Culinaring in N’awlins: Moving with the Times in August
After a near-perfect lunch at Cochon Butcher, I had an uneasy feeling that dinner at Restaurant August by John Besh would be an expensive letdown, a classic case of simplicity trumping extravagance, David killing Goliath, straightforward flavor overcoming frou-frou. It always seems to happen when my family descends upon white tablecloth.
This time? No, no, no. I forget we’re in New Orleans. This city is a different animal, and at August, dinner was fine dining done fine and done right.
Chef Besh, 42, has created a chef-driven restaurant that moves forward with the times in a recipe-driven city that thrives off of its past. In a cultural sense, the food here is contemporary. So yes, jumbo shrimp sounds great, but let’s add a few whiffs of meyer lemon foam.
Just as Chef Besh creates and imagines, his menu still maintains great respect for the culinary roots of the city. Like a true New Orleans restaurant, nothing here is short on flavor, and in this fine-dining arena, plates come out full-bodied and bold, unafraid to pull big punches or take strong stands.
August’s atmosphere is one of old school glamour with wood paneling, high ceilings and candlelight. In addition to the main dining room, there are two smaller rooms for a more intimate experience.
Enough of me. Let’s now enjoy the food.
amuse bouche: fish custard with caviar, crouton
Is this a proper “amuse” in the classical sense? Probably not. Nothing about this dish woke up our palettes, but this was a delicious, buttery buttery smooth, savory custard with a soft touch of fish. Presentation points for plating this in an eggshell.
carpaccio of Two Run farms beef sirloin, fresh horseradish, creole cream cheese
I made the mistake of using too much horseradish so this wasn’t my favorite bite of the night.
salad of heirloom beets, crab meat, La Provence bacon, baby mustards, quail eggs, black-eyed pea croutons
it’s nice to have a refreshing salad in between the heavy dishes.
garlic roasted P&J oysters with Creole cream cheese, bacon dumplings, crispy pork belly, meyer lemon
Oo. The bacon flavor that ran through this dish was fantastic. The oysters at the bottom of the bowl absorbed all of the flavors. The foam was a nice, bright touch.
creamy gulf shrimp bisque, armagnac, tarragon, crispy shrimp croutons
smooth and creamy with a nice shrimp broth
handmade potato gnocchi, blue crab, black truffle
It’s about time. Gnocchi made the right way. smooth with two layers – first the outer, thicker skin and then a savory inside. The blue crab was an excellent addition, equally soft and gentle. Perhaps this dish could use some crunch. Breadcrumbs?
redfish courtbouillon, persillade crust, local shrimp, blue crab, sauce bourride
Out of all the entrees, this was my least favorite. Not sure if it was the redfish or the bourride but something didn’t work. Too fishy? Oh geez I can’t remember.
sugar and spice duckling, McEwen’s stone-ground grits, roasted duck foie gras, candied quince
If you love duck and 5-spice, this is the dish for you. The combination of medium-rare duck with that thick crispy skin with a sliver of fatty foie gras, earthy grits and bright quince was pure exploration. A perfect moment.
breaded trout pontchatrain, jumbo lump crab, wild mushrooms, sauce hollandaise
This was the most popular dish at August, but strangely the only entree that had a blatant flaw: salt. At moments the hollandaise was seeping in salt, at parts the fish was too salty. These issues aside, the combination of trout, mushrooms and sauce was luscious.
Mississippi Blackbelly Lamb, whole roast saddle, house made sausage, local cauliflower, chanterelle mushrooms, hardy herbs
The quality of this cut was superb and rang of true lamb. Can’t remember what’s in the sauce but it was delicious.
batter fried Briarhill Farms poussin, white beans and Covey Rise tomatoes, slow cooked with cherry wood bacon
Our waiter was kind enough to be upfront about this dish, calling it a fancy version of fried chicken. Call it what you will, this fried chicken was immensely satisfying. The puffy batter was unexpected and the bean and rice stew was crazy delicious. I apologize that at this point my descriptions of these dishes are lame. Multiple courses are taxing on the body.
jumbo gulf shrimp stuffed mirliton, andouille parmesan crust, citrus brown butter
Come on. Just look at this dish. How can it not be good? Since shrimp is a fairly neutral ingredient, everything around it came together nicely.
goat cheesecake, almond ice cream, honey,
I love goat cheese, but I must admit this was intense. Perhaps with enough almond ice cream, caramel syrup (I think) and whatever the crumbly stuff was (it was delicious), the combination could work, but the cheesecake easily trumped everyone else when the proportions were the slight bit off. Conceptually though, this works.