The buzz about L’Escale, the French restaurant in the St. Louis Hotel in the French Quarter, started in the fall of 1981, six months before the restaurant opened. Much of the talk was about the chef being imported from France; Jean Louis Montestrucq was one of only three Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (a prestigious French chef honor) working in the United States.
Prior to the official opening, private preview dinners drew local culinary notables to L’Escale. Mimi and Roy Guste Jr. of Antoine’s celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary there with Leon Galatoire; other gourmand visitors included Eileen and Herman Jeffer, John Schwegmann and Kit Wohl.
L’Escale officially opened on March 22, 1982. Only 50 dinners per night were to be served, to ensure proper presentation of the dishes. The menu had only two prix fixe options: a $75 option of set selections, and the $95 option which offered more choices within the nine-course meal.
The dishes were intricately arranged selections of high quality foods, often imported. Geometric constructions of potatoes came with the entrées, but the real showstopper was the appetizer Les Voyages Nordiques: An ice carving featuring a penguin and polar bear to serve a selection of seafood and caviar. The extravagant menu was New Orleans’ introduction to nouvelle cuisine, but not all diners were ready for it – or for the weighty price tag, which was the highest in New Orleans.
A year into service, in an effort to draw more diners – especially locals – the menu was revamped to make dining a more affordable experience, offering à la carte options. English descriptions were added to the previously French-only menu. A very affordable lunch service was added as well. Unfortunately, the changes were not enough to save the restaurant, which was still expensive in an economic downturn. L’Escale closed in the spring of 1985.
Referred to as “the city’s most elegant eatery,” L’Escale spared no expense in décor and ambiance. The waiters were dressed in white tails and gloves, and the silverware, glassware and china were top quality. Even the ashtrays were Limoges china. Designer James Elzey received a national award for his stunning design of L’Escale.