Defensive about my diss of Mandina’s on the radio show last week, Don the Gourmet neighbor invited us to join his wife and him for dinner there Friday night. We headed over right after the show.
The radio conversation was about places that represented the city’s culinary culture. I completely forgot to mention the premier such place, the beloved Mandina’s. It’s simply not to my taste and remains so, but Don wanted me to at least try to appreciate its charms. His enthusiasm is contagious.
The raffish space with its rust monocolor offends me as much as the menu intrigues me. Something about the way the menu is laid out makes it utterly unique. Unmistakably Mandina’s.
We started with fried eggplant sticks, which were thinner than most, a quality I prefer. The soft grey interior of eggplant is unappealing to me, and the thinner slicing makes this unnoticeable. Nice touch. Besides, less interior makes for more fried crunch, and who doesn't love that?
The pile was dusted nicely with non-descript parmesan and accompanied by a very nice red sauce. It was thick and not sweet, which surprised me. I wish I had gotten the meatballs and spaghetti. Don’s wife recommended a seafood platter, and Don countered with the stuffed eggplant.
Stuffed eggplant is not a favorite of mine, and I was on a fried seafood binge. What’s another platter? Don and I split one, and it was large enough to work in a third person.
Quite the pile. It was fried well, had a nice cornmeal coating, and it was piping hot. This was a good seafood platter, the very generous amount of seafood served atop a pile of frozen fries that were way better than they needed to be. The spectrum of frozen fries is wide, these are on the better end.
While Don and I devoured the platter, our respective spouses had Trout Meuniere/Amandine. A nice piece of fish with more of the fries, Tom reported it being as ordinary as it looked. There are brown butter sauces that are clear and light. This was brown, opaque, and gloppy.
There was good food on the table, and ordinary food. The service was fast and friendly. The waitresses are very New-Orleanian. The room was dumpy, and an aura of grease hung in the air.
In the end I left exactly as I came in - respectful of the icon status of Mandina’s, but it’s just not a place for me. It absolutely belongs at the top of a list of places that represent the food and feel of this city. Tom said it’s not the place it was. I think that it is probably exactly what it always was, and therein lies its charm.