Last month we visited Antoine’s Restaurant and tasted the traditional 1950’s haute cuisine in a trip down memory lane. This month I want to talk about another old New Orleans establishment that has maintained its traditional elegance and yet adapted to the twenty-first century. Galatoire’s was founded in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, an immigrant from the foothills of the French Pyrenees Mountains.
Galatoire settled in New Orleans in 1905 and opened a small restaurant at 209 Bourbon Street in the city’s Vieux Carre. Galatoire’s was founded on the principal of impeccable cuisine, service and ambience and this has been the mantra for four generations of the Galatoire family. Over the years the restaurant has remained traditional and consistent.
There have been changes for sure, for the first hundred years or so there were no reservations accepted and everyone stood in line on a busy night. In recent years it has been possible to secure a reservation in the second floor dining room, but the main dining room on the ground floor remains first come, first served. Of course, if you know a waiter, you might find it advantageous.
Speaking of waiters, for years the wait staff at Galatoire’s has been all male and subject to a strict protocol. The waiters at Galatoire’s and several other top New Orleans restaurants were among the best paid in the industry and entry level jobs were carefully doled out through a guild-like system that heavily favored the family and friends of active employees. One started as a bus boy and worked up over the years to become a full fledged waiter. Today the owners have taken control of the hiring and there are several very competent women among the wait staff.
Galatoire’s has not succumbed to the modern concept of ambience. There is no mod music and no indirect lighting. The main dining area is brightly lit with black and white tile floors, mirrored walls and buzzes with the sound of diners actually talking to one another. There has been no attempt to buffer the acoustics. Everything at Galatoire’s is designed to enhance the dining experience and compliment the wonderfully prepared food.
During my sabbatical visit to New Orleans last summer, I leisurely dined at Galatoire’s on a summer Saturday evening. I chose to endure a short wait on the steamy sidewalk rather than seeking a reservation upstairs; I wanted to enjoy the traditional Galatoire’s experience. The wait was not too long and soon I was seated in the main dining room. My waiter for the evening introduced herself and brought generous servings of fresh, hot French bread and lightly salted creamery butter along with my beverage of choice, sparkling Pellegrino water.
I have to own up to being a creature of habit about my choices in food. By this time, anyone who reads this little tome knows that I am a gumbo freak and there are other dishes that I just can’t pass by. On this night I chose for an appetizer the Shrimp Remoulade and I’ll have to say that the Galatoire’s version is to kill for. The shrimp were crispy, cold and very fresh and the sauce was a masterpiece of mayonnaise, piccalilli, curry, anchovies and paprika.
I indulged my gumbo fetish with the soup course and enjoyed a cup of the Duck and Andouille. The gumbo had a very dark, very rich roux and just the right mixture of sautéed duck and sausage. It made my taste buds sing.
I chose an Asparagus and Hearts of Palm salad with the Creole mustard vinaigrette dressing. The asparagus were crunchy and crisp and the hearts of palm added a perfect foil for the tart and tangy dressing.
My entrée was based on the fresh fish available and in season, which on this evening proved to be the broiled Red Fish, prepared with a Meuniere Sauce and Lump Crabmeat. The fish was actually redfish and not some phony substitute and it was fresh broiled to perfection. The meuniere sauce and fresh lump crabmeat were the perfect compliment. I always order the Lyonnaise potatoes as one of my side dishes and have to report that they were just as good as I remembered. I chose the broiled tomatoes as my other side and enjoyed their zesty acidity as a foil to the fish.
When the waiter brought the dessert menu, I lamented the absences of my old favorite Galatoire’s dessert, a citrus crepe with Cointreau. I was told not to worry, that even though it was not on the dessert menu, the Chef could easily prepare a serving. I enjoyed this old favorite with several cups of rich French roast coffee and chicory. Bon Appetite indeed!
Next month we will visit the current, and if I may say so, the much improved version of an old Garden District favorite, Commander’s Palace.