In early July, hundreds of mixologists and cocktail connoisseurs from around the globe will descend upon our city to take part in the 7th annual Tales of the Cocktail, an incredibly fun festival featuring seminars, cocktail competitions, tastings and, even better, a night of delicious dinners. On Thursday, July 9, 25 local restaurants will offer “Spirited Dinners,” which include a four- to six-course meal including tax, tip and cocktails uniquely paired with each course by teams of award-winning bar chefs. At $85 to $100, these dinners are one of the most budget-friendly ways to experience the festivities with a night of exceptional menus created by star chefs such as John Besh and Susan Spicer, featuring incredible libations that will leave red table wine in the dust. Your Crest Whitestrips will thank you. Here are a few sure bets:
CURE, the impeccable new bar on Freret Street, will offer a Spirited Dinner including such temptations as oven roasted lamb with saffron scented cauliflower florets and pan-roasted oysters with Serrano béchamel. CURE is the perfect place to imbibe and share reasonably priced small plates by Chef Jason McCullars – think ribs, charcuterie, cheese plate and pate crostini. Some fare you won’t want to share: the house-roasted cochon comes with spicy kimchee in a pressed sandwich, served with potato salad. The crab roll comes so packed with lump crab that it must be served open faced. The poached pears with Serrano ham is lighter, a nice sidekick for a sidecar. CURE is hoarding award-winning bar chefs these days too, including owner and head bartender Neil Bodenheimer, concerned with reinterpreting classic cocktails like the julep and aviation. Bodenheimer’s renovation of a turn-of-the-century fire station is reason alone to stop in, the original lumber and brickwork is mighty beautiful and embodies his passion for preserving New Orleans history and culture, whether it be revamping a forgotten building or a cocktail. People are obviously taking note.
On a random night I found myself engulfed in an inebriated-guy-hits-on-sober-girl party scene being filmed for a commercial. Another night, I unknowingly crashed a Jewish singles party, and the same thing ensued, minus the film crew. No smoking inside. No bellicose airs, baseball caps, sweaty tank tops or other Kid Rock costume ideas.
MiLa is also participating in a Spirited Dinner, but if you’re in the mood for a good deal on a swank lunch, you should drop in any Monday through Friday for their $20 three-course prix fixe lunch. Located in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, MiLa validates if you park in the hotel’s garage.
Dishes change seasonally as Chefs Slade and Alison Vines Rushing partner with Lejune Farms to build their menu around freshly picked local produce. The prix fixe lunch is perfectly portioned for midday. Housemade sweet potato rolls and cornbread are served with a silky lima bean puree that seems too decadent to be healthier than the accompanying butter. The dishes all appear to have hidden treasures: thin pieces of daikon radish in the organic greens salad, and bits of lobster in the curried squash soup. MiLa offers a little reminder that flat iron steak – in red wine demi with roasted potatoes and mushrooms – doesn’t have to be cooked until it’s a leather wallet. The homemade banana ice cream made me squeal like a chimp, or a toddler rather, as I did use this tasty lunch as an excuse for naptime.
For a truly spirited dinner, head to Muriel’s on Chartres Street, where resident ghost, Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, looms above Jackson Square in his upstairs séance lounge (a great spot for a private party). Thankfully, you don’t have to say his name three times like Beetlejuice to make him appear. Muriel’s also has validated parking, and at $28.95, the three-course Table d’Hote menu is an exceptional value with many favorites to choose from like pecan-crusted alligator and barbeque shrimp. The Seafood Au Gratin is a necessary-evil (break out the running shoes), served with a potato croquette in your own little frying pan, which might come in handy later when certain people at your table try to steal your beloved bread pudding with candied walnuts.
For more information about reservations and menus for the Spirited Dinners, visit www.talesofthecocktail.com.