Day 2: Be Our Guest

The Garden District of New Orleans proved to be a pretty awesome place—starting with the food, of course.

If you ask what the top restaurant in the city is, people will mention Brennan’s, The Court of Two Sisters, Antoine’s…but when judging by longevity, The Commander’s Palace is the traditional choice. There are many, but you must try this one.

The restaurant took one cab ride to the Garden District, which is on the rather exclusive end of town. Seriously gorgeous antebellum mansions, rod-iron gates, kids that go to private area schools, the whole deal. I had heard two things going into this place: first, that they had a serious reputation to uphold, and second, that they had a good reputation for gluten-free. I only cared about the latter going in.

We did not have a reservation, which I would highly recommend if you ever plan to go. We were only able to get in because we showed up just as they opened. There is also a dress code, by the way. Business/proper casual, no shorts, Sunday morning attire required. Standing there in the nicest outfit that I had brought with me, I watched them prepare to open the dining room with the coordination and efficiency of the airport we had flown out from. Truthfully, I wasn’t into the idea of being in a stuffy atmosphere for food that might not be that great.

I was happy to be proven wrong on both fronts. I felt like Belle when the household characters roll out the table for her. Our waitstaff was genuinely kind and helpful, and the captain was very knowledgeable in the GF items on the menu. She readily explained everything. We were clearly tourists, but she didn’t care. I loved having a meal that was not only special because of the setting, but the people making it happen. High fives to all of them.

Here is the menu. There is no exclusive GF menu, but here was the general selection:

We chose to share an order of the risotto, while I ordered the New Orleans barbecued shrimp. Creamy, dreamy risotto. The shrimp wasn’t barbecue in the sense of what we assume as northerners–red sauce, etc. It was the spices used. Not too hot, various sauces to bring up some tang and cool it back down. The grits were delicious as well. Goat cheese grits. And anything with cheese done well gets a gold star from me.

Oh, and that little beverage near my plate? That’s the Commander’s Martini on the rocks. Lunchtime fare will get you a twenty-five cent martini in one of three styles, straight or cold. All martinis there are vodka-based.

The explanation here? It’s a crème brûlée. There were a small number of dessert options, but I made a beeline for this one (I love me a good crème brûlée).

When the gentleman set the dish in front of me, for a brief moment I assumed it was a plate with a pretty design. The powdered sugar gave it away–this was the dessert. A very thin, beautifully presented dessert. Well played, Commander’s Palace. I needed a minute with this one.

Ahh, crème brûlée.

I could not finish it myself. But I’m a fan of sharing, so my friend enjoyed the other half.

In some reviews, the decor of the restaurant was considered dated. I thought it was rather classic–robin’s egg blue paper with large white floral print, and little birds perched in various places around the walls. No, it wasn’t modern. But it had character, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Overall Score: 5/5

We enjoyed our meals, the staff knew what they were doing, and obviously, so did the chef. That dessert definitely crowned off a beautiful lunch, and a little martini to put it all together? A lovely touch. These destination restaurants–their staff, servers, chefs, everybody–often work hard to create an experience for their patrons. The Commander’s Palace seemed to achieve it without breaking a sweat.

Garden District Walking Tour

When in New Orleans, one thing you must do is a walking tour of the Garden District. This is the neighborhood of the Who’s Who of the city, as mentioned earlier. Yes, there are gorgeous homes everywhere, packed into this collection of blocks. And directly across the street from the Commander’s Palace is this:

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is one of the many (MANY) above-ground cemeteries in the city, containing rows of beautiful family tombs–some of which are still being used. So much history packed into this specific area…so we signed up for a walking tour. @HistoricNOTours (Historic New Orleans Tours) is a great company that operates tours around the city. Our guide, Jim, was a native to the area who was totally knowledgeable and enthusiastic about teaching others about the city culture. Walking through the cemetery, I could feel the sacredness of the grounds and how it affects the spirit of the grand lifestyle rising outside the gates. I hope being in a cemetery doesn’t give you the willies. This place is wonderful. Honestly, I’m a history but and I love this stuff. Definitely worth the trip across the city from the French Quarter.

The cemetery is often used for filming for TV and film.

So are the surrounding homes. The owners are rather famous themselves. Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Payton and Eli Manning’s parents, and others own some of these gorgeous properties.

Cab fare ain’t that bad, and while we would’ve had a hard time getting a cab back to our territory, we ended the tour just by the Commander’s Palace and asked them about it, and they very graciously called a cab for us.

And yes, there was dinner that night. More on a second post coming later of Day 2: Dinner at Muriel’s…

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