Anecdotes & Analysis
The apparent death of Brennan's--which must be footnoted by saying that Ted Brennan still says the restaurant will return--left a big gap in the brunch category of your restaurant guide. Although lots of restaurants offer that Sunday celebration, Brennan's was always in a class by itself, particularly in the atmosphere and history departments. The only credible rivals to Brennan's were Commander's Palace and the less well appreciated Arnaud's.
Why It's Essential
Always among the big names in the New Orleans restaurant business, Arnaud's remains a solid membership in the small society of grand French Creole restaurants. It's large enough to be able to perform enormous feasts for special events, while at the same time putting out a memorable dinner and brunch service every day. Under the long chefhood of Tommy Digiovanni, it has added new dishes with regularity, while respecting the classic French-Creole traditions it help to create. Few restaurants serve that style better, and no other restaurant matches such food with as magnificent a collection of dining rooms.
Arnaud Cazenave--a French wine salesman who thought he identified (if not personified) a new approach to the already French-accented restaurant food of New Orleans. He claimed to be an aristocrat (he wasn't) and that the food his chefs served were straight out of the classic Escoffier canon (true in name alone). Undeniably bona-fide was his ability to sell Orleanians on he idea of dining out habitually for entertainment's sake. In it's peak years (1920s through the 1950s), Arnaud's was probably the best restaurant in town and certainly the grandest. After the Count died, his dramatic daughter Germaine Wells kept the goals of the restaurant the same, but didn't do so quite as well. Arnaud's degenerated into the most disappointing restaurant in town. When Archie Casbarian bought Arnaud's in 1979, it was barely operating. Over the next two decades he performed the finest imaginable restoration of Arnaud's, from the kitchen out. a moribund old restaurant ever received. Casbarian passed away in 2012, but his wife and children--all active in the management of the restaurant for many years--keeping it on the same path.
Going back in time, we have the full list of begets in Arnaud's kitchen. The original chef was a woman, Madame Pierre, who knew he secrets of fine French and Spanish cuisines. When Mme. Pierre died, Count Arnaud employed Louis Lamothe as chef and Jean Laune as his assistant. Both had been pupils of the Louis and Jean Gardere, chefs to Napoleon III. After they passed, Jean Baptiste Lauhle (coincidentally, born in Bosdarros, Count Arnaud's own native village in France) succeeded to the chefhood. Arnaud's chefs since Casbarian took over have been Andre Mena, Claude Aubert, Christian Gille, Guy Petit, and now Tommy DiGiovanni.
Arnaud's many dining rooms exemplify the old-style New Orleans Creole dining environment that has lately been reborn in many new restaurants around town: tiled floors, tin ceilings, beveled-glass windows, and ancient overhead fans. In the evening, it's two restaurants in one. Its main dining room carries on conventionally, while the room facing Bourbon Street regales diners with a restrained jazz quartet (at a small cover charge). I'd say the latter is the place to be.
For Best Results
Make a reservation a bit in advance. The restaurant is enormous, but they sell it so effectively that it can fill up on days when you wouldn't expect that. Order many appetizers and pass them around. Have a cocktail in the French 75 Bar before you begin: it's a classic space. The bartender, Chris Hannah, has become one of the major local stars in mixology. I've said for years that Arnaud's puts forth the best Sunday brunch around. Its big dining rooms, fully equipped with gueridons for making flamed desserts and a jazz trio for that touch of old New Orleans, deliver just about anything you'd want from that meal.
Arnaud's813 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA