The corner of Iberville and Bourbon Streets may be the best restaurant location in New Orleans, with a surfeit of classic local eateries right there or mighty nearby. The Brennan family alone has four major restaurants within the block, creating a little tension when Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House encroached upon Ralph Brennan's Red Fish Grill's seafood-restaurant turf. As it turned out, both places thrived because of the propinquity, not despite it. The Bourbon House also offset one of Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse place at the other end of the block. All is harmony now. [caption id="attachment_38549" align="alignnone" width="300"] Dining room at the Bourbon House.[/caption]
Big seafood restaurants are popular across America, but nowhere more so than in New Orleans. Say the words "seafood platter," and the image of a large pile of fried oysters, shrimp, fish, stuffed crabs, and the like comes to mind. But finding such a thing in reality in the French Quarter has long been maddeningly fruitless. The seafood restaurants there were either too upscale or too touristy. The Bourbon House strikes a good balance between the two. It looks too fancy for all that fried and boiled seafood or an oyster bar, but it isn't. [caption id="attachment_26158" align="alignnone" width="400"] Baked oysters three ways.[/caption]
The Bourbon House opened in 2002 as the main restaurant of the new Astor Hotel. After creating a runaway success with their steak house half a block away, Dickie Brennan and Steve Pettus thought they'd have good luck with an upscale seafood place. They were right. The name has a historic precedent: through the 1960s, the original Bourbon House meant a restaurant on the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter (now the Embers steakhouse).
An expansive room with large windows and interior balconies, the Bourbon House stands just close enough to the Bourbon Street strip to have a strong sense of place, but enough separated from its louder aspects to make dining perhaps a bit too civilized. The lighting fixtures look like gigantic peeled satsumas. The service staff is young and usually leaves me thinking that not many of them are serious seafood lovers--but that may be my own age talking.
Make a reservation and let them know you're a local. Sundays, the Bourbon House has begun serving a brunch menu from opening until 5 p.m. If you'd like raw oysters, get them at the bar. I've been served oysters at the tables here that appeared to have been shucked in advance.