3800 Canal Street
Mandinas is one of those New Orleans institutions, the sort of restaurant that has been around since roughly the dawn of time (well, 1932) and has cultivated an equally antique customer base. Serving Creole classics, Italian dishes, po-boys and steaks to an always-considerable crowd, it's difficult to believe that this stalwart was almost brought down by Hurricane Katrina. Believe it: the restaurant was flooded and nearly destroyed during Katrina, but the resilient Mandina family rebuilt, remodeled, and reopened in the original location on Canal Street. The menu and interior ambience were changed as little as humanly possible. This is a city that values old stuff.
My family and I headed to Mandinas right before Newcomb-Tulane's equally oldy moldy Under the Oaks Ceremony. I would, perhaps inadvisably, be receiving an award recognizing my Newcomb Grant last summer. There was no question of chowing down before hand. (I would later be the only person at the ceremony not wearing a cap and gown because no one had told me such was the dress code. But at least I had a swell lunch).
We began with the shrimp remoulade, which was a very generous serving of perfectly boiled shrimp in a thick, creamy, and just spicy enough sauce. Remoulade is one of those things that can be horrifyingly manhandled by lousy restaurants, but Mandinas demonstrates how to do it right: a nice interplay of tangy flavors in tandem with sweet shrimp meat. Aces.
Most of us had the gumbo. The gumbo, much to our surprise, tasted almost exactly like the Dupuy family recipe, right down to its appearance. I have to wonder if our family recipe and the Mandina family recipe perhaps hailed from the same source somewhere in the mists of time - both families were, after all, resident in New Orleans during the same era. Needless to say, I liked this light-colored tomato gumbo a whole lot: plenty of shrimp, plenty of okra, tomatoes, oysters, and sausage, without a ton of dark roux flavoring. Needed to be kicked in the ass a little bit with some Crystal, but this is also true of the almighty family recipe. Not everyone likes their mouth to burn when consuming gumbo. I do maintain that these people are wusses.
Miss Hilda's Salad is one of the restaurant's stalwart recipes, and the ginormous "side" salad didn't disappoint. It's basically a New Orleans chef salad with a couple kinds of cheese, anchovies, diced ham, turkey, and salami, egg, shrimp, and various herbs, served on a bed of greens. A gravy boat of dressing is provided on the side. Not sure I want to know what happens when you let them dress it. In any case, excellent and a nice fresh counterpart to the other menu options.
This fried oyster salad was slightly monolithic. The crisp, fresh fried oysters were very good specimens of the genre, and we enjoyed them. Except there were so many that we almost couldn't finish them, which is a remarkable and perhaps unheard of phenomena in this oyster obsessed family. I picked up the slack on the crispy bivalves of course, being a giving sort of gal. Call me the 102 Pound Garbage Disposal, and you'll pretty much be right on.
Mandinas is confident enough to shun credit and debit cards at the register. Bring cash.