Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Antoine's: Is It Worth It?

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.


The food at Antoine's is food I love. Old French classics that cooks have been making taste delicious for hundreds of years. Antoine's is not doing so anymore. Witness a plate of shrimp remoulade which tasted like weed killer smells. The shrimp were overcooked to boot. The escargot bordelaise, the sauce tasting suspiciously close to Antoine's marchand de vin, was gritty with flour or cornstarch and topped with cheese you can buy pre-shredded at a Rouses. How is that for upholding culinary standards of excellence?



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.
581-4422

15 comments:

Celeste said...

Preach it, Bro Rene. Before the internecine feud shuttered Brennan's last week, you could have posted a similar review about it.

willifred said...

Dead on the money....

Kevin said...

Spot on.

I keep dreaming that a younger generation will take over, roust the lazy chefs and servers and take Antoine's into the 21st century. Those rooms are too spectacular to keep serving horrible food. But every time I walk past and see servers hanging outside in dirty polyester jackets, it's clear that no one there cares.

Back in the 1980s, restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton listed Antoine's as a "coaster" -- a place that survived only on its past glories. It's only gotten worse since then.

Double Chin said...

Nailed it.

Anonymous said...

sadly, I must agree as well.

Anonymous said...

100% correct. Took out of towners there last month, and I was mortified and spent the rest of the weekend apologizing for my crap restaurant selection.

Keith Brantley said...

TFitz loves it! Enough said...

RBPoBoy said...

Uncle Tom is gonna be pissed...

Andrew said...

Tfitz doens't care as long as those checks from Antoine's keep clearing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, each sentence you wrote is true. I moved to New Orleans two years ago & have slowly been checking off dining at iconic New Orleans restaurants. When my cousin was in town last Spring (2012) and announced dinner reservations at Antoine's, I was giddy!

I ordered chicken with whatever sauce it came with and...um...I can only describe it as a processed chicken breast with yellow "goup" smothered on top.

When establishments such as Hard Rock Cafe & McDonald's can outshine your chicken...it's time to radically rethink your restaurant.

Anonymous said...

yup. despite wanting otherwise, every time we've been to the dining rooms the food was sloppy. this is not a place for those interested in food.

Anonymous said...

just took 5 to Antoine's for son's girlfriend's birthday, against my suggestion, and was so PLEASANTLY surprised. middle of week, front room pretty full about 4-5 tables in back, but the traditional food: souffle potatoes, pompano, oysters and baked alaska- was far better than expected and I will go back again to (hope) it wasn't an accident.

Anonymous said...

Our dining experience in the white front room had just about ended last July with service that had been polite and food that had been good but not memorably so. After paying our check and tip, we decided to wander into the main dining room to sneak a few unobtrusive peeks at the ephemera framed on the walls. Our interest was noticed by two different waiters (not ours from the other room). They brought us towards the bar to meet Paul, a true and proud veteran of the place who knows where they paprika is stored and where any bodies are buried. Paul whisked us off on a 40-minute thrill ride that left an indelibly magic feeling about Antoine"s and our first-ever visit there. He led us through tunnels and hidden doors, through the most exclusive rooms that would serve Comus captains or Hollywood stars. We climbed ladders and stairs and took in the history and legends of every piece of memorabilia mounted on walls or protected behind glass. It was a remarkable private tour of one of the city's finest and most secret museums, and our host could not have been kinder. Had we just paid our check and left through the door we entered, it might have been a mediocre to fair experience. But our adventure with Paul, taking us through the wardrobe and into the corridors of New Orleans history (as seen within these walls), that made our lone visit to Antoime's so special and memorable.

WCiardiello said...

Sad, sad, sad. New Orleans is a city of traditions and it looks like another one is on the way out. Dined at Antoine's last fall, good food, not great as it once was. Informality in a formal setting--not what it once was. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Damn!

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