Table Toppers: the art of specialty dining
Finding a special place to dine in New Orleans isn’t difficult. The James Beard Foundation has awarded New Orleans more than 20 times, five in this year alone.
But for those truly special occasions – from the once-in-a-lifetime to the must-celebrate now events – you might have to look a little closer.
From chef’s tables that put you in the middle of the action, to hidden away wine rooms, to food bars
where you can meet your neighbors while viewing your food’s preparation, to dining options that are far from everyday, specialty dining options in New Orleans fit every occasion – even just because it’s Friday.
The chef’s table at Commander’s Palace is right in the heart of the kitchen, located between the front dining room and the back bar and courtyard dining. A maroon leather corner banquette allows four people to eat dinner comfortably. Chef Tory McPhail will determine your menu from chatting with you about your likes, dislikes, allergies, preferences and cravings – as well as what ingredients are the freshest – ahead of time. Offered Tuesdays through Saturdays, make sure to reserve your party ahead of time – the table books as far as a year ahead of time for popular dates and weekends.
At Emeril’s Delmonico, the chef’s table is located right outside the kitchen. Appointed in plush velvet, the U-shaped corner table has a view of the piano, bar and kitchen door for six people. Reservations for the chef’s table are recommended, but are also often available as a walk-in. A custom menu is based on the freshest local and regional produce, meats and seafood received that day, and wine and cocktails can be paired with any dish based on your preference and price range.
The chef’s tasting room at John Besh’s August seats up to 12 people in what feels like someone’s well-appointed dining room at home; the room was once Besh’s office. This table offers a four, five, six or seven curse menu, or customized tasting menus upward of 12 courses. The menus are created every two to three weeks based on what ingredients are most seasonal and vibrant. Menus are sent to you one to two weeks in advance so guests can choose the number of courses and minimally customizes the courses for dietary restrictions. With two private waiters and a special chef on duty to cater to your every whim you’re never waiting for a thing, and you can also work with the sommelier to pair wines to your custom meal for a more upscale experience.
The “ultimate dining experience” at Restaurant R’evolution seats eight in a dark room with black shelving illuminated with brass lighting and a shell chandelier to give the feel of a gentlemen’s library – all with a bird’s-eye view of the main kitchen filled with its customized Viking Range products in “R’evolution Red.” You are able to choose à la carte items from the menu with advice from table captains, and wine and spirit pairings can be created to your preference.
Also at R’evolution is their wine room, which Social Media Coordinator Colleen McCourtney calls “the ultimate retreat for vinophiles.” Set within the restaurant’s custom-built, 10,000 bottle glass-and-wood wine cellar, the mahogany table is the centerpiece of the room lit with a chandelier composed of a series of five hourglass-ribbed glass shades set off with satin gold hardware. The room also features a private entrance off Bienville Street and is equipped with drop-down flat-screen televisions for presentations and entertainment.
Though less well known than their chef’s table, Commander’s Palace also has a wine room. A short walk through the courtyard and into the back building from the chef’s table, your appetite is whetted as you walk through a hallway surrounding you with wine and to a table that seats eight to 12 people located in their Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine cellar. The person who arranges the dinner will pick out the wines in a reverse pairing with “Wine Guy” Dan Davis, and from those choices chef McPhail will create a menu. This room books up less often than their chef’s table, but make sure to give yourself enough time to create your menu and prepare for the $2,000 minimum.
Palace Café offers a wine room on their third floor with a circular table that seats up to 12. Surrounded by the award-winning wine collection you can chose between ordering à la carte off the menu or creating a special menu for your group.
At Tableau on Jackson Square a wine room is also located on the third floor, but it seats up to 18. The walls are made of cork, the walls and ceilings of reclaimed bargeboard and the table was created by carpenters from Silvarum in Bywater. The menu is decided thorough the sales team, which then coordinates with the chef, and wine or spirit pairings can be decided on through beverage director Barry Himel. The table is available only upon request, so you’ll need to make a reservation.
Executive chef Gus Martin is in charge of the wine table at Muriel’s, which offers à la carte options off its menu. Located on the second floor, it seats two to 10 people. Like all of the wine rooms mentioned above, Muriel’s wine room is a working one, which means you’ll see multiple staff members fetching wine for other people’s dinner during your meal. The table is only offered upon availability, so make sure to make your reservation at least two months in advance.
If you’re looking for a seat in the kitchen without breaking the bank, then look no further than a food bar. Cochon’s food bar is located at the back of the restaurant facing the kitchen. Seating six during regular dinner service, you’ll see everything they do – but especially chef de cuisine Matt Woodall’s preparations and techniques.
Both Emeril’s and NOLA also offer food bars, with Emeril’s seating nine and NOLA seating six people. Both are open during normal lunch and dinner hours, and while they may be requested and reserved, they’re also available for single diners and walk-ins. Located at the back of the main dining rooms overlooking the busy kitchens, at Emeril’s you’ll be facing the grill while at NOLA you’ll face the wood-burning oven. Guests can order from the regular menus or create a multiple-course custom tasting menu based on your preferences. You determine the number of courses, and you can create wine or cocktail pairings with their sommeliers.
Carrollton Market at Riverbend has a food bar that seats seven people comfortably. It is located on the right side of the dining room, basically serving as the inside wall of the kitchen. For now guests can order off the restaurant’s à la carte menu, but according to chef and owner Jason Goodenough, special tasting menus for these lucky few may be on their way. Their high-end cocktails and wines are offered as pairings, and since everything is cooked à la minute, those sitting at the food bar are literally in the middle of the action and can chat with the kitchen staff about techniques, ingredients and preparations.
In addition to special tables, New Orleans dining also offers singular restaurant experiences. Square Root, the new restaurant by executive chef and co-owner Philip Lopez and co-owner and general manager Maximilian Ortiz, offers only a chef’s tasting area available Tuesdays through Saturdays for dinner. Seating just 16, the menu is entirely decided by Lopez, and there are three beverage pairing options available.
Chef Michael Stolfuz offers a five course blind tasting meal at Coquette. Served during dinner service, the menu changes every day and highlights those ingredients that chef Stolfuz and Chef de Cuisine Mason Hereford are most excited about at that moment. Anyone can choose to partake in this experience, from tables of two to 12. Each menu is customized for your table; once you choose this experience, the chefs come to your table, discuss your likes and dislikes and then go back into the kitchen to create your personalized meal. The five course tasting is $70, and a wine pairing is offered for each course for an additional $30.
If you’re looking for a special meal for six to 30 people but want it to feel like you’re celebrating in your own home, look no further than Rare Cuts. Though it’s primarily a “ranch to table” meat shop, they will prepare your three to seven course menu with you – but only for one group per night. Choose between a soup or salad or a family-style appetizer, then move on to individual or family-style entrées. The menu must be finalized a week ahead of time and you’ll need to bring your own wine and spirits, but during the preparations you’ll be able to pop in the kitchen to watch and ask questions, or just sit back and relax.
The famous Antoine’s restaurant, celebrating its 175th anniversary next year, is a warren of private rooms – 12 exclusively for private dining. The first floor has seven private dining rooms, each with its own special history. There is the Mystery Room, in which, during Prohibition they would serve booze in the women’s bathroom and when they returned and people would ask them where the booze came from, they would answer, “It’s a mystery.” There are also the Dungeon, the 1840 Room, the Proteus Room, the Escargot Room, the Tabasco Room (in which this magazine was first planned more than 47 years ago) and the Rex Room. There are more private dining rooms upstairs and for each you can choose from dining à la carte, from suggested prix fix menus that begin at three courses or to create a personalized menu with the staff. Next time you choose to eat at Antoine’s, ask for a tour of the restaurant hosted by your private waiter and dream of your next special event.