Thursday, June 7, 2012


It's a classic New Orleans love story. Boy comes to Tulane for college. Boy meets girl, and they fall in love. Boy returns home to work at the family liquor store, which he eventually transforms into a multi-million dollar beverage distribution and real estate business. Boy then starts opening restaurants and builds one of the more successful restaurant groups in the Southeast. Boy decides to open a restaurant in New Orleans, the city which he and girl hold so near and dear to their hearts. Boy buys the old Dixie Machine building in the Warehouse District and plans to renovate it into a 300 seat high-end steakhouse.

Except that is where the story takes an unexpected turn. While planning the renovation of the Dixie Machine building, Jerry Greenbaum discovered the empty space in the St. James Hotel which Cuvee had just vacated. He figured that this would be a great location to get things rolling while waiting on the renovation on Tchoupitoulas, but all signs point to him staying for good.

The touting points for Chophouse read like the table of contents from a "How to Build the Best Steakhouse" textbook:
  • Serve 100% prime beef (including filets) cut to your exact specifications and aged a minimum of 4 weeks.
  • Cook steaks "Pittsburgh style" in 1700° broiler.
  • Use only shrimp sized U-10 (or larger) and jumbo lump crabmeat.
  • Bake fresh bread daily.
  • Pour big Bordeauxs and Napa cabs.
Sounds good, right? Yeah, except that most steakhouses around the country follow that exact same formula, and therefore there is little to distinguish a steakhouse in New Orleans from one in Houston, Richmond, or Des Moines. And we all know that most savy locals wince at the words "chain restaurant."

The menu has tell-tale signs of a large scale restaurant operation. It starts with an enormous seafood platter filled with jumbo shrimp and lumps of crabmeat so large you would think they were holdovers from Major League Baseball's steroid era. I'd lay a good price that none of the seafood was pulled from local waters, but its provenance did not detract from the deliciousness of enormous shrimp (these had to be at least U-8s) baked underneath garlic butter and breadcrumbs. Surprisingly, the demitasse cups of creamy crab bisque may have been the best choice on the platter. Carpaccio of tenderloin is draped over every square millimeter of the plate and zigzagged with aioli and scattered with capers; an excellent choice for those who wish to consume beef both as their appetizer and entree. Only two salads are on offer: the chopped house with crumbles of blue cheese or the classic Caesar, adorned tableside with anchovy filets (a nice touch). Despite the assurance that the bread is baked in house, the dry crumb begs for a longer pass through the oven before service.

The steaks are very good but not the best examples of prime beef that I have tasted. On my first visit, several of the filets at our table were terribly overcooked, though the kitchen was attempting to serve 25 diners contemporaneously so I gave the grill chef a mulligan on that day. He redeemed himself a month or so later when the waiter delivered a perfect Pittsburgh style center cut ribeye charred with a dark outer crust protecting a warm rosy pink center. Value is often elusive on a steakhouse menu, except when the kitchen recycles the trimmings from the more expensive cuts. Here, the 16oz. chopped steak ($19) embodies that principle. The massive oval shaped hunk of coarse ground beef topped with a mess of sweet sauteed onions augmented with a little bacon for unnecessary but welcomed richness was perhaps the best burger that I have eaten all year. Sea bass, local redfish, broiled or fried lobster tails, and an entree-sized portion of the baked shrimp are the only non-beef main course offerings.

In the side department, the thick-cut cake batter onion rings were a standout compared to the lackluster performance of the rest. Creamed spinach has an uncooked flour aftertaste. On one visit, the cubed hash brown potatoes were oily and dry, which made me wonder if these were perhaps the night's leftovers for the last table seated. Unfortunately, confirmation occured on the next visit with the same result and stale flavor of the long french fry wedges. The NY cheese cake imported from the Carnegie Deli may have been the least impressive dessert I have been served all year; just a dry, lonely slice on the plate. Much better was the $25 gargantuan slice of chocolate cake covered with chocolate chips, which was easily large enough to divide among a table of four.

The dining room has gone undergone minimal renovation since Cuvee left, which is a complement to Mr. Greenbaum. Brick walls, tall ceilings with exposed beams, and windows on both sides of the room make for one of the best restaurant spaces in the city, in my opinion. Service is attentive, professional, but unpretentious. Our waiter with thick-rimmed glasses had a dry wit which is always welcome at my table. Originality, of course, is appreciated in this city.

Chophouse - Par
322 Magazine Street
(504) 522-7902
Sun-Thur: 5pm - 10pm
Fri-Sat: 5pm - 11pm


Beth said...

Sounds like I'm good sticking with Crescent City Steakhouse on Broad. Thanks for taking one for the team.

J said...

I wish he would do something with the Dixie building still. Such a big space.

kibbles said...

sounded pretty good, to me -- best burger all year? prime aged filets? awesome onion rings (unlike chef boswell's frozen rings at Stanley)? 4-person chocolate cake? good service and great atmosphere?

ill definitely go check it out.

Fat Harry said...

I like Crescent City and its nostalgia...but Chophouse is way better. Not even in the same league.