Although the rest of day two consists of a visit to Delmonico before dinner, I am going to feature that in another post at a later date. Right now, I am focusing on the meal we are all gathered here for, the Chowzter North American Fast Feasts Awards ceremony.
More than two decades ago, as a food writer in Hong Kong, one of the most memorable meals I remember eating is one prepared by the then Executive Chef of Commander’s Palace, New Orleans. It is a week-long promotion at the Sheraton Hotel and my first foray into southern cuisine. Therefore, when I receive my itinerary for this trip I am really excited to see the awards ceremony is to be at the legendary restaurant.
It is already dark when we arrive at the restaurant, but I can still make out the bold turquoise and white stripes gracing the kitschy exterior. But once you enter, the interior is nothing but old school elegance (I return another time to take a photo during the day).
Our group of almost 50 is ushered upstairs and we sit beneath chandeliers of sorts. I’m sure our rowdy group is not what Commander’s Palace is used to, but there is no other place more befitting for this group of food writers to congregate for the awards ceremony. The restaurant , established in 1880, is currently owned by the Brennan family who also owns two other restaurants we eat at during the trip.
Tray-pass hors d’oeuvres and champagne occupy our attention before dinner service including fried oysters. Our meal starts off with one of the restaurant’s signature items — Turtle Soup — which I remember well from the dinner in Hong Kong. This classic soup is rich and hearty, even more splendid with a splash of sherry.
I never order salad at a restaurant, but when I take the first bite of Commander’s Romaine Salad, I am not able to stop. Reminiscent of a Caesar salad, these hearts of romaine are tossed with parmesan, pressed eggs, pecan smoked bacon, French bread croutons in a classic black pepper buttermilk dressing. The salad is perfectly dressed and naturally, bacon makes everything worthwhile.
Our third course of Pecan Crusted Fish (black fish) is topped with champagne poached jumbo lump crab, a sprinkling of spiced pecans, in a crushed corn sauce. The fish is so tender and the crab, succulent and plump. However, what is the most impressive of all is how the fish remains hot even after we take our photos.
By now, we are all rather full, but no one is able to resist the Tournedos of Black Angus Beef. Accoutrements include whiskey smoked onions, roasted mushrooms, Creole smashed new potatoes all with a drizzle of glace de viande. Every piece of meat is a perfect medium rare temperature, and when you take into consideration how large our group is, that is no easy feat.
I am telling my table mates I will take only a bite or two of the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle but I think I speak too quickly. After two bites, I proceed to devour the entire thing wishing for more. I do manage to stop half way to capture a photo. It is one of the best souffles I can remember. The richness of bread pudding whipped into a light fluffy souffle is highly addicting and the whiskey sauce added tableside takes it over the edge.
At the end of the meal, I have the opportunity to chat briefly with Ti Adelaide Martin (daughter of Ella Brennan) and current co-proprietor of Commander’s Palace (along with her cousin Lally Brennan) about my decades-long memory of Commander’s Palace and my vow to dine here one day. I reminisce about my dinner at the Sheraton by Chef Jamie Shannon, and I am deeply saddened by the news that Chef Jamie passed away in 2001 from cancer. I express how that meal is imprinted so deeply in my mind and I’m glad that I finally make it here, even if it is 25 years later.
1403 Washington Ave
New Orleans, LA 70130