No major New Orleans restaurant showed a worse post-Katrina decline than the Windsor Court Grill Room. It was painful to watch, especially for the many of us Orleanians for whom the place has been the venue for major life events. (My wedding night, for example.) But there is hope. The management team installed by the Orient-Express group (which has since sold the hotel) has a sense of what the restaurant was and needs to be again. Chef, Drew Dzejak has an interesting new approach, and his food has been very fine lately. But it's time for the Grill Room to join in the onward culinary charge on the front lines, where it made its early impressions on people.
Until the national deluxe hotel chains began opening here, the Windsor Court was the place where those with very fine heels cooled them when in New Orleans. Its Grill Room chefs knew no boundaries to its pursuit of excellence, resulting in a few best-in-the-nation awards. It became the place where many local people feted their major celebrations. That reputation paled in the early years of the 2000s, and locals largely forgot about it. The last two years have seen the cooking at the Grill Room return to a consistently fine level.
The Windsor Court Hotel and its restaurant were developed by local investors and opened in advance of the World's Fair in 1984. Only the Grill Room survived of a host of dining palaces that opened around that time. The outstanding imagination of its chefs set it apart, at a time when few restaurants dared to go so far out on so many culinary limbs. It quickly garnered top ratings from everybody. (The five stars from this publication were the first such accolade.) The high standards continued through a couple of ownership changes, but the rest of the dining scene caught up with the Grill Room. In the early 2000s, the place took a wrong turm by adopting a New Orleans theme. That changed it from a world-class restaurant to a city-class one. After the hurricane, the Grill Room wound down to become a standard hotel restaurant. New management and owners (Orleanian Darryl Berger and partners) in 2009 have come a long way to reviving the excellence.
The Grill Room is on the second floor, and is as large as the first-floor lobby. Windows along the widest wall give additional dimension to what is already a spacious restaurant, decorated with British art and a few inappropriate murals from the Creole era of the hotel. The best (although not the most comfortable) tables are on the "porch" next to the windows. The banquettes are plusher. Here is the rare restaurant where quiet reigns without making people uncomfortable. The service staff has show tremendous improvement in the last year, and beverage manager Sarah Kavanaugh is a great sommelier.
Reserve a banquette for a romantic evening, preferably close to the entrance, where live music with some first-class local talents is in play many evenings. Breakfast and brunch here are terrific.