Shrimp remoulade at Antoine's
Six years ago I spent an afternoon with my grandmother at Touro Hospital. Hazel didn't have much time left and we all knew it. We sat mostly in pensive silence as physicians came in and out. Occasionally, she would look over and smile or try and mouth something. Mostly there was just silence. Per her living will, food, water, and lifesaving maneuvers were withheld and eventually she found peace.
I wish Antoine's had a living will.
If Antoine's did, its servers wouldn't be milling around the front desk swapping stories for the dining room to hear that end in "You gotta crawl in attics n shit?" The life-saving measures of old Carnival clubs and Debbie Does Debutante parties which fill its coffers would be withheld. Antoine's would stop feeding on the tourist dollars of a lunch menu featuring .25 cent flavored martinis. It could just peacefully expire, leaving us with nothing but the memories of a once legendary restaurant.
I don't write this to be mean. I write it because once upon a time Antoine's was a place you went to celebrate and dine. It was big, it was grand, the waiters were charming, the food excellent, and everyone always seemed to be laughing at huge tables littered with glassware and crumbs. At the end of the meal, the lights would always dim and a dance of flame and pastry would captivate and enthrall childhood and adult eyes alike. Men wore ties and women dressed up.
Perhaps the worst baked oyster dish in town is on the menu at Antoine's in the form of an oyster thermidor. Chewy oysters ladled with ketchup and ham. Say that three times fast and the dead rise. Oysters Rockefeller, while invented here eons ago, are made better elsewhere and likely everywhere. At Antoine's they taste of a waterlogged bag of salad. The credit where due award goes to their oysters Bienville which are rich and creamy. Oysters Foch are delicious and salty under a sturdy cornmeal crust, but when they arrive at the same exact time as baked oysters, they become cold. And cold fried oysters aren't very desirable.
Not even the bar could save this meal. One Sazerac arrived pitch perfect and imbued with the luscious aroma of Herbsaint. The next was just whiskey with a lemon peel. Service was clumsy and overbearing at all the wrong times like a large child in a tiny sandbox. A runner would bring food and before you had a chance to eat, the waiter would ask, "How is everything?" Apparently, he believed I was clairvoyant. An order of souffle potatoes ordered with drinks showed up about an hour later. They were overcooked and greasy, devoid of the lightness that marks a souffle potato's ascent to such great heights. After sitting us at an awful table up against a post in an empty dining room, the host asked "Where are you from?"
"Here," we said.
He seemed genuinely surprised.
"I know you are disappointed," Lindsay later said to me, "you hoped it would be better."
Antoine's is just sad now. Gone is the formality and the touches which made it unique. Antoine's splendor has been replaced by shorts, the tourist trade, and tennis shoes. Gone is the grand dining of Escoffier and Alciatore. Verbatim transaction at table next to ours, "Our house blend of five lettuces tossed with our homemade vinaigrette and crumbled blue cheese...Sure we can leave off the blue cheese and put the dressing on the side," the waiter remarks. He just sold her lettuce and free refills of iced tea.
The other grand dames have held onto traditions and standards, and eventually this has paid off for them. The dining rooms at Galatoire's are full, boisterous, and filled with well heeled locals. Dinner at Arnaud's is still marked by formality and solid cooking. The various rooms at Antoine's are largely empty and deservedly so. Antoine's chased the buck and now all that is left is a pitiful reminder of what was once a treasure.
Look, spare me the emails or comments about how you need to dine with a certain waiter to get a good meal at Antoine's. A waiter isn't cooking the food and that is wherein the problem lies. This type of cuisine can taste good; just not at Antoine's.
You can fool the public for a long time. Brennan's did and look where it got them. Eventually the ties to family traditions loosen when all people can remember is bad meals. I don't pray for Antoine's demise, but unless they get a kitchen upgrade, we are all just waiting in a hospital room. Sadly, there is no living will at Antoine's.
Antoine's: Is It Worth It? Nope.
713 St. Louis St.