Next week the staff at Tujaque’s will begin the arduous task of individually wrapping the hundreds of little liquor bottles that line the walls of the restaurant, as the move up the street begins. The doors won’t open there until September, but the current ones will close after dinner service tonight. We went for dinner last night for the special Table D'hôte send-off dinner.
It was a very nice dinner, and a very nice price. Upon entry we were instructed to see owner Mark Latter for a seat, He gave us a choice of upstairs or down. I actually prefer upstairs but the stairs are terrifying. We sat downstairs in the back room and were luckily seated next to a couple we really enjoyed talking to. The man recognized Tom’s voice and came over to say hello. He drove a private car and told Tom he discovered him listening to the radio and always directs the people he drives to places Tom has recommended. Tom was thrilled when he said that he was more excited to meet Tom than a lot of the nationally famous people he has driven. He credited Tom with steering him to all the great eats in their new city. They moved here from Indianapolis after Katrina to rebuild and stayed. We will have them on the radio show.
After we sat we were given a small Sazerac. The sommelier came to talk about wine, telling Tom he had a copy of Hungry Town on his sofa, and he has read it three times. He and Tom settled on a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The menu started with turtle soup which our table’s turtle soup connoisseur declared not the best or the worst he has had. It looked and smelled good to me.
The next course was a seafood vol-au-vent which had a crust that could have used a few more minutes in the oven. This puffed pastry was puffed but not flaky, which a little more baking would have improved. Inside was a tasty and piquant cream sauce with crawfish and oddly, peas.
The third course was the famous house signature dish, boiled beef brisket with the horseradish sauce. There were two small pieces per portion, which was plenty enough. A lot of food was coming. This is such a simple thing, but so good. The sauce really is the perfect accompaniment to the beef.
There were four entree choices, which seemed quite generous. A grilled redfish amandine with asparagus looked good going to all the other tables. There was a duck breast with sweet potatoes that I was sorry Tom chose. I knew he wouldn’t finish it and of all the other things on the menu, this would not be eaten later by me. As duck breasts go, this one seemed a good version. Usually, these appear undercooked to me and are tough. This one seemed to be better done and was a little sweet. The roasted sweet potatoes were a nice side. I vacillated between the soft shell crab over sweet corn and Creole tomato salad and the tournedos with smashed potatoes, finally settling on the latter.
The beef was beautiful and cooked exactly as I had asked. There was a sauce with caramelized onions and mushrooms which added a sweetness that was mildly off-putting, but only mildly. One of the reasons I got the dish was the presence of mushrooms, which in actuality wasn’t much of a presence at all. And the smashed potatoes were more a mashed potato. They seemed very creamy. This sounds like a complaint, which it is not. It was a perfectly fine dish, which is how I would describe all the food at Tujague's. As the second oldest grand dame, it is by far the most raffish, and that is part of its charm.
Dessert choices were a bread pudding with sliced bananas on top or a grasshopper panna cotta. Tom of course got the bread pudding. I am not a dessert person, but I was curious about this grasshopper dessert, so I got it. Tom got a chance to have his two favorite desserts, the two he vexes about when they are side by side on any menu, in exactly the order he chooses. The grasshopper panna cotta was essentially a Crème brûlée. A cup custard flavored with mint. (The grasshopper drink was invented here, so it was fun to see it in a dessert.) It had a bit of chocolate mousse and a bite of solid chocolate on top, but it was a lovely smooth custard with the signature mint. Very nice. I had a bite and Tom “tried” it too, finishing it by the time I looked at him again. That was the delightful surprise of the evening. Another great surprise was a gift bag with a glass inscribed with the year 1856, the restaurant's opening date.
The place was full of people who had come to say goodbye to this longtime home of this New Orleans institution. They made a steady parade of colorful New Orleans characters, dressed outlandishly. You would never see that at the other grand dames. (Yes, at Galatoire’s but that is finery. This is casual.) Maybe it’s the location deeper in the Quarter, but there is something about this place that separates it in spirit from all the others. It will be interesting to see if that moves up the street with all the physical property.