Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chef John Besh's Restaurant August and Lüke

From top left pâté de campagne, grilled sheepshead, & deconstructed affogato at Restaurant August; Grilled drum at Lüke
This is the final part of New York Food Journal's Beyond the Five Boroughs feature on New Orleans. The first post covered the city's street food, snacks, and sandwiches, and the second post was on Cajun and Creole food.

There are perhaps two chefs in New Orleans who combined have a stranglehold on the city's fine dining market: TV personalities John Besh and Emeril Lagasse. Both chefs have graced the silver screen with multiple appearances on the Food Network, Top Chef, and other programs. While I was unable to visit any of Emeril's three establishments in New Orleans, I did sample the cuisine at two of Besh's more than half-dozen restaurants in the city: Restaurant August and Lüke.

Both restaurants offer sophisticated takes on local cuisine, incorporating many Cajun and Creole flavors and ingredients. Besh's flagship restaurant, Restaurant August, is essentially a French restaurant but uses local ingredients and spices. Lüke, a more casual restaurant, is a bistro incorporating elements of French and German cuisine. The food at both restaurants are excellent. August in particular provided probably my best meal in New Orleans -- and definitely the best deal: the three-course lunch with a large amuse-bouche cost only $20.12.

Perhaps the one detraction from my Besh experiences was that, as with many chefs-turned-TV-personalities, this one enjoys self-promotion. Every restaurant has ubiquitous displays of "A Chef John Besh Restaurant" signage. And patrons are offered an opportunity to peruse and purchase Besh's latest cookbook at nearly every turn.

Restaurant August
Mirleton stuffed with gulf shrimp and topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, and greens
Perhaps keeping up with Besh's affinity for titles and prefixes, his signature restaurant in New Orleans is not simply "August" but rather "Restaurant August." It resides in a classy, even if quiet, area of the Central Business District. The restaurant opens with a handsome wood-paneled front room and bar where you can wait for your table (while examining the latest Besh cookbook, of course). The dining room has high ceilings, large windows, and classy chandeliers. Clearly appearance and service are a priority.
The amuse-bouche.

Restaurant August is very expensive for dinner -- the entrees are virtually all in the mid to high $30s. There is also an $82 four-course degustation menu. For lunch during the week, however, there is an incredible three-course lunch for only $20.12.

The meal started with a decadent amuse-bouche: a seafood and egg custard with a hint of truffle and topped with caviar served in a hollowed out egg shell. This dish was quite large for an amuse -- perhaps four bites rather than the traditional one -- and it only added to the great value of the lunch. The custard was creamy on top and got more solid down below; the custard was complemented by a slight truffle taste.

 The pâté de campagne 
A pâté de campagne of La Provence pork with radishes, pickled chanterelle mushrooms, and homemade marmalades and mustards was perhaps the best dish. The dish itself was beautiful - the pâté was set in the middle of a vinework of fresh greens and other accompaniments. It also came with incredibly buttery toasts, which added to the decadence.

I had been noticing that many restaurants in New Orleans make use of "mirleton" -- a squash that resembles a pear in appearance and has a crisp taste. It is often called chayote outside of the Gulf area. At Restaurant August, a mirleton is stuffed with gulf shrimp in a light parmesan crust and topped with pickled chanterelles, tomatoes, and microgreens, and sitting on top of a Creole broth with clearly apparent holy trinity vegetables. Like other breading in New Orleans, this was a light coat that made the dish extra crispy without being heavy. The shrimp was perfectly cooked.
The strawberry dessert in its neat line

A pan seared Gulf sheepshead was also well-done. And yes, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn is named after the fish. Both entrees were about the same size as the pâté appetizer (it is lunch afterall).

For dessert, try the strawberries made in three ways: fresh, sorbet, and crispy, on top of a pistaccio shortbead with a little crème fraiche or the deconstructed Affogato. Both desserts were arranged in a line on the corner of a large round plate. An odd presentation since the dish looked lonely with so much empty space. The dessert course ended with complementary pralines -- which were crispy, unlike most of the fudge-like versions I had seen elsewhere in the city.

The service at Restaurant August was consistently excellent. We had silverware changes for every course and the waiters were polite and friendly, even if a little chatty.

Lüke
Grilled Drum with Creole spices, remoulade sauce, and saffron broth
Lüke is an umlauted German-French-Creole bistro serving slightly refined bistro fare. Besh does a good job pairing local flavors with a more traditional bistro menu.

Blanquette de Veau with homemade tagliatelle
A great example is the grilled gulf fish (a drum one night) with Cajun spices on top of a toasted brioche with a piquant Louisiana remoulade. This was a big portion of fish and the spices were great. The remoulade didn't overpower the more subtle saffron broth, much to my surprise.

That same fish prepared amandine, however, was less successful, as the breading tended to overpower the fish; perhaps somewhat surprisingly given the success of other breaded seafood in New Orleans.

An "express menu" of daily changing dishes with a soup appetizer is a great deal for $23. On a Sunday, the Blanquette de Veau with slow cooked veal and homemade tagliatelle was well prepared and served in a cast iron dish -- that's a good idea for a pasta dish, since it retains heat so well.

The service, however, didn't live up to the high example at Restaurant August. We had to wait over 20 minutes to sit even though we had a reservation. While they did apologize, it wasn't clear what the hold up was, and they probably should have offered us a free drink. They also only placed one 4-bread bread basket on our table of five, which shouldn't happen.

P.S.: They also have 50 cent oysters during happy hour but unfortunately we missed it.


View Restaurant August and Lüke in a larger map


Restaurant August: 301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; (504) 299-9777
restaurantaugust.com

Recommended Dishes: Prix fixe lunch $20.12 (M-F): pâté de campagne, sheepshead, mirliten, strawberries, affogato.

Restaurant August on Urbanspoon
Lüke: 333 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130; (504) 378-2840;
http://www.lukeneworleans.com/

Recommended Dishes: grilled gulf fish ($24), Blanquette de Veau ($23).
Lüke on Urbanspoon

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