I spent last weekend traveling to a city I’ve actually never been to before – New Orleans. I would like to think I travel a decent amount. I’ve been to quite a few states across the country and a handful of other countries. But for some reason I haven’t gotten to the south much. I’ve done Florida a few times, spent 24 hours in Texas for work, but other than that I’ve really never experienced my fair share of southern charm. Luckily for me, one of my friends is originally from Georgia and happens to be getting married this October. We celebrated her “last fling before the ring” this weekend in New Orleans. I’m sure you can imagine the debauchery that ensued. As such, I only managed to bring my fancy camera to one meal – Saturday brunch. And that was because we were heading back to the hotel to hit the pool after, and I knew I could tuck it safely back into my luggage without running the risk of leaving it somewhere on Bourbon Street. Now I must say, I was very impressed by each place we dined at. All were more accommodating than I expected they would be, and each place was delicious. But I was lucky that I brought my camera to brunch – because it was by far my favorite meal of the entire trip.
We were lucky that one of the girls in the group actually lived in New Orleans and she recommended brunch at Commander’s Palace. This place is the epitome of southern charm and hospitality. We had an 11am reservation – the time the restaurant opened – and as we walked in the waiters were lined up and greeted us like a flight attendants when you’re deplaning. (Yes, we actually managed to get to 11am brunch after a night out. We’re troopers) For whatever reason, this brunch was billed as “Commander’s Celebration” and there were balloons everywhere. We just went with it.
We weren’t handed a menu when we sat down. Instead, our waiter introduced herself and asked us if we would like coffee and any other beverages. We started with a round of bloody mary’s, coffee, and then moved on to bottles of champagne and OJ. The coffee was out of this world. And the bloody mary’s were served in the most interesting way; they all came out with just the tomato juice mix. And then the waiters walked around with bottles of vodka encased in ice and poured out the chilled vodka at the table. It was, if nothing else, a crowd-pleasing show.
Speaking of crowd-pleasing shows, one of the perks of the brunch at Commander’s Palace was that there’s live jazz. And not just a stage set up somewhere with a jazz band. This was three guys, a bass, a banjo, and a trumpet traveling around to the different dining rooms, and even making table-side requests. It could have been the champagne, or just our overall sense of joy for the weekend, but their rendition of “Georgia” had our entire table in tears.
Now, let’s talk about the food. I was a bit nervous when we got the menus and the standard way of ordering is 3 courses – and none of the main dishes were even remotely vegan-friendly. I called the waiter over and told her my dilemma. I told her I was “vegetarian and also don’t eat dairy products” – which is usually my go-to when I’m not sure if a waiter will know exactly what I mean when I say “vegan.” To my surprise, her response was “so you’e vegan?” After a quick trip to talk to the chef, she returned and told me they could adapt any of the salads for the first course, that the chef would whip up a vegan risotto, and that the sorbet was naturally vegan. I was happy as a clam that this seemed to be no big deal to her, and clearly not to the chef either. It’s hard to find places that are so willing to accommodate a different diet or request. I often feel guilty or just annoying when making special requests, regardless of how the waiter responds, but the waitress made me feel completely at ease with my special ask and I was extremely thankful.
I decided to start with the arugula and melon salad which normally came with a honey yogurt dressing. I didn’t miss that dressing one bit. The melon was bursting with flavor, the arugula had the perfect amount of peppery bite, and whatever dressing they did put on there added a hint of tang.
For the main course, the risotto rocked my world. I have no idea how they got it so creamy without using any dairy. And the chef really won me over with the mushrooms and addition of serious amounts of truffle. I’m not sure if it was truffle oil, truffle salt, or what. But it was so so so delicious. I couldn’t finish it all, but I definitely gave my all trying to finish it. If I could have, I would have licked the bowl. I guess that’s what you get for giving free reign to a James Beard Award-winning chef.
And for dessert, which I could barely fit in after my epic attempt at finishing the risotto, came an orange colored-but not flavored sorbet. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what exactly the flavor was, but it was the perfect refreshing and palate-cleansing way to end the meal. After the richness of the risotto and all the booze consumed, I needed a light dessert rather than a full pie or cobbler or pudding. The sorbet was tangy and the perfect not-too-soft not-too-hard consistency to end the meal on a high note.
If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, I really can’t recommend taking a meal at Commander’s Palace enough. Not only were they accommodating for me, but they accommodated our (often times loud) large group of girls without the bat of an eye. Yes, we were “shuushed” at one point, but overall, we were welcomed by the staff and everyone went out of their way to be friendly to us and congratulatory to the bride-to-be. I’m always happy with a chef that can accept my vegan challenge, and if I end up in New Orleans again, this will definitely be on my list of must-return places.