Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Luke Has Seen Better Days

We try as a general principle here at Blackened Out Metal Fabrication and Casting Agency to avoid writing about restaurants we just don't find to be up to par (pun obviously intended). While we are both getting better at writing critical reviews that don't just sound like "this was awesome," bashing a restaurant is not really what we are into 'round these parts.

But sometimes you have to scold. And right now, Luke is the most under performing restaurant in the city. Perhaps, he is in his adolescent stage. A period marked by apathy, rebelliousness, and confusion about who he really is. If so, please hurry and grow up.

When it opened in the Spring of 2007, Luke was an exciting return to good old fashioned German and French focused lunches that blanketed the CBD. Luke had some opening glitches, service most notoriously. However, the restaurant stabilized and became my favorite place in the city to eat lunch. Luke was also a treat if you had missed lunch. On such days, I'd wander over there around 4pm for a dozen cold oysters and a cocktail or beer before heading home.

The last few visits at Luke (two in 2011 alone) have been dumbfounding. On one, I was served a bowl of tepid chicken stock with an ice cold matzoh ball. By the second bite, the soup was cooling off rapidly than Brody Jenner's career. Admittedly, when this was brought to the staff's attention, it was remedied. Lucky for us, this would be the first of many hiccups.

Take, for example, the fried oyster salad on one visit. The oysters, saggy and wilted, had none of the vibrancy or crunch that makes them a salty stand-in for a crouton. Either the dressing or the lettuce was gritty. Doesn't matter which one, as it didn't matter to the kitchen either.

I vaguely remember a chicken breast that was tough, stringy, and devoid of any flavor. It too sat under a salad marked by limp, unwashed greens and flavorless dressing. A stale crouton (it is possible) made it clear that no one could be asleep at the wheel because no one was even at the wheel. But maybe, I thought, it was just a bad day.

On another recent visit, I decided to go back to a basic favorite: the Cochon de Lait pressed sandwich. To describe how bad this was we need to take a slight tangent. For some reason, growing up we always had these 2 inch slices of French bread in the freezer. I'd come home from school, take out three or four, throw them in the microwave, and lather them up with butter. High class, of course. The flavor of those little cradles of butter always tasted of the deep, cold of the freezer. I know that means nothing to you, but frozen bread which is rapidly defrosted has a specific taste.

Like Proust's madeleine, one bite of the bread at Luke immediately took me back to fifth grade after school snacks. This is New Orleans. There is a devoted bakery portion of the Besh Empire. Such a shortcut should not happen here. However, maybe the tastebuds have deceived me and the bread was not in fact frozen and rapidly defrosted. If so, it may be time to hire a new baker, Chef Besh.

The rest of the sandwich was equally disastrous. The pork was dry, brittle, and bland where it should have been moist, supple, and flavorful. But the real showcase that someone just doesn't give a damn anymore was the caramelized onions which were all piled on precisely 1 inch of the 8 inch long sandwich. There was one bite full of onions; the rest of the sandwich, nothing. I felt bad for the pig.

Service woes have returned. To wit, Luke serves Cokes in cute little glass bottles. I have no problem with this affectation, but realize one of the benefits is that it makes free refills impossible. Well, when a waiter knocks over a full bottle and spills its contents on the table, replacing the bottle at no cost is the correct move. Ignoring the situation is not.

Prices at the bar have crept up to the unjustifiable realm, especially the beer which, despite being made across the lake, is priced as if it is made across the pond. And I am still mad they got rid of the Thursday lamb shoulder pasta dish.

Step up your game, Luke.

Luke
Bogey, and you are really close to Double Bogey

333 St. Charles Ave.
378-2840

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I come to New orleans once a year and will do so just prior to Mardi Season. This was to be my first stop this year having never been, but walked by. Maybe an alternative is in order...a somewhat casual atmosphere. Any recommendations?

Ned said...

I heard they recently hired a new manager... Wonder if that has something to do with the performance?

Lapsed you know what said...

Had an early dinner/snack there over Christmas. the usually trustworthy flamenkuche (sp?). 40+ days later I think my body has digested the rough, rubbery chewy bacon with BACON GREASE POURED ON TOP of the tart. That place took a considerable nose dive when McHugh left. I'll bet Luke in San Antonio is a markedly different experience. Too bad it looks like the Luke plague is also spreading down the street to Domenica. Wonder how thin the jam gets spread on the Besh bread when he opens his place in the Hyatt? Sad.

Anyone remember Kevin Graham? Nope, didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have had the same unfortunate experience at Luke, and several times at that. Used to dine with vendors and colleagues on special occasions, but now stay away after the experiences I've had: waiter forgetting to bring us bread (unfortunate, since the wait for food was over an hour), kitchen completely forgetting about a diner's dish (has happened twice on separate occasions), rude waitstaff, always-cold french fries, room-temperature croque monsieur (which could be one of my favorite sandwiches in life, if only it were hot!), and the list goes on and on. It truly is sad, and I'm hoping that Domenica, one of my current favorite CBD restaurants, doesn't suffer a similar fate.

Anonymous said...

They go through different Executive Chefs in that kitchen every month or so. Besh's head is too big and it ain't all that.

2 Cents said...

Domenica is a separate beast. I think it is better off because Alon is at least called a "partner". Domenica has someone with skin in the game on site. Luke does not.

Big difference, if you ask me. And you did, right?

Pontchartrain Pete said...

While none of my three experiences at Lüke were total disasters, there was always one element or another—the service, bad bread (??!!), a cold dish—that was so disappointing it overwhelmed what other enjoyment we might have found in the items which had been well-executed.

Hopefully they'll get some leadership soon and get the place back on track and living up to its potential.

Rene said...

Anon,

The city is loaded with casual, solid eateries. Why dont you tell us more about what specific type of food you are looking for?

KS said...

Like you, Luke is one of my favorite downtown luncheons. I haven't been in at least 4 months, but in repeated visits I have never been let down. I guess the spiral started sometime after September. On a tangent, I apparently chose the wrong career, as my oyster and beer afternoon trips are usually after 5, who wears a suit and gets off at 4? I digress, assuming you work somewhere close to me, try the burger at Capdeville. it is a favorite as of late.

hesaidshesaidnola.com said...

Nice piece, and it suggests a follow-up: Luke is a hotel restaurant. Anybody in NOLA doing three meals a day at a consistently high level?

Rene said...

KS,

Playing a little bit of hooky or ducking out early can do wonders for your career, whatever it may be.

HeSaid or She Said,

Great question. Hotel restaurants are strange in New Orleans. But I don't know if Luke is truly a "hotel restaurant" has always been staffed and run with Besh Empire employees.

Jones said...

Yeah you right about that veal cheek with house mad pasta. If I'm not mistaken, it was a part of their $20 pre-fixe daily menu. Total bummer all around. I do know that there has been some transition in both FOH and BOH as of late. Couple that with pulling managers to open other venues and cover other spots at sister establishments and the end product becomes overlooked. It is equal to babysitting someone else's children...don't drop the hammer, but don't let the place burn down either.

In regards to hssola's comment, that's such a tough category. Hence Dominica competing with the Blue Room, Drago's versus what used to be Kabby's. Seems to be a trend where the larger corporate hotels defer responsibilities to someone else. On that note, Mila has hit on all cylinders for all 3 meal periods.

Megs said...

I've eaten at Luke 2x. 1st time was over a year ago. Food was meh and service was TERRIBLE. Ate again about 8 months ago. Food was really meh as was service. Can't rustle up the energy to try again. Not enough meals out means I have to be more picky!

Anonymous said...

DINNER AT LUKE'S MONDAY 1/31/11.
SADLY DISAPPOINTING.

captain feedback said...

I had the very same experience two years ago on three separate occasions. Perhaps that was the beginning of the spiral. I have not returned since. How can you serve Luke warm soup in a place CALLED Luke. They're making it too easy.
I, like you don't like to bash a restaurant but at that price point and given the growing competition in the CBD for that genre of restaurant those things are unacceptable. I can go to Butcher and for the same price have an excellent lunch with a good cocktail or regular sized bottle of coke and still go home with a treat or two for the grill. On top of all of that the staff is always friendly and happy to talk pork or food in general and seem to truly enjoy their jobs. It may not be fair to compare a place like Luke that is upscale and offers a more traditional sit down lunch to what is basically a butcher shop that sells sandwiches and a few specialty cocktails but from a value standpoint I think it is. If the drink prices have risen higher than my visits two years ago than that adds to my reasons for not returning anytime soon. Besh restaurants all treat Abita as an import beer. Even in a fine dining restaurant like August that is ridiculous. Perhaps the empire has grown too quickly?

BigRob said...

Wow - I can't tell you how opposite my recent experience was. I took my wife to Luke for her birthday, it was a first dinner trip for her, and the first time all together for me. We arrived twenty minutes early on a Saturday night, expecting a crowd and a wait, so I tried my first Sazerac at the bar while my wife had one of their more fruity concoctions. I don’t know if the Sazerac will ever replace my Manhattan, but it was tasty. They were actually able to seat us early so we ended up sitting down at 6:45 for a 7:00 reservation.

I also had the matzo-ball soup and must say it was incredible, and served at what I would guess is the perfect temperature. My wife had another soup – I don’t remember which but was equally impressed. We had a dozen raw oysters - a little on the small side but nice and salty. I had the "Saturday night special" Jaeger Schnitzel with Spatzel - which after living in Germany for 4 years I was thoroughly impressed, best Schnitzel I’ve had since I left – 10 years ago. My wife took the opportunity to have the shrimp and Grits, a lifelong resident; she had never tried the dish anywhere. Let me tell you those shrimp did not stand a chance, and I don’t think she even saved a single grit for me to try.

We split a serving of their bread pudding – and I use that term generously, my wife preferring to save the “points” for libations later in the evening. I think I might have to try his recipe for that one next time I make it at home. Ooo-eee that was good. One final word about the service – I have never felt like a server deserved 20% on a hundred dollar dinner for two, I did that night. His timing was excellent, he was present but not bothersome, poured the wine when needed and made sure our food was hot when it came.

Now I am not one to eat out all over the city – preferring many times to perfect my own craft at home, however Luke as made it near the top (not to supplant Jacques-imo’s) of my personal favorites list. If you are from out of town, I would highly suggest it; I would say that my experience there bettered that of my recent Christmas dinner at Brennans.

kibbles said...

yeah i work nearby and we went for lunch on sat, were sorely disappointed. the staff were all complete amateurs..past few times theyve been super weak. one nice guy at the bar during the week, thats about it.

the flamenkuche was tasty, but not worth $14 as its basically cracker w/ cheese, onion, and bacon. the duck & rabbit pate tho -- this was a huge portion for $8. it filled us up so much that we didnt need the luke burger we came for.

so food was a wash, but the service is just too disappointing.

Ted Hall said...

Couldn't agree more.