During our week-long visit to New Orleans, the only advanced plans we made were for meals. We had several places we wanted to visit and even with making reservations a few weeks in advance, it was a challenge to book them all.
While parts of every meal we ate were fantastic, one meal stuck out as being better than the rest. From the service to the food, everything about it was perfect. This was surprising as it was the one place on the list I was the least excited about visiting.
Commander’s Palace is a New Orleans landmark. Since opening in 1893, the Garden District restaurant has been serving food to locals and tourists alike. If receiving endless accolades from Wine Spectator and winning seven James Beard awards wasn’t enough, the list of previous executive chefs includes cooking icons Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon, and Tory McPhail.
Since 2020, the kitchen has been under the control of Meg Bickford, who continues the tradition of serving Creole and Cajun specialties, some of them still prepared from decades-old recipes.
That was why I wasn’t as excited about visiting Commander’s Palace. When a restaurant is famous for such a long time, it’s easy to rest on its reputation. Serving exactly what people expect becomes enough and sometimes the experience becomes watered down.
When combined with the bow-tie-wearing servers, the dining room has a formal feel, making this a place where you’d go for a special occasion. This was apparently the case with balloons on many tables, celebrating some event. While the restaurant is elegant, which includes a reasonable dress code for guests, it doesn’t feel stuffy.
The menu is large enough to give you a choice in each category but not too overwhelming.
We couldn’t help but take advantage of the 25 cent martini specials the Commander’s Palace has during lunch.
I ordered Chef Meg’s Classic Creole Luncheon. Not knowing how the restaurant deals with substitutions, I asked our server if I could switch out the turtle soup for the creole gumbo. He looked at me and delivered a deadpan, “No.”
As he walked away, I wondered if he was serious or not, and I wasn’t sure which soup I’d get with my meal.
Sharon started with the romaine salad.
I got the gumbo, and our server joked that he needed to pull some strings in the kitchen to make it happen.
As the plates were being cleared, Sharon asked our server if they had any booster chairs or cushions as the seats were relatively low. He apologized that they didn’t have any and since no one has phone books anymore, he’d see what he could do. We liked our server more and more as the meal progressed. He solved our problem with a stack of napkins.
For the main course, Sharon ordered the cast iron seared fish.
I had the quail, which was absolutely amazing. It was one of the top three things I ate all week.
I was already getting full but I still had bread pudding coming for dessert, which was served with a healthy pour of whiskey cream sauce.
Sharon’s not a big fan of souffle-style desserts, so she ordered the apple cobbler.
At the end of the meal, we waddled out of Commander’s Palace in awe. It’s easy to understand how they’ve stayed relevant in a city full of excellent restaurants. It’s fancy but doesn’t take itself too seriously. While other places can come off as pretentious, Commander’s Palace is comfortable. Located in a neighborhood and not the touristy area, it gives off a different vibe. It’s a special place where you get dressed up a little and have a wonderful meal, which is something that’s getting harder and harder to find.
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