Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pascal's Manale: Is It Worth It?

 An artful shot of the exterior of Pascal's Manale inspired by Edward Hopper

Pascal's Manale occupies a very precarious spot on the New Orleans cuisine map. On one hand, it is a neighborhood Creole-Italian spot. On the other hand, it developed or at least rocketed to fame, barbeque (their spelling) shrimp, an iconic New Orleans dish. The story goes, a customer came in and told the proprietor about a dish he had in Chicago. The customer requested a version of the dish based on his recollection. Yada, yada, yada, barbeque shrimp became a dish on menus around the globe.

The raucous oyster bar-cum-bar is a great place to start a meal. The walls are lined, per tradition and local business codes, with old bric-a-brac, yellowing newspaper clippings, and photos of mostly long since has beens autographed by the youthful, athletic faces filling the frames. Best do yourself a favor, sidle up the oyster bar, and enjoy a half-dozen or six, your call. A cold beer is your best bet, steer away from the Sazerac which on a recent visit was too sweet by half.

There are two main dining rooms in Manale's, both of them similar in scope and design, with soft colored walls and framed posters of Louisiana culture and sports. Both rooms have large windows which due to the height of the building, tends to seclude the diners from the look-ins of passerbys. Let's get to the food.

Oysters Bienville (above) may be the best dish in the joint. A warm concoction which unites the starchy, earthiness of potato (yet no potato) and the smokiness of bacon with the briney,deliciousness of plump oysters and shrimp. Good lord, Manale's version of this dish is one for the ages and white Burgundy. The wine list could use some help, in that regard. Too many subpar choices and distributor dreck for food this unique. The Oysters Rockefeller goes the other direction harmonizing herbal notes with the flowers of the tide. But pressed to choose one, I would come back again and again for those Bienvilles. A solid gumbo was better than a turtle soup which was khaki in color, thin on flavor, and thicker than mud.

Now, onto the barbeque shrimp. This is why Manale's is an oft used name on the internet, but in truth, their version disappoints. The shrimp are overcooked and tough to peel, the sauce more oily than buttery, and the only discernible flavor is one of harshly ground black pepper.  Sure you can dip miles of French bread into the buttery sauce, but bread and butter is hardly a reason to go out of your way.

Better was a return to Creole-Italian by way of Veal Parmigiana. A thin, crispy plank of veal arrives soaked in red gravy and topped with browned, bubbly cheese. The veal was tougher than normal, but the crust and toppings more than made up for that deficiency. The side of pasta crowned with more of the sauce disappeared almost as quickly. 

For barbeque shrimp, I would direct you elsewhere, but for a classic Creole-Italian feast, you could do a lot worse than Manale's.

Pascal's Manale - Skip the famous dish, but enjoy the rest. 
1838 Napoleon Avenue
(504) 895-4877


Anonymous said...

Great write up, but I'd even go further to say it's not even worth it for the creole-italian feast. I think you can get better and cheaper food from Vincent's to R&O's. Sidling up to the oyster bar at Manale's and eating a few oysters shucked by Uptown T is an awesome NOLA experence, but I usually don't even make it into the dining room. Just not that good.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your conclusion, but you're selling the famous dish a bit short by not mentioning the preferred method of enjoying it -- in a delicious, hollowed-out poboy that turns napkins to a scarce resource.

Rene said...

2nd Anon,

Isnt that the way they serve it at Liuzza's By the Track?

Not selling the dish itself short, just the version at Manale's.

Fleurdelicious said...

I totally agree about the BBQ shrimp being oily. In my opinion, Mr. B's version is the best in the city.

Anonymous said...

ive always heard that PM uses margarine in their version, which explains the oil.

alli said...

I had the BBQ shrimp at High Hat Cafe last night, and that might be the best version I've ever had.