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The rehearsal dinner is the kick-off event of a weekend-long celebration. It’s a chance for the family and friends of the bride and groom to spend time together.
It is also a more relaxed affair than the wedding, and these days, couples are taking this as creative license to do things less conventionally. For example, the rehearsal dinner no longer has to be a seated affair. Cocktail-style receptions have become quite popular, as they facilitate maximum mingling. Instead of inviting all out-of-town guests to the rehearsal dinner as is customary, couples are hosting a party after the rehearsal dinner that might include music, dessert, coffee, cordials, cocktails and maybe a few hand-passed hors d’oeuvres. Finally, a rehearsal dinner can be the scene of wedding ideas that fell by the wayside, such as decorating ideas that won’t be used at the wedding.
In New Orleans, where the wedding meal is often served buffet- or reception-style, the rehearsal dinner is often the only seated dinner. As such, it has become a culinary event. One way that couples are showing their gratitude to their friends and family for their support in the wedding planning process is by treating them to a gourmet meal. Since the rehearsal dinner is usually a smaller-scale event than the wedding, it can be an opportunity to showcase culinary treats that would not be affordable to serve at a wedding. The rehearsal dinner also serves as an opportunity to welcome out-of-town guests with authentic New Orleans fare and the distinctive seafood of the Gulf Coast.
You would be hard-pressed to find a setting more “traditional New Orleans” than Antoine’s Restaurant (713 St. Louis St., 581-4422, antoines.com). This French Quarter institution has been serving French Creole delicacies since 1840, and not much has changed since. For private events, you have your choice of one of Antoine’s 14 dining rooms, each with its own unique history.
Though Antoine’s has suggested menus for such an affair, all dishes from the restaurant’s menu can be prepared for a rehearsal dinner, so you can share your favorite dishes with the ones you hold near and dear – maybe even the Oysters Rockefeller you had on your first date.
Book your rehearsal dinner at Antoine’s at least six months in advance. Check, cash or credit cards are accepted forms of payment, which is required at the end of the evening.
An upscale dining option in the heart of Metairie, Austin’s (5101 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie, 888-5533, austinsno.com) has been called “a diamond in the rough” and “Metairie’s newest hot spot” by Gambit. The sophisticated restaurant has a Creole Italian focus, and serves many of the dishes New Orleans is famous for. “For rehearsal dinners,” says Amanda McIntyre, the eatery’s co-owner and sales manager. “The most requested items are the Petit Filet, Crawfish Crab Cakes and Veal Austin, which is paneed veal topped with lump crabmeat, mushrooms and green onions.”
Austin’s convenient location on West Esplanade Avenue makes it a sought after location for rehearsal dinners set in Metairie. Choose from a set menu at a reasonable $34 to $40 per person.
Rehearsal dinners are typically booked six months in advance. Payment can be made with cash, credit card or check the night of the event.
New Orleans foodies rejoiced when James Beard Award-winning chef, Donald Link, rounded out his restaurant collection with Calcasieu (930 Tchoupitoulas St., 588-2188, calcasieurooms.com), a private event facility on the second floor of his famed Cajun Southern restaurant, Cochon. (Make sure you look for the separate entrance to Calcasieu, as guests cannot get to the location from Cochon.)
Calcasieu serves the same contemporary Louisiana cuisine, and the menu item most frequently requested for rehearsal dinners is the Gulf Fish Courtbouillon because, as Calcasieu General Manager Brandy Trepagnier explains, “It is the most traditional.”
“If you go to a wedding with bad food, you’ll remember it,” Trepagnier says. “Larger scale private dining spaces aren’t as food-focused. Here at Calcasieu, the food is our focus.”
This focus is made evident to guests by Calcasieu’s exposed kitchen, proving that your meal is truly “kitchen to plate.” The handsome Warehouse District facility features three different private event rooms to choose from.
Thirty percent of the food and beverage minimum is required once the space is secured with a contract.
Le Pavillon Hotel (833 Poydras St., 620-4126, lepavillon.com) is known as one of the most glamorous hotels in the city. Even those who haven’t visited the hotel can pull it up in their mind. The impressive façade is gleaming white and is accented with columns and statues, dazzling Poydras Street with a dash of glitz. “People are blown away upon walking into our lobby,” says Director of Catering Gwen DeFraites. That’s why hosting a rehearsal dinner at Le Pavillon is the perfect way to kick off a weekend of elegant extravagance.
At Le Pavillon, you are given your choice of 10 different private event spaces, including a rooftop terrace and the popular Crystal Ball restaurant and ballroom, which can be reserved for private events.
And let’s not forget the food, which features creative, innovative dishes. “For rehearsal dinners, I’ll ask about the groom’s favorite dishes,” says DeFraites. “I prefer to create the dinner based on the couple’s preferences and vision.”
A deposit is due upon signing a contract; final payment is due one to two weeks before the event.
Just steps away from the St. Louis Cathedral, on the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets, Oceana Grill (739 Conti St., 504-525-3661, oceanagrill.com) offers budget-friendly packages for private events, such as the “N’awlins Dinner,” which features dishes like Seafood Gumbo, Crawfish Fettuccine and Bread Pudding. However, the chef will be happy to serve a dish from the restaurant’s dinner menu if requested for a rehearsal dinner.
Private events such as rehearsal dinners can be hosted in the Oceana Grill’s charming courtyard, or for a larger rehearsal dinner, consider renting the entire second floor of the restaurant, which includes use of the balconies overlooking the French Quarter.
Oceana Grill management is flexible regarding payment plans, but generally require a 50 percent deposit once the menu is decided upon and the contract signed. The other 50 percent is due at least five days before the rehearsal dinner.
The romantic, softly lit Tommy’s Cuisine (746 Tchoupitoulas St., 581-1103, tommyscuisine.com) has been a favorite of locals for many years. The spot serves classic Creole Italian and, in addition to the restaurant, Tommy’s features seven different private event rooms to choose from.
Tommy’s is located in the heart of New Orleans’ posh Warehouse District, a quick walk from hotels in the French Quarter and Central Business District.
Feel free to pick and choose options from the various packaged menus Tommy’s offers in order to create exactly what you have in mind for your rehearsal dinner. Guests love the extensive wine list (200+ bottles) and cherished signature dishes like the Oysters Tommy, which consists of oysters baked in their shells with Romano cheese, pancetta and roasted red pepper.
A 25 percent deposit is required to book a rehearsal dinner, with the remainder due at the end of the event.