Wednesday, December 9, 2009. Reveillon At The Windsor Court Grill Room. A break in the rainy weather allowed me to walk the two blocks to the Windsor Court Hotel from the radio station, without bothering to carry an umbrella. There I met three genuine bigwigs in the Polo Lounge, waiting for me to finish the radio show. And a commercial that needed to begin tomorrow. I only get these on days when I have an appointment right after I get off the air. But the person who invited me is Chris Claus, the corporate vice-president in charge of all of our radio stations in New Orleans. He certainly understands this problem.
The others were David Teisch, the general manager of the Windsor Court, and D.A. Magee, who with his wife Jennifer own a major public relations firm here. I've known D.A. for many years, but it's been long enough since I last had dinner with him that I needed to be reminded that his kids are the same ages as mine.
I wondered about the agenda for this meeting for days. It turned out there was none. We had martinis in the bar, then retired to the Grill Room. The conversation ranged across everything that four middle-aged New Orleans guys could be expected to discuss over dinner, with one exception: the Saints came up only in passing. (That pun was unintentional, but I can't bring myself to remove it.)
Teisch, who has good reason to be plugged into the convention business, said that next year is expected not to be as good as this one. I found that hard to believe, but he said that 2009 was the last year of conventions planned before Katrina, and when 2010 meetings were in the idea stage, planners were dubious about New Orleans. The year after that looks better. This is where the Saints came marching in: the team's high profile this year has New Orleans on a lot of people's minds.
Looming much larger than any of this was the food and wine. I inadvertently triggered an overachievement in the kitchen by asking the server, "So, what does the chef have tonight that's really unusual and fabulous?" In answer to the challenge, Chef Drew Dzejak improvised a four-way amuse-bouche. I don't believe I've ever been served such a thing. In the northwest of the four-compartment plate was tuna tartare. To its right, a nibble made with spicy shrimp. Below that, carpaccio of beef with an oily, capery sauce. In the last quadrant, a single grilled oyster with an herbal sauce.
The Grill Room had a Reveillon menu that looked good enough to accept in its entirety. I was asked to order first, since I was so decided. "I would like to create my own Reveillon dinner," said Teisch. "I'll start with foie gras," he said. Wait--there was no foie gras on the Reveillon menu; he was just getting what he felt like eating. The others did follow his lead, and when the food began to arrive there I was with a bowl of tasty butternut squash soup, while everybody else was raving about the foie gras. That's what I get for being a rule-follower.
We all got on the Reveillon track after that, though. The entrees included red snapper with a satsuma mignonette sauce, a filet mignon with potato puree and root vegetables, and chicken breast with red beans and mirlitons. The last one was mine. I couldn't resist the idea of having red beans and fried chicken (below) at the Windsor Court. Teisch said that it was commonly served to the staff, and that they had the reputation of being very good. Teisch and Claus, neither of whom is from here, seemed little interested in red beans. But I grew up with them, and I was happy they were there.
We drank good wine throughout, but I had the bad luck of hitting empty holes on the wine list. The first bottle was a Grand Cru Chablis; it was out, but another was substuted. Same thing happened when I ordered Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, mainly to tell about the New Orleans connection with that wine. No go, but the juice that came (I forgot what it was) did the job with the growing inventory of food on the table.
The dessert was billed as bananas Foster bread pudding. What wasn't said is that it's the deconstructed version. A row of three major components had a ball of ice cream in a nest on the left, a demitasse of custardy, eggnoggy sauce on the right, and pudding with curved spikes like a dorsal fin in the center. Two slices of banana stood off to one side. Chefs think this is fun. This deconstruction was better than most, but I think it's time to retire this shtick.
There is no question that the Grill Room is approaching its former eminence. The years after the hurricane saw a shocking decline in the standards of what had once been named the best hotel in the world. The purchase of the property by Darryl Berger and associates is great news. Berger knows what fine dining is about, and its importance in this city. I'm also happy to see that the "Grill Room" name is back, after several years as "The New Orleans Grill." I never stopped using the original name in my journals, and I'm glad I stuck it out.
A pianist who doesn't read music but who nevertheless plays flawlessly a vast repertoire of standards did so all night long. Before I left, I did a duet with him on the Gershwin tune How About You? Chris Claus and I walked together back to the radio station, and went our separate ways thereafter.