Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Restaurant August and Everything After

"Please I can't eat anymore. Seriously I am hurting and I want it to stop, just put me out of my misery," Lady said after course number 4. Unfortunately 5 courses remained. The glorious torture would continue.

Lady and I attended a James Beard Dinner at August in September with Donald Link and John Besh trading courses. Save that visit, we had never dined at August. That changed last night and not a moment to soon.

Having never indulged in the decadence and bacchanalian explosion that is August we summoned our hubristic tendencies and ordered the Degustation Menu. The waiter described it as a lot of food, if that description was accurate than George Washington was just a soldier.

9 courses, it ended up being more, each paired with a wine, we had our work cut out for us. Let's begin.

An amuse arrived. A delicate egg missing its top filled with a Seafood Sabayon and topped with a truffle foam. Sticking out of the egg cup (literally) was a brioche crouton. Delightful way to begin anything.

Then a Crab and Citrus Salad with a smattering of truffle oil. Segments of grapefruit burst in one's mouth cutting through the fattiness of the crab. Little globes of golden beats provided an earthiness to the dish.

Next up a plate of housemade pates. A wild boar pate with mushroom marmalade, a daube glace of rabbit, and a Berkshire pork rillette. All served with toasted brioche. We are beginning to pace ourselves. So it pained us to have to leave some food on the plate so to speak. All the pates were perfect, melting across one's palate and subtly reminding one of the taste of the animal which it came from.

Next a bowl, and I do mean bowl, of white asparagus soup with crabmeat and a meyer lemon foam. The stark white dish belied the woodsy taste of the white asparagus which played very well with the crabmeat. Then the meyer lemon foam cleared the palate for the next spoonful.

Now would be a good time to discuss portion sizes. We believed each portion would be minuscule and one or two bites at the most. We were sorely mistaken. The portions were gigantic. "Chef went to New York City last year and he said after every tasting menu he left hungry, so he doesnt want the same fate to befall his customers," our waiter Brendan said. How considerate.

Crawfish agnolotti ("priest hats" in Italian, well it is Lent) with bacon, peas and a jus. Each course keeps getting better and better. This one displayed the kitchen's ability to make and cook perfect little envelopes of pasta. I ate all of it especially the big fat lardon.

Sea bass with trumpet mushrooms and crab meat with fennel frond. Fish was cooked perfectly. I am not a huge fish person so I tasted and moved on; but Lady loved it.

Scallops over an herb risotto with a tarragon foam. This dish defies description. The risotto was quite simply amazing. Lady thought one of her scallops was a tad overcooked, but I did not have that problem.

Now the only glitch of the evening. A duck with foie gras and grits. Foie and grits were amazing, the duck neither of us cared for very much. The duck was rolled in a seasoning blend which tasted like one had bit into a Christmas Tree. Ohh, well one misstep is expected in a nine course tasting. I would rather have had just the Foie Gras and Grits. Foie grits could be the name of it.

Lamb three ways. A brilliant lamb loin wrapped in prosciutto to give it a crispy shell and succulent interior. Then a lamb chop with a mustard and herb glaze. And finally braised lamb shoulder. Each lamb preparation was thoughtful and well executed. My favorite course of the evening. I just wish I was not starting to wonder if I would make it out alive.

Cheese course. The name translated to Holy Cow in French. A creamy lightly caramelized wedge of cheese served with a balsamic reduction and a generous pile of Alan Benton's house made ham. Sorry to get scientific and food nerdy here, but Wow.

Finally, the dessert arrived. The server described it as a candy bar with a chocolate tuile. Only imagine the greatest chocolate candy bar you can, and that was this dessert, served with a generous glass of Frangelico.

Coffee and finally some mignardise. Two mini chocolate chip cookies and two almond cookies. Because we needed that.

The wines were superb. A sparkling Alsatian, a Riesling, and an Acaccia Pinot Noir were the high points, but each wine alternated between standing out and pairing nicely.

The dining room looks like it has been there forever: exposed brick, chandeliers, and woodwork. The service at Restaurant August knows no equal in New Orleans. Everyone from the hostess to the runners is knowledgeable, helpful, and courteous. Most noticeably absent is any hint of pretension. They are there to make your experience as comfortable, enjoyable, and pleasurable as possible. Despite a celebrity chef in the kitchen, at Restaurant August the focus is on the diner's ego. And that feels really good. The experience lasted over 3 hours and despite the pain of overindulging I could have stayed all night.

This is an expensive outing, but it is well worth it. The amount of food, wine, and attention one receives is well worth the price of admission. In fact it is a downright bargain. Restaurant August is the standard bearer of New Orleans food and service as far as I am concerned.

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