Every August, about 40 restaurants participate in “COOLinary” – low priced menus designed to inspire locals to dine during New Orleans’ least toured month. Each restaurant offers a COOLinary menu of 3-course meals priced $20 or less for lunch, $35 or less for dinner (though some offer only lunch or dinner, not both). It’s a great excuse to try some of the finest and priciest restaurants in town as well as try new items at favorite haunts.
Having read the many amazing offerings, I’m now excited to try the Salad of Grilled Chilton Peaches with Aceto baalsamico, basil pesto, bacon crisp and whipped ricotta that’s part of the 3-course $20.11 lunch-only offering from 2006 James Beard award winner John Besh’s August. Another pricey restaurant offering a great deal (until October) is the historic Tujague’s. They have a number of choices for entrees including a Petie Filet Mignon with Garlic Butter and each person gets a complimentary glass of wine with their meal, all for $30.
The best bargain by far is the “Temperature Lunch” offering at Palace Cafe. Soup or salad and Chef’s Entree of the Day for the price of the previous day’s high temperature. If it was 93 degrees yesterday, lunch is $9.30.
Some restaurants, like Commander’s Palace, Bayona and Muriel’s, already offer meals that qualify but Bayona has added 20¢ martinis to their $20 3-course lunch. Though I plan to explore many of these menus, it was a great excuse to head back to neighborhood favorite since 1880, Commander’s Palace. Yes, I was just there 2 weeks ago for my birthday, but good is good and Commander’s is great.
Though it’s easy to rack up a bill there, the regular menu includes a 3-course supper for under $40, reduced to $35 for the COOLinary menu. The Crab Corn Bisque was one of the best bowls of soup I’ve tasted. Though I contemplated ordering the Griddle Seared Gulf Fish with 7 varieties of crab boiled vegetables with bruleed lemons and brown butter vinaigrette, I ended up going off the COOLinary menu to try the Stone Fruit Salad of Alabama peaches, candied roasted pecans, goat cheese and filet dusted okra with an in-season Soft Shell Crab with jicama slaw, creole tomatoes and pesto sauce.
I also tried the Cajun Mixed Grill plate of meats that included sugarcane smoked pork tenderloin, boudin noir, fresh summer sausage and spicy andouille with crawfish boiled potatoes, compressed nectarines and smoky trotter jus. Dessert was pecan pie and vanilla bean ice cream with melted chocolate, candied pecans and Fleur de Sel caramel sauce. I still want to go back and try the salad of local figs and blue cheese with crispy bacon, baby arugula, spiced New Roads pecans and Maker’s Mark-bacon fat vinaigrette.
At some point, Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones and star of the upcoming Conan the Barbarian, was sitting to the left of me and Sylvester Stallone was sitting to my right. So, imagine my delight when one of the 4 owners, Ti Adelaide Martin, bypassed Conan and Rambo to welcome me and assure us that, “Commander’s loves it’s neighbors.”