Aug 19, 201012:00 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
The Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Restaurant
Pan-seared redfish served over sautéed corn and wilted greens with roasted grape tomatoes and thyme oil is one of the entree choices with the three-course martini lunch.
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
When the Roosevelt Hotel reopened after an extensive renovation in late 2009, the principal buzz involved John Besh’s Domenica restaurant, the Blue Room and the glamorous art deco Sazerac Bar. The Sazerac was named the official cocktail of New Orleans in July 2008, and its namesake bar no doubt benefitted from the publicity.
The Sazerac Restaurant has been somewhat overlooked in all of the hype, and that’s a shame. It’s an excellent restaurant that offers more than I, at least, expected. It’s located adjacent to the bar, and the large dining room’s high ceilings and open floor plan give it a sense of grandeur. The décor is in line with the elegance of the hotel generally but with a bit more restraint than you’ll find in the ornate lobby.
Stefan Kauth is the executive chef at the Sazerac, and he is from Germany originally, though there is little to indicate his country of origin on the restaurant’s menu. Instead, the kitchen features a mix of standards from the local repertoire and dishes one might find on any high-end restaurant menu. Jumbo shrimp rémoulade shares space on the soup-and-salad portion of the lunch menu with Parmesan-dusted truffle fries and duck liver paté that’s served with red onion marmalade, artisan mustards and a grilled baguette. Similarly, jumbo lump crab ravigote salad and turkey chopped salad are both appetizer choices. The ravigote comes with fresh citrus, avocado and Gruyère cheese croustades, and the turkey salad features black olives, tomato, sharp cheddar cheese, cucumber and sourdough crisps.
Lunch entrees include a raclette cheese melt on marble rye with tomatoes and Gewürtztraminer-braised onions; a cochon du lait sandwich with Gruyère, red onions and Creole mustard on pressed French bread; a Creole-style crab cake over organic greens with a pepper jelly vinaigrette and fries; and an Abita Amber-marinated chicken breast with oyster-andouille dressing, sautéed asparagus and a pan jus.
At present, there is a three-course lunch menu that comes with a martini. I had a business lunch at the restaurant recently and started with a salad of smoked duck breast with wild arugula, blackberries, orange supremes and a citrus vinaigrette. The duck breast was sliced thinly and layered over the greens, with fat blackberries and citrus segments distributed throughout. The kitchen avoided overdressing the salad, and all in all it was a very nice way to start a meal.
In addition to the smoked duck breast salad, choices for the first course included a frisée salad with andouille lardons, grilled asparagus, pickled enoki mushrooms and a roasted shallot vinaigrette. There’s also a soup of the day that changes frequently; it was shrimp-and-leek when I was there last.
Entrees for the special were pan-seared redfish served over sautéed corn and wilted greens with roasted grape tomatoes and thyme oil; the above-referenced Abita Amber-marinated chicken breast and a lamb burger served with grilled onions and harissa aoili on onion brioche. The meal ends with a selection of miniature desserts from pastry chef Deborah Heyd. I was served a tiny red velvet cupcake, a shot glass-size portion of chocolate mousse and a small caramel cheesecake. The cheesecake was good, and the mousse was excellent, but I’m not a big fan of red velvet in any form. That includes cupcakes. The meal, with your choice of a martini made with Stolichnaya vodka or Hendrick’s gin, cost $20. It’s a good deal considering the amount and quality of the food.
The dinner menu similarly mixes Creole and Continental cuisines. Starters when I last saw the dinner menu included a Caesar salad with white anchovies, crispy prosciutto and sourdough croutons; pan-seared foie gras accompanied by green tomato jam, toasted brioche and ice wine vinegar; and seafood gumbo with blue crab, oysters and Gulf shrimp. Entrees veer a little more off the local track. A rack of lamb from Jamison Farms came with fingerling potatoes, haricots verts and a shallot sauce; braised oxtail was served with pappardelle noodles, English peas and a Madeira wine sauce; Dover sole took the place of more familiar local fish in a meuniere preparation with asparagus, Meyer lemon and brown butter; and a New York strip steak came with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, broccolini and a trio of sauces: red wine Bordelaise, cognac and green peppercorn.
Service when I’ve dined at the Sazerac has been excellent: professional, attentive and low-key. I do have to note that when I dined there, my colleague and I sat at one of only three tables occupied. This was lunchtime on a Tuesday, but the restaurant’s elegant setting and excellent food deserve more attention. I’d be curious to see what that room is like when it’s full.
It continues to amaze me how many excellent fine-dining restaurants New Orleans can accommodate. Certainly hotel restaurants have an advantage over privately owned establishments. A Waldorf Astoria property such as the Roosevelt pretty much has to have a high-end restaurant even if there aren’t enough diners to cover the expense. Still, with Domenica just down the hall from the Sazerac, I didn’t anticipate the quality I experienced. I suppose I assumed the hotel would simply offer something mediocre. I was wrong, and I’m glad. I’ll be dining at the Sazerac again in the near future, I think.
The restaurant is located, as noted, in the Roosevelt Hotel, at 123 Baronne Street. Call 504/648-1200 to make a reservation.