new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Restaurant August: Louisiana Haute Cuisine

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Restaurant August: Louisiana Haute Cuisine

Restaurant August
301 Tchoupitoulas St,
New Orleans, LA 70130

John Besh is New Orlean's new celebrity chef, supplanting fuzzy little Emeril as the city's darling contemperary chef. He's been on Iron Chef, participated in soft touch Food and Wine articles, and showed up almost everywhere you can in the fine dining world. August is Besh's flagship restaurant in New Orleans, a luxe and classy establishment - and a worthy addition to NOLA's excellent portfolio of cuisine. He might be famous, but he can cook .

The restaurant is gorgeous: all wood interior set in a large and high-celinged space, with lovely ambient lighting. It's a classic Fancy Restaurant space, and I salute Besh for sticking to the classics design-wise. August is luxurious and clubby but not over the top. The service reflects that: it's excellent and courteous in an old fashioned way sorely lacking in Californian establishments, but does not venture into snobbiness.

I apologize in advance for the bad photos: it's a very sophisticated and poorly lit joint, so I was too wussy to fiddle with my camera for more then the bare minimum required. (Also I am a bad photographer.)

We were started off with a lovely little amuse-bouche: seafood custard served in a delicate eggshell with caviar, a riff on the egg-cups of yore. The custard was smooth and delightfully briney: I like amuse-bouches that require some actual thought and insight like this did.

We are avowed beet lovers in this family, so we began with the heirloom beet, crab meat, bacon, and quail egg salad (10.00.) This was really quite delightful: fresh picked crabmeat worked well with the earthy flavor of the beets and the bacon, accompanied with a peppery snap from the mustard greens. The black eyed pea croutons were a surprise: fried black eyed peas take on a delightful, edamame esque flavor.

New Orleans is an oyster town, and Besh's P&J Oysters three ways seek to highlight the slimy little bastards: one fried with fancy ranch dressing, one served in a a peppery broth, and one horseradish crusted in a creamy, piquant sauce topped with bread crumbs (13.00) . The oyters were presented in three little cylinders and were certainly impressive looking, although I wish there had been more of each flavor. The ranch dressing also was not very much in evidence: I had to look for it at the bottom of the oyster's handy container-tube. The horseradish variant was most sucessful: oysters and cream go together terribly well, and horseradish adds an interesting accent to a familar flavor.

August's duck had been recommended to me by two servers at Luke, and since the waterfowl is one of my very favorite things to eat, the choice was easy. August's sugar and spice duckling is served with Anson Mills cheese grits, roasted duck foie gras, and a side of dark and rich braised quail.(28.00) The duck itself was excellent: a big meaty joint, cooked to the correct level of doneness, the spice rub evoking Eastern flavors - star anise was much in evidence. The rich duck meat went well with the cheesy, perfect grits and the greens, but the foie gras really stole the show: its super rich and decadent flavor can elevate even good ol' grits into pure luxury.

My mom went with August's interesting trout served three ways: three sections of fish topped with shrimp, crabmeat, and scallops, (22.00) on top of a slab of Besh's superlative bacon. This was served with an excellent New Orleans butter sauce, and was certainly an exciting dish to eat: three distinct flavor combinations coming back to the same theme. I know the Three Ways concept is trendy as hell, but as an avowed grazer, I think it's an excellent concept. Portion size was rather huge, which meant I got to clean her plate. Yay.

We finished with the frozen creme fraiche souffle (9.00), served with fresh peaches and blackberry cabernet sorbet - this was excellent, tasting like a large round of truly excellent frozen yogurt, served with lovely summer fruits. I also liked the boozy and dark richness of the sorbet - it's an excellent, light summer dessert. There is no photo because we devoured it too quickly. Whoops.

Besh came out to work the room and greet guests during our meal, which I thought was an excellent, homey touch - you rarely actually encounter the celebrity chef in a celebrity chef's restaurant. He was very friendly and gracious, and really does seem to be the nice Southern boy represented in all his media appearances. Props.

One lovely note: I have just turned 20 and in this fine US of A, I am not allowed to order (gasp) alcoholic beverages. This really irritates me when I am at a fine restaurant and must order a goddamn Diet Coke while everyone else is drinking fine wines and enjoying the snot out of themselves. At August, I asked for a Diet Coke with an obvious note of rueful disgruntlement, which our server picked up on: he noted (quietly) that Louisana law allows a parent to buy a drink for their underage progeny. Excellent. As I had already decided on the duck, the server selected a nice cab for myself, and a crispy Viognier for my mom's trout. I love Louisiana already.

August is a classy and refined restaurant, serving updated Southern cuisine that truly reflects the heights that New Orleans cuisine can rise to. In a city that's had it's share of problems, it's nice to see that Besh's restaurants are proving that New Orlean's restaurants can contend with anything found in New York and San Francisco - and do it in style.

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