Promise me something,
if when you go to New Orleans. Promise me that you won’t leave until you go to Commander’s Palace. (I have a whole list of other restaurants I’d like you to promise to visit, too, but today, we’ll stick with this one).
Commander’s Palace, in all its blue and white striped glory, is located in the Garden District of New Orleans—not a particularly short stroll from the French Quarter, and definitely not one that you’d want to make on foot in your finest attire. Especially not in the heat of a Louisiana summer. Or winter, I’m guessing. So hop in an Uber or take the street car or drive—valet parking is available, if you’re feeling fancy—just make it a point to get there.
Speaking of feeling fancy, a misconception: despite the ladies who lunch vibe Commander’s gives off at first glance, it feels rather, well, casual isn’t quite the word. But it’s not the Chanel-and-bowtie spectacle I thought it would be, either. Yes, the restaurant does require that men wear jackets for dinner, and no, you shouldn’t expect to be seated in your cutoff shorts and those flip flops (though I’d argue that open-toe sandals are OK: I wore them!). But for every table of Mikimoto-clad ladies gathered for an early afternoon bite, there’s a happy crowd of tourists getting their fill on Southern hospitality—and each and every table is treated the same way: very, very well. From the moment we walked through the door, we were a high society couple, hungry for those famous New Orleans eats. And we did not leave disappointed.
We chose to visit Commander’s for lunch (during which, jackets are not required, btw), and the main reason for our early visit—which you’ll find under the category of “Best Ways to Get Wasted Before Noon”—the 25 cent martinis. We had only a brief wait in the entry before we were escorted to our table, a walk that was made for sightseeing in and of itself. Various dining rooms make up the spacious place, from the original building you enter through to an outdoor courtyard that serves as a passageway of sorts, and into another room which is designed to feel as if it’s outdoors, but is fully enclosed. The restaurant’s large windows, climbing trellises, and natural vegetation provide the most enchanting, relaxing atmosphere. And its presence is not to be under-appreciated: Commander’s underwent a fairly extensive renovation after it suffered damage from hurricane Katrina. But yet here we were, wandering through a structure that stood up to Mother Nature herself, and seemed (deservingly) quite proud to be left upright.
So, food. One note about the photos of food: J runs a pretty tight ship on vacation (not even a little), but he does have one rule: no big camera at the table. Because, he says, I look like this:
And ya know what? If he let me, I would. I’d do it every damn time. But alas, that isn’t the case, so all photos are courtesy of ye olde iPhone. And not even my fantastically poor i-Photography could ruin how good the food looks.
Right from the get-go, we knew we were in for it (and that’s a good thing). We opted for the aforementioned 25 cent martinis (“Limit three per person cause that’s enough,” their menu says). I started with the classic, but went on to the Commander’s (a blue liquid that looks pretty dangerous), and then the Ray’s Melon (a bright green concoction that looks even more dangerous). Would you find comparable drinks at your local dive bar? Probably. But you can’t expect much more for the price, and we were very pleased with the amount of fun these added to our experience. From what we can remember. Just kidding! Well…
Commander’s offers a 3-course lunch menu that one of us opted to do (J), while the other picked right off the menu (me). I believe the pre-fixe course options change often, but I would expect to be pleased with any offering, based on how good everything tasted. J got the gumbo with his pre-fixe selection, and I proceeded to win the battle of the appetizers with that beauty pictured above. Crawfish beignets. Crawfish. Beignets. As long as you think this picture looks good, then yes, they were as good as they looked. Maybe even better!
I don’t remember/didn’t notice what J chose for an entree, because I was too enthralled with mine. Louisiana wild white shrimp, in a creamy-but-light sauce, over vegetables and fettuccine. There are changing variations of this on the alternating menu, but this one had lima beans. Ah, the lima bean: A staple of my youth. How I yearn for your comeback, when one day you will be devoured at small plates restaurants the way we currently do with cauliflower and kale. I’ll be waiting for you.
When it came time for dessert, in a move that made it clear he was vying for the Husband of the Year award (last year’s award went to—you guessed it—him), J shared the one included with his three-course option: Creole bread pudding soufflé. Soufflé makes me nervous: We once waited 45 minutes for this dessert at a restaurant years ago, only to be disappointed by its superb egginess. Superb = not a compliment there. But because everything is kissed by the food fairy at Commander’s, this was beyond what either of us expected. Sweet but not too sweet, no hint of weird scrambled-eggy texture. It was surprisingly light, and the warm whiskey cream poured into it right at the table made it most memorable.
I’d like to say that I’ll visit Commander’s Palace again soon, and I hope that rings true. Though I don’t know exactly when we’ll be making a trip down Louisiana way, I know that I wouldn’t dream of setting foot in NOLA without a stop into Commander’s Palace; nor should you. And definitely don’t leave this fine establishment without having enjoyed a martini or two. Or three.