Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AUGUST- a truly august gastronomic temple in New Orleans (10-12-13)

Saturday night we chose AUGUST, where Chef John Besh came to great fame just over 13 years ago, which was the time of our last trip to New Orleans. Sadly, it was so popular back then we couldn't get in. This trip, it was a bit easier, and we were warmly welcomed into the small front dining room with exposed brick and five gorgeous miniature crystal chandeliers.
Robert and Anne Marie were our helpful and very courteous team of servers, and while this is a John Besh establishment, I should note that it is Chef Todd Pulsinelli who runs the kitchen here. The menu offered many items and a couple of tasting menus as well, but we wanted items from both the regular and tasting menus. Samuel was getting very excited about tasting many new items (for more brownie points), and almost had a meltdown when we didn't decide on the super multi-six course tasting.
Robert told us not to worry that he would get us any item off any menu and it was not an issue. We knew we were in good hands.
I never did get the sommelier's name, but I told him I was quite interested in the 2010
Mas Igneus "Barranc-Dels Closos" from Priorat as we recently visited Spain and wanted to try as many new Spanish wines as possible. This blend of Macabeu, Garnatxa Banca, PX, & Muscat has earthiness and flavor and was a novel treat. I knew it would be great with our first courses (we decided to order different items for each course and split them), but first came the amuses!
An eggshell appeared filled with Roasted Garlic Custard, Sweet Corn Mousse and Butter Crumble which Samuel tried but did not care for. I gobbled his up before Will could even think of it.
Amuse #2 was FOIE GRAS layered with Muscadine Grape Jelly and Baum Kuchen Sponge Cake. Guess what? I got to eat most of Samuel's one bite treasure as well, even though he did taste to his credit.
Our first courses were LEMONFISH CRU with Avocado, Black Garlic & Thai Chili. My first bite of this wonderful and quite "thick" local fish was superb, but on the second, I got a mouthful of those Thai chilis, and it was indeed quite a spicy mouthful. I managed to find a slice of the flash-seared sushi-grade fish for Sam and he actually liked it; maybe sushi is on the horizon? Indeed the wine's minerality worked well here as it did with the CRABMEAT, JELLYFISH & SHRIMP Salad with Croustillant of Rice with fine herbs and Fish Sauce. We were told the dish also had cuttlefish and octopus for a truly superb local preparation that Samuel was brave enough to try but really winced at!
Our next courses in our journey were housemade POTATO GNOCCHI with Blue CRAB & BLACK TRUFFLE. I truly thought this delicious dish would be a big hit with Sam considering his newfound love for truffles this summer, but alas crab is not his thing.
On the other hand, Fresh CROWDER PEA (from Covey Rise Farm) TORTELLI with Purple Plums(yes), Chanterelles and Baby Turnips was a hit across the table, especially due to the tiny tad of mascarpone filling in each pasta purse.
We moved on to wine #2, a minerally-intense SAINT VERAN 2010 from Maison Verget "Cote Rotie," which is confusing as Cote Rotie usually defines Rhone wines. No matter-we loved it and moved on to our three main courses.
Samuel had long awaited the "market priced" Specialty Cuts of Two Run Farms Grass Fed Beef with Matsutake Mushrooms, Roasted Sunchoke, Amber Cup Squash and Rapini. The meat arrived and nobody seemed to know what the two cuts were. We  were finally told it was a strip steak and Sam was struggling through the intensely gristly meat, not to mention the issue with grass-fed beef, which we(he) had tried in Spain. This was an awful cut and they tookh it back with no charge in seconds-sign of a great fine dining establishment and good service.
Our main courses were far superior with my Pass Mandchac SOFT SHELL CRAB Amandine with crushed Marcona Almonds, Brown Butter Custard and Summer Bean Salad. Y'all know I adore softshells and I have had some decent Gulf ones indeed, but this truly was the largest and one of the best ever.
On the other shared plate was an equally superb creation: Breaded (Brioche) "TROUT Pontchartrain" with Shrimp, Blue Crab and (yup) local Chanterelles. The trout comes from the lake just north of town and is truly a treasure, but the dish is a winner that has apparently been on the menu for over 13 years since the opening, and it took us that long to taste it!
We had ordered each course carefully under the guidance of our servers and amazingly had room for dessert!
Samuel had the NAPOLEON of NOUGATINE with Valrhona Chocolate Bavarois and Salted Toffee Ice Cream. Only the latter was left which we quickly devoured.
Will's Meyer LEMON SOUFFLE TART with Lemon Curd & Ginger Snap Ice Cream was another tasty hit.
I went the way of the cheese with a selection  of truly amazing SOUTHERN cheeses:
The dullard if I may say, because we in DC  are spoiled, was the Galax GRAYSON from Virginia, only because we have such quality Grayson back home. This was good, but not great.
GREEN HILL comes from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia and needs attention as does the delightful MIDNIGHT MOON Goat from Arcata, Georgia, but the hit was
BAYSIDE BLUE from Sweet Home Farm Alabama (sounds like a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song!). This cow and sheep blue would just blow anyone away!
The plate comes with salty(very) lavosh wit sesame seeds and accoutrements of
Pear Marmalade, Blueberry Marmalade, Toasted Pecans and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. How southern is that?
While Samuel's beef was a bummer, we really did enjoy August immensely!