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Setting the Table
Restaurants prepare for the collision of romance and debauchery
As is often the case in these parts, this year Valentine’s Day falls squarely in the midst of Carnival season. On its surface Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romance. As such, this would logically lead celebrants to the bedroom. However, a casual, and in no way official, survey of 10 New Orleanians who routinely acknowledge Valentine’s Day with celebration revealed that the romance of Valentine’s Day leads not to the bedroom but to a meal a deux, most often in restaurants accustomed to the arrival of such gustatory-minded romantics on the feast day of St. Valentine. In preparation for their arrival, chefs and restaurateurs plan special menus and bits of lagniappe to accommodate them. Likewise, special provisions are often undertaken to welcome Mardi Gras revelers.
Briquette, an elegant, contemporary restaurant in a historic Central Business District structure, just celebrated one year in business. At center stage within the space is an exposition-style kitchen enclosed with glass. An 18-foot char grill divides the restaurant from the kitchen and sets the tone for the menu.
On February 14, Owner Anna Tusa will welcome romantics to her dramatic space with a prix fixe menu for $110 per couple. Guests will be seated with an amuse buche from the kitchen, followed by a choice of the Briquette Salad or Crab Bisque. Entrées on offer for the special evening include choices of filet Mignon served over mashed potatoes enlivened with crawfish tails, topped with lumps of crabmeat and finished with sauce Béarnaise, or blackened redfish served over fresh arugula with fried green tomatoes and topped with grilled Gulf shrimp. For dessert diners will enjoy bread pudding beignets to share with demitasse cups of Irish coffee.
Each within the family of restaurants in the Emeril’s portfolio will offer specials for Valentine’s Day. “The five-course tasting menu at Emeril’s changes every week but is certain to be more fantastic than ever to cover that special day,” says spokesperson Michelle Tarallo. “For Mardi Gras, we’ll be offering special Mardi Gras cocktails at all restaurants in addition to daily themed specials. Expect to see a King Cake-themed dessert at Emeril’s New Orleans from Pastry Chef Jeremy Fogg. However, we won’t be selling any King Cakes this year.” If you want that special holiday touch from chef Fogg, you had better enjoy it at Emeril’s flagship restaurant.
Located right on St. Charles Avenue at the center of the action, Emeril’s Delmonico has five private spaces, prime retail for private krewe dining and parties. Use of the private rooms also affords entrance to the restaurant’s prime viewing space on the Avenue.
The verdant view from Ralph’s on the Park is a fitting stage for romance. As such the restaurant will welcome Valentine’s Day with a special three-course menu for $65. Throughout the entire month diners who choose the special Cupid Kiss, February’s Cocktail for a Cause, can enjoy it with the special je ne sais quoi that will come with knowing a portion of the sales for the drink will benefit the American Heart Association.
Patrick Singley, proprietor of Gautreau’s restaurant, knows how to please his customers. “We always have fresh roses on our tables and porcelain lanterns which offer a soft glow, and usually Miles Davis or Chet Baker playing in the background,” Singley says. “Any other additions would be superfluous. No long stemmed roses for the ladies, no complimentary glass of sparkling rosé, no heart-shaped steaks or red velvet cake. No gilding of the lily. We are who we are. That’s what appeals to most of our clientele. Less is more.”
Singley says the Carnival season also brings a special appeal for his Uptown restaurant throughout the season. “A good little bump we get during Mardi Gras season is when people get dressed up and come by before a ball, a deb party or after. Parents hire baby sitters, get their hair done, mani-pedis or whatever, and they want to prolong their evenings. Often, we’ll get large tables of people in white tie or black tie headed to or from a big bash. Out-of-towners feel like they’re getting to see behind the scenes New Orleanians doing their thing.”
With soft, flattering lighting, a sexy Peruvian menu and prime location on the Magazine Street parade route, Tito’s Ceviche & Pisco is guaranteed a packed house for Valentine’s Day and throughout the Carnival season. Small plates for sharing include the Classico Triadito, combining hamachi crudo with leche de tigre and aji limo sauce. With roasted potatoes, Andean cream and olive salsa, the Papa a la Huancaína and Anticuchos de Corazon (grilled veal hearts, Aji panca and chimichurri) are also seasonally appropriate choices. For something more substantial the Arroz con Pato combines beer-glazed duck confit, cilantro rice and salsa criolla.
The Germaine Wells Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s
Both Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s are popular and worthy destinations for both romantic dinners for two and larger gathering for a Carnival krewe.
The former boasts the perennially popular Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum, named for successor and daughter of the restaurant’s founder, Count Arnaud. Wells allegedly reigned as queen of over 22 Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968, more than any other woman in the history of Carnival. The museum, located on the second floor of the expansive restaurant, showcases over two dozen lavish Mardi Gras costumes, including 13 of Mrs. Wells’ Queen costumes, one of her mother’s and one of her daughter’s, as well as four King’s costumes worn by Count Arnaud, and six children’s costumes.
The collection is enhanced by more than 70 vintage photographs, fabulous Carnival masks and faux jewels, elaborate krewe invitations and party favors. This local treasure is open to all, not just restaurant patrons, daily during restaurant hours.
Arnaud’s spokesperson and proprietor, Katy Casbarian, says the restaurant will also offer special three- and four-course menus for lunch ($100) and dinner ($150) to private party hosts and guests through March 4.
Each year, the Galatoire Foundation Mardi Gras Auction raises funds to aide a local nonprofit in achieving goals for public good. Now in its 13th year, the Mardi Gras auction will be held on Monday, February 4. One hundred percent of the funds raised at the auctions will benefit The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation (NOPJF), the Galatoire Foundation and VIA LINK.
Since 1905, Galatoire’s has maintained a strict “no reservation” policy for the popular first floor dining room. The auction allows attendees the rare opportunity to reserve the most coveted tables of the year for the Friday before Mardi Gras, the busiest day of the year for the restaurant.
Reservations for the Mardi Gras auction are now open. Cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m. The auction begins at 6:30 p.m. A $50 donation is required per couple with a $25 donation for every additional guest. Guests can secure their spot at the auction online at GalatoireMardiGrasAuction2019.eventbrite.com. Limited seating is available.
Arnaud’s, 813 Bienville St., 523-5433, ArnaudsRestaurant.com.
Briquette, 701 S. Peters St., 302-7496, Briquette-Nola.com.
Emeril’s, 800 Tchoupitoulas St., 528-9393, EmerilsRestaurants.com.
Emeril’s Delmonico, 1300 St. Charles Ave., 525-4937, EmerilsRestaurants.com.
Galatoire’s, 209 Bourbon St., 525-2021, Galatoires.com.
Gautreau’s, 1728 Soniat St., 899-7397, GautreausRestaurant.com.
Ralph’s on the Park, 900 City Park Ave., 488-1000, RalphsOnThePark.com.
Tito’s Ceviche & Pisco, 5015 Magazine St., 267-7612, TitosCevichePisco.com.