Gautreau’s, New Orleans.

March 2017.

Top-rated by Zagat, this traditional exclusive little place is located way west of the downtown and even further from the French Quarter, tucked away in the middle of a high class residential neighbourhood. The building is obviously a former residence, and as is often the case with sought-after places it’s practically unmarked.

We arrived at 6 PM and were greeted warmly by a gentleman in a suit and seated at a side table. We were the first customers, but the small room with its 50 or 60 seats, all at four-seat square tables, filled up quickly. White tablecloths and French chairs along with dark hardwood accents set the tone, but there was something strangely spare about the room, contributed to by wallpaper that must have intended to represent drapery but with its dun colour looked more like a construction tarp.

It was awhile before we were given menus, but we had very nicely prepared cocktails to occupy us as we waited alone in the place for the server to be ready for introductory formalities. She wasn’t my favourite type. A thirtysomething girl who was knowledgeable and foodie, but for me over the top with a rapid-fire manner strangely combining knowing all about everything with a kind of obsequious conspiracy.

As we had decided on a combination of things to eat we wanted a pinot noir, and the wine list had a dozen or so, including a Fixin that turned out to be austere and respectable for about $50. Robin had hamache tuna done up as a salad and I littleneck clams with sausage and orecchiette, then duck confit for her and duck breast for me.

There were only three clams in my starter, the sausage was delicious and the little pastas perfectly done, all in a gentle succulent shellfish reduction. Rob’s tuna salad was absolutely lovely with a subtle acidic dressing just setting the taste buds up for the fresh fish. Second course was if anything better, the duck confit moist and externally crisp as if it had been briefly deep-fried, and my duck breast looking underdone but perfect consistency in my mouth with a wine-based reduction and well-cooked kale of all things. First time I’ve ever enjoyed kale. We finished up with a competently set-up crème brûlée.

Expensive by local standards at around $270 US including 20% tip, but worth it.

One could interpret the slight strangeness around the décor and service as a sort of culinary nerdism, respectable determination to stick to some sort of tradition, or just doing what somebody believed is the right thing even if it looks a bit clunky. The experience strangely reminded me of certain determinedly eccentric places in the Canadian maritimes. It was never at all affected or anywhere near off-putting enough to spoil the pleasure of the delicious food. Zagat got it right. This would be one of the top two or three in this informally touristic town. Food 9.2, service 8.2, ambience ambiguous, value 8.1, peace and quiet 7.9.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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