Thursday, June 28, 2012
I approached Jazz Brunch with a fair amount of apprehension. Not being a fan of either brunch or roving musicians in restaurants, this seemed to be a poor choice. But a well-made daiquiri and a non-obtrusive jazz trio eased anyway concerns of not being able to judge this meal properly. Sunday Jazz Brunch (they also offer it on Saturday) at Commanders Palace is an institution attended by the both the well-heeled and the well-traveled. Its reservation on this Classics list was secure before the phone lines were even opened. It just took us a while to find a Sunday worthy of the experience. A Sunday that began with a Christening (and hence putting on a suit) called for a fancy brunch.
The garlic bread is as good as you have heard. It is simply outstanding that a place serving this many people can do something this perfect so often. Our appetizers arrived shortly thereafter placed on the table by a team of well-coordinated servers. Turtle soup, a Classic's Classic, is rich and well-made, a jaunt through two hundred plus years of cross-culinary pollination. But few dishes best represent the pure link to the French in the Creole canon better than the oyster and absinthe dome. Under the flaky chapeau is a briny, herbal broth studded with plump oysters. This soup is a quick jaunt to South of France to slurp oysters under the sun and sip licorice flavored liquor. By far, this is the second best domed experience in the city.
Had the meal ended there, a conclusion recommending this experience would have been easy to give. As it was the meal continued, and the assessment became more complicated. First, a service snafu developed. The wine list at Commanders Palace has the breadth and depth of a well-rounded liberal arts grad. Hidden in plain sight was a grand cru Patrick Piuze Chablis which practically begged to be ordered. It came to the table at a perfect cool temperature. First sips showcased the delicious mineral driven citrus zest that was a fantastic match with the above oyster dish. My attention diverted, the bottle was removed from the table and plunged into an ice bath. Ok no big deal, a few cold moments wont kill the wine. Surely, once someone notices the empty glass, they will refill it and I can tell them to leave the bottle out again. But time passed. Waiters, servers, bussers, managers, passed the table with eyes diverted. Eventually as my glass sat empty for long enough, Lindsay, sensing my anxiety, retrieved the bottle from the icy depths. Gone were the complex flavors and subtlety, instead it was just another too cold bottle of white wine. A bummer anytime, but a real stinker with these markups.
A veal flank came to the table riding a carriage of creole cream cheese spiked grits and crowned with sauteed leaks, asparagus, and fried leeks. I could have done without the fried leeks which were stringy and unnecessary. The veal never made it to a hay diet and neither should the diner. The meat was well-seasoned and tender, supple and a perfect midday bite of meat. For the other entree, a plate of pecan crusted fish with spiced pecans, prosecco poached crabmeat, and crushed corn sauce, Madame Chanel would suggest taking off one thing before leaving the pass. It could have been the crabmeat which was grey and stringy instead of pearl colored marbles. Or maybe remove the spiced pecans, which were both an awkward texture and flavor. But leave the corn sauce which was silky, sweet, and delicious.
Lindsay has been craving biscuits since I made an off hand comment a few weeks ago about wanting to make some. These biscuits had more in common with the yeast rolls of a school cafeteria than the flaky buttery biscuits that inspire cravings. The interior was doughy and dense and the crust dry. We should have ordered more garlic bread or more of the pastry from the oyster and absinthe dome.
The bread pudding souffle topped tableside with spoonfuls of warm whiskey sauce is still a wonderful dessert. The portion size keeps it from becoming boring. A souffle is an incredible combination of cooking and chemistry when done properly. This one is done to perfection. Less good was a dry rum cake with an ice cream whose icy temperature obscured its flavor. We quizzed ourselves on the flavor, eventually learning it was pecan. Fooled us, the smart money at the table was on tamarind.
So far this was the toughest challenge to date. On one hand, as far as brunches go, it was still better than anything else in town and food prices are fairly reasonable. On the other, after adding in booze and wine, this was an expensive meal. An expensive meal that missed the mark more often than hitting it. Maybe I got a little too worked up about the wine mishap. Hey, I enjoyed the jazz.
Commanders Palace Jazz Brunch: Is It Worth It? Feel free to skip.
Saturday and Sunday