An email from The Ralph Brennan Group offering one of their delicious new king cakes landed us at Brennan’s on Friday for lunch. The offer included delivery to our side of the lake, but when I mentioned this to Tom, just hearing the word Brennan’s was so exciting it became a pick-it-up after dining-in idea. And why not? It had certainly been too long.
We arrived at the restaurant at 11:30am, and they were quite busy inside and out. Each of the dining spaces is distinctly different in vibe. The front dining room looked especially pretty in pink bathed in the sunlight from the street windows. The elegantly fun Roost Bar was properly populated, and the largest dining room where we sat was also full to capacity. Its design statement of busy vivacity makes it hard to remember the old place at all.
After sitting and looking about the room, I noticed no food on any table. This was alarming given our one hour time limit for lunch, and I immediately chastised myself for giving us a one hour time limit. We were hemmed in by the show time of 2pm, and the hour drive before that, so our drive away time was 12:30, and the non-negotiable time was 12:45. This is not a place to come to eat. This is a place you dine. There is a very distinct difference. The people at all the other tables were leisurely appreciating the atmosphere, each other, and the food. Fine dining is not fast, and this is most definitely fine dining. I felt appropriately silly asking the waitress if she thought we could be out in an hour.
When Ralph Brennan took over Brennan’s, he didn’t just renovate the building, he renovated everything, including its very soul. Slade Rushing came in and renovated all the classic dishes, giving them a fresh modern twist that had to offend a lot of people, but we loved it. Yes, the Jackson Salad was there, but it was deconstructed in a way that was as enormously pleasing to the eye as to the palate. Slade Rushing was a master plater creating works of art that were equally delicious to eat. He left nearly two years ago to introduce London to our cuisine, but his standards remain, and the vision he and Ralph created for the food endures.
That said, I started this meal with a disappointment. Brennan’s replaced the old cap bread with housemade Parker House rolls, which while they were not classically traditional New Orleans, they were fantastically pleasing in every way. On this visit we got the traditional cap bread in the white bag, also very delicious, but different than what I was expecting.
The cap bread is made especially for the house, and maybe each of the four Grand Dames serving it has it made especially for them, but it is the only place to eat good French bread now. The retail version of the standard is dismal. And I love the butter. It comes in a single individual small dish, and it is soft. Spreadable. This may seem like a small thing, but to me it reflects attention to detail that is often missing today.
While we were devouring this simple treat of excellent French bread and spreadable butter, a gift from the kitchen arrived. It was Oysters J’aime, which translates to Oysters I like. I didn’t. Tom liked them okay, but mainly because he never met an oyster dish he didn’t love. He found this one puzzling as I did. It was unique, but that single trait doesn’t always make something better. I checked the menu because the flavor seemed meaty but that may have been my imagination. The crumbles were cornbread covered in a very spicy Creole red gravy and placed atop oysters in the shell and baked. No meat involved unless it was from a stock in the sauce. And they were messy to eat. We got blowback on the show for this opinion, so it’s absolutely worth a try and everyone can form their own opinion.
Following the oysters was a generous serving of turtle soup, in a lovely large white bowl, making for a beautiful presentation. Tom ate every bit of it, declaring it not the best in town but still very good.
If there is a Croque on a menu, I am likely to get it just because I like them. Tom had decided on the other thing that intrigued me, the Chicken Rochambeau. When he switched to Eggs Hussarde, I got the Rochambeau. Both of these dishes have origins in war. Hussarde was created at Brennan’s by Paul Blange, Brennan’s original chef who was from Europe. A hussar is a soldier, and the dish was named in their honor. Rochambeau was a French general in George Washington’s army.
The original dish was made with Holland rusks because Blange was from the Netherlands. Today’s version is housemade English muffins which look more like brioche to me. Those were topped with stiff Canadian Bacon cured with coffee and then poached eggs with a perky Hollandaise. Underneath was a Marchand du Vin sauce. All of these elements came together in a dish that was elegantly delicious.
My Chicken Rochambeau was also beautifully presented. A small airline chicken breast done very well sat atop more Canadian bacon layered with Bearnaise which was piled on a thick square slice of toasted brioche. At the very bottom was a red wine sauce. There was also spinach in this.
This is not the way I am used to eating, but I found it enormously pleasing. The dining room was filled with relaxed and happy patrons, the food was artful and simply delicious, and I found myself titillated to be there. No kidding.
Even though it was 12:30, when Tom asked about Bananas Foster we agreed to do it. The cart was brought out and in no time he had a beautiful split banana submerged in the sweet Foster sauce, all surrounding a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was so swept up in it all I took a bite. Very unlike me. The cold ice cream against the thick warm sauce made for just the right contrast. For maybe the first time I can say I “got” Bananas Foster.
Three different king cakes arrived at the table in big bags. The traditional, Black and Gold, and Strawberry Cream Cheese in the Brennan’s signature pink all looked enormously appealing. (More on that after the official tasting.)
We left with the bags of king cake, and a feeling of well-being and satisfaction strong enough to transport us back to a time when that kind of feeling was the norm. I miss that. We will do this again, and soon.