Wednesday, December 2, 2009. Hunt Room Grill. It was colder but less rainy than yesterday, allowing me to consider two restaurants the French Quarter for dinner. One of them was Attiki, a Middle Eastern restaurant about which I've heard good things. The main reason I haven't been there is that, I hear, at eight in the evening the belly dancers and hookahs come out. I don't want to be around either while I'm eating. I wasn't in the mood for Middle Eastern food tonight anyway. (I never go to a restaurant for a review meal when I don't feel like eating that kind of food.)
A twenty-foot length of open curb on Bienville Street, near the Pelican Club, made my dining decision for me. That's across the street from a restaurant that's been on my mind but unvisited for a few years. The Hunt Room Grill--the gourmet room of the Monteleone Hotel--may take the prize for Most Obscure Serious New Orleans Restaurant. It's a handsome but small space just off the lobby, and reading its menu makes you want to dine there. But hardly any local people ever do.
Except at this time of year. The Hunt Room Grill's Reveillon dinners have been among the best for many years. In fact, the Monteleone's chef Randy Buck created fancy, programmed Christmas feasts at the Fairmont before the modern Reveillon even came into existence. Of all the Christmas menus out there, the Hunt Room Grill's is the most Christmasy. It includes the only roast goose and the only Yule log in town, as far as I know. The darkly-paneled dining room's Victorian style is exactly right. Even the background music--always classical, a rarity these days--fits the theme.
I started with the smoked Muscovy duck breast, which tasted okay but looked like sticks of ham on the plate. The salad of celeriac, apple, and walnuts somehow became a little ruffle of standard spring greens. The sauce, of port and ginger, made no particular statement. So on to the soup of white asparagus, a visually featureless, thick, creamy, off-white puree. It was good enough that I considered asking for another go-round of it.
I looked forward to the Christmas goose for the entree. The Reveillon menu started just yesterday; how could it be that on the second day they were serving what looked and tasted like scraps and leftovers? Not a single shred of meat was large enough to call a slice. Where was the breast meat? It was all so dry that the sauce couldn't help. If they'd saved it from last year in the freezer it wouldn't have been worse than this.
The goose saddened me beyond mere dissatisfaction. This is the Christmas spirit they're messing with. Here's the most appealing Reveillon menu in town, and it's frustrating that its execution was so careless.
The dessert cheered me up, with its marzipan holly leaves and berries--very festive. It wasn't a classic buche de Noel, but a tiramisu iced to look like a tree branch. But that worked, and it was as good as it looked. And the service staff, which didn't have much to do (the population of the room never went into double digits while I was there) took care of me well. I guess they're used to single travelers looking for some sort of comfort.
Hunt Room Grill. Monteleone Hotel. French Quarter: 214 Royal 504-523-3341. French Creole.