Winter entertaining would not be complete without a réveillon dinner.
Réveillon is a Creole tradition and the word is derived from the French word réveil for “waking,” which dates to the 1700s. It refers to the all-night parties often held by nobels. This special meal served on Christmas Eve is held after midnight mass and originated at a time when New Orleans was predominately Catholic. Family members would come home from mass famished and awaiting them was feast prepared ahead of time.
Sideboards would be laden with egg dishes, breads, turtle soup, oysters, grillades of veal and puddings. Wines, cordials and other fortified drinks were served. The food and spirits would revive dinner guests, so the repast could go on until dawn.
By the 1940s as more Americanized holiday traditions came into vogue, réveillon nearly vanished, but the tradition is kept alive in New Orleans. Tourism motivated a revival in the 1990s taking réveillon out of the home and into popular local restaurants. Visitors now had an additional incentive to come to New Orleans during the holiday season. Locals also enjoyed the special menus offered by their favorite dining establishments who interpreted creative versions of réveillon. Restaurant révellion dinners are still popular today.
In yet another réveillon revival of sorts, many hosts are returning to the tradition of an intimate holiday supper in the home. Not confined by the Christmas Eve timeline, a réveillon dinner can be offered anytime during the holiday season. It makes a dinner party all that more special and festive for family and friends.
Steve Moser, transplanted from Los Angeles to New Orleans 23 years ago, acquired his Bywater home when the neighborhood was down at heels. As an artist, this made it possible for him to become a homeowner. He embraced the ethos of 18th-century Creole New Orleans by decorating his home with all of the touchstones: a hand-painted mural (done by him) in a formal dining room, Paris porcelain, lovely silver — evoking a genteel, easier way of living.
The idea of hosting a Creole-style réveillon dinner for his adopted family of friends was attractive to Moser. However, he admits, he’s no cook. His tiny, jewel box of a kitchen mainly serves the purpose to showcase his collection of china and teapots. He does fix breakfast for himself, which he takes on the veranda in his French-style secret garden at the back of the cottage.
Moser called upon the Sonnier family to provide the menu for his réveillon dinner. The Sonniers are a first family in the restaurant world. They recently reopened their restaurant Gabrielle in Mid-City. Dad Greg is the chef de cuisine, daughter Gabrielle is front-of-the house and her husband Marsh is the mixologist behind the bar. Mom Mary is co-owner and keeps them all on track, and guides the dessert menu. Nearly 30 years ago she pioneered homespun Southern desserts as restaurant worthy. How much more perfect can it get than to have a family produce a most wonderful family dinner? It’s a family affair in all respects.
The menu chosen and executed by Chef Greg Sonnier for réveillon is a riff on the classics. Shrimp toast with a marmalade dipping sauce with Creole mustard and horseradish is passed during cocktails. A festive signature cocktail called Laissez Les Bon Temps Rosé adds to the fun. The main course starts with stuffed artichokes and truffle butter. This is not the typical stuffed artichoke ubiquitous to local menus.
Rather, it is loaded with truffles. The main course is a play on the classic, circa-1800s réveillon dish of grillades of veal. It’s show-stopping braised veal shanks with green olives and capers, dusted with a pimento gremolata. The veal is served with Creole cheese grits drizzled with basil oil. Dessert is a big, Southern-style iced cake. In this case-fresh pear cake with lemon-honey frosting.
1. Do hire a caterer.
2. Do use your most beautiful china, glassware, flatware and ironed linens to set the table.
3. Serve a special signature cocktail.
4. Keep the menu simple in the number of dishes served, but make each dish extra special. Be inspired by the classic family dishes served during holiday time in New Orleans.
5. One type of flower massed together makes a chic presentation. In this case several large, fluffy bunches of baby’s breath were used as winter “snow” arranged in one special vase.
6. Use one type of fresh fruit as décor. We used pears on the dessert table, a nod to the pear cake being served, and mounds of winter oranges in a pair of antique compotes as the dining table centerpiece.
A festive signature cocktail called Laissez Les Bon Temps Rose adds to the fun. Ingredients include Ketel One Botanicals Grapefruit and Rose vodka, grapefruit juice, splash of grenadine, and edible rose petals.
Laissez Les Bon Temps Rosé
1 ½ ounces Ketel One
& Rose vodka
2 ounces white grapefruit juice
2 ounces rosé champagne
Splash of grenadine (for color)
dried edible rose petals
Pour vodka and grapefruit juice in highball glass. Fill with ice. Top with rosé champagne. Splash with grenadine (it will sink to the bottom of the glass). Sprinkle rose petals on top.
Host Steve Moser welcomes guests. His Bywater cottage is the perfect backdrop for the Creole inspired réveillon dinner party. Coconut shrimp toast with sweet and tangy dipping sauce is served during cocktails before dinner.
Coconut Shrimp Toast with Sweet and Tangy Dipping Sauce
12 thin slices of sandwich bread
1.5 pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
¼ cup potato starch (half if using corn starch)
4 green onions, white part only, minced
1 large egg
3 teaspoons fresh ginger-grated
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
Olive oil for frying
1. Place shrimp, cornstarch, green onions, egg, ginger, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. You may need to scrape the bowl down a few times with a spatula. It should resemble a chunky paste; however, there shouldn’t be any large pieces of shrimp left. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mince the shrimp with a knife and mix everything else together in a bowl by hand.
2. Cut the crusts off the bread (the crust will burn if you leave it on), then cut the bread into four triangles, squares or sticks. Spread about a teaspoon of the shrimp mixture on each piece of bread. Make sure to get the shrimp all the way to the edges or the bread will curl while frying. Press a small piece of parsley into each toast for color.
3. Add about 2 inches of oil to a heavy bottomed pot and heat to 350 F. The oil needs to be very hot, or the bread will soak up excess oil, and the shrimp will get overcooked.
4. Add the toasts, shrimp side down. When the edges of the bread start to brown, flip the toasts over and fry the bread side until it is golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined rack with the bread side facing the paper towel to drain as much oil as possible.
1 18-ounce jar orange marmalade
5 tablespoons creole mustard
5 tablespoons horseradish
Combine all the ingredients for sauce and mix well.
Chef Greg Sonnier of Gabrielle Restaurant serves his take on the traditional réveillon dish grillades of veal by presenting braised veal shanks with olives and capers, served with a pimento gremolata.
Braised Veal Shanks with Green Olives and Capers
¾ cup unpitted green olives, rinsed well
5 pounds 2 inch-thick veal shanks (6 to 8 shanks)
all-purpose flour for dredging
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium-large onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 anchovy fillet, chopped
5 strips of lemon zest
1 ½ tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 ½ low sodium chicken broth
1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Securely tie each veal shank with kitchen string to keep meat attached to bone.
2. Pit ¼ cup olives and chop fine. Lightly crush remaining ½ cup olives with side of a large knife.
3. Pat veal shanks dry between paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
4. Dredge top and bottom (not side) of each shank in flour, knocking off excess. In a 12-inch heavy skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil and butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides and brown tops and bottoms of shanks in batches, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer shanks as browned to a flameproof roasting pan.
5. Wipe out skillet and add remaining tablespoon oil. Heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook onion, stirring, until golden. Add garlic and anchovy and cook, stirring 1 minute. Add chopped olives, zest, capers, rosemary, and wine and boil 5 minutes. Add broth and crushed olives and bring to a boil.
6. Pour broth mixture over shanks and cover tightly with foil. Braise shanks in oven 2 hours, or until meat is tender.
7. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F. Transfer shanks with a slotted spoon to another roasting pan or deep oven-proof platter and keep warm, covered, in oven. Strain cooking liquid through a sieve into a 1-quart glass measuring cup and serve solids, discarding zest. Let liquid stand until fat rises to top and skim and discard fat. (There should be about 1 ½ cups liquid. If necessary, in a saucepan boil liquid until it is reduced.) Add reserved solids to liquid and pour over shanks.
8. Serve shanks sprinkled with pimento gremolata and garnish with caper berries. Serves 6
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
¼ cup finely chopped roasted red pepper
In a small bowl toss all ingredients together well. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Special thank you to Steve Moser and Gabrielle Restaurant, gabriellerestaurant.com. For more recipes visit neworleanshomesandlifestyles.com.
Creole Cheese Grits and Basil Oil Drizzle
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
4 tablespoons butter
2 bay leaves
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
7 cups whole milk
2 cups stone ground grits
Sauté trinity vegetables and bay leaves in butter until soft and onions translucent. Add in grits and milk. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese. Salt to taste. Drizzle with basil oil.
1 ½ cups of packed basil leaves
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Blanch basil in medium saucepan of boiling water for about 10 seconds. Drain. Rinse under cold water. Pat basil dry with paper towels. Transfer to blender. Add oil and puree until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.