friday, so we all arranged to meet for lunch at Ralph’s On The Park. 

A week earlier we went to Brennan’s to pick up some king cakes they generously offered us, and stayed for lunch. While reading my own account of that lunch in our newsletter, I noticed the Ralph’s lunch special on our Specials Board, and was so excited to see a $17 two course lunch at a place like Ralph’s that I immediately pitched lunch there to the sisters who miss our great New Orleans food. Mary Leigh came too, and soon it was a party of seven.

One of my three sisters had a 38th anniversary that day, and her husband was with her, so I pulled champagne out of the pile and the festivities commenced.

We started with the truffle fries and an order of fried oysters. I was shocked at the fries, which I remembered as being very good fresh cut fries the last time we were here. These were not. They really shouldn’t have been served. It was quite the pile, but they were greasy and limp. A good example of how the best of intentions with hand cut fries can go awry if the oil is wrong, or any number of other possibilities. A good chef knows when it’s a miss though, and these were beneath the standards of a place like this. I should have sent them back, but we ate them.

The long plate with a half dozen fried oysters in a line was nicely presented atop a generous puddle of remoulade. The oysters were large, fried in cornmeal, and accompanied by a Bourbon-tomato jam and chive. These were good, with a nice flavor combination. They did not last long.

It was my intention to have the lunch special to see the deal, but it was not my intention for all seven of us to get the exact same thing. Only Tom deviated.

The lunch deal was not big on selection, but the selections were quite nice. The first course was a choice of soup or salad. Turtle or soup of the day, or the City Park Salad. There were a few turtles, a few du jours, and two salads.The soup of the day was a broccoli cheddar.  It was a rich, dense and creamy puree, but was not an especially appealing color. I guess I expected less broccoli and more cheddar. It had a very nice taste though, and a really silky texture. Good stuff.

The turtle soup got high marks from all around, and from Tom a good but not great. But that salad! That salad was the thing to get. It was large enough to be an entree. For two. 

A significant mound of romaine and red oak lettuce, there was Granny Smith Apple there as well, Stilton Blue Cheese, and bacon. A fresh vinaigrette dressing made this a very appealing course.

Entrees were only two, and not a single one of us got the other choice. It was a grilled Romaine lettuce salad and grilled shrimp, with garlic croutons and parmesan cheese. This does sound good but it was no match for the other option, which was pan-seared drum with smoked gouda grits. This was a gorgeous presentation with the very nice slab of fish in the center of a shallow bowl, flanked by creamy cheese grits and surrounded by a coral river of Shrimp Veloute Sauce, finished with a pinch of pickled Chow Chow centered atop the drum. Tom diverted from the group with his order of pan-sauteed trout over Louisiana popcorn rice, baby green beans, and Pickled Pepper Sauce Gribiche.

The drum was a thrill for everyone who got it. First, it was stove hot, which is so unusual. The grits were cheesy and creamy, and the fish tender and flaky. The heavy spice level on the fish made it the perfect balance to the creamy grits, and the Veloute sauce finished it all nicely. This was a complex and delicious bite of food, and got rave reviews by everyone at the table. Tom was the outlier, with the trout and Popcorn Rice. Popcorn rice is an intense flavor, nutty and a little herbal, and it is perfect all by itself. Paired with a crusted fish, it is a wonderful combination. Simple Louisiana food at its best.

We had to run back to the north shore to do the show, but the others stayed and finished the champagne.

This Ralph’s lunch is a wonderful little secret, and we will be back again to sample more of the menu. It was a great place to remind these formal locals what it means to miss New Orleans.