It’s become a tradition to celebrate my birthday at the magnificent Commander’s Palace, one of the oldest and best restaurants in New Orleans. Don’t take my word for it being the best, Chef Tory McPhail just won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: South. Not surprisingly, 4 of the 5 nominees were from NOLA. For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed showing off my favorite Trashy Diva dresses while dining. This time, I changed things up with a casual gown I found at Naaz on Magazine Street.
We were escorted through the kitchen to the garden room near the courtyard with the glass-encased Live Oak tree trunk growing through the middle of the floor. Our favorite server, Daniel, promised us a great evening and delivered at every turn. One notable change – no more helium for the balloons. By the end of 2014, helium balloons will become something we tell our children about, something only the very wealthy can afford. Look it up. I’m not kidding. Of course, Commander’s handled the change artfully, creating the illusion of floating balloons with slender plastic stems.
The food was insanely good. I particularly loved the Burrata (with lemon) and Heirloom Tomato. Many old New Orleans restaurants carry forward their time-honored traditions of personable yet elegant service and some serve dishes that have been on their menus since the 1800’s. As a food capitol, New Orleans has also fostered or attracted many chefs with modern techniques and ideas like molecular gastronomy and calculated balances between proteins and acids. Commander’s offers the best of both worlds with old world ballet service and staples like Turtle Soup along with forward-thinking flavor combinations, textures and platings.
As always, dessert was served with a candle and the super-tall chef’s hat. There are lots of things that are pretty great about having a birthday (consider the alternative). In New Orleans, a birthday means you can pin a dollar to your shirt and expect to get birthday wishes and dollars from friends and strangers all day. At Commander’s, it means eating an amazing meal with great service and wearing a silly hat.