A short walk from our hotel, Antoine's first opened
its doors in 1840, and is "the oldest restaurant in the
United States operated continuously by the same family
for five generations." Paul was dressed de rigeur --
in jacket and tie -- or so we thought. A tradition that has
existed as long as Antoines's has been serving its nightly
Oysters Rockefeller has been swept out the door along with
the debris that Hurricane Katrina left on its doorstep.
Instead of turning down improperly-clad gentlemen
in the early post-K. days, Antoine's let tradition slide
and did away with the thirty varying-sized sport coats they kept
in case an unprepared guest dared enter its esteemed front doors.
I'm all for casual comfort, but Antoine's is Antoine's: I must
admit that the flip-flops, polo shirts and jeans were a major
disappointment for this Seattlite raised by an east-coast mother.
Rules are rules, but please, let's not mess with tradition.
Our over-the-top charming and most unpretentious waiter
tut-tutted along with us, and before long the maitre d' made
an appearance at our table, and with much wringing of hands
expressed his dismay at the loss of classic elegance
a coat and tie symbolizes. Midway through dinner he appeared
again at my elbow, asking my first name, which he inscribed
in Antoine's Restaurant Since 1840 Cookbook:
"All the best always from the Antoine family and staff.
So very happy that the winds from the west blow in class
unlike the eastern winds."
And I haven't even begun to describe dinner!
As an appetizer I chose Ecrevisses Cardinale:
shrimp/crawfish tails in a white wine sauce with a hint of tomato.
Paul had Oysters 2/2/2: Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville & Thermidor.
(He was a bit dismayed that I didn't want to share an order
of escargot with him, but I've just never been able, inspite of being
the foodie that I am, to get one of those tiny slimy curls past my lips.)
(And don't tell me they aren't slimy!)
Salad was a mix of chopped asparagus, tomato, hearts of palm
and romaine with a lovely light vinaigrette, which didn't overpower
the delicacy of the asparagus and hearts of palm.
Paul -- ever the more adventurous, had alligator bisque.
My entree was a Pompano Ponchartrain, a white fish
sauteed in butter with a generous topping of lump crabmeat.
Paul's Filet de Truite aux Ecrevisse Cardinale was even more
savory than my pompano. Accompaniments included steamed asparagus
in butter and their famous puffed potatoes, which are flat strips
of potato deep-fried, cooled, and then tossed back into the very hot oil
again, where they puff like souffles. We finished off the evening
with Baked Alaska, which unfortunately was not flambeed.
While extremely visually pleasing -- with "Antoine's" piped
in meringue on its flanks -- the flavor was just kind of bland
and frozen. Baked Alaska must be served hot from the oven!
After dinner we were invited to wander the restaurant's 15
dining rooms at our leisure. There were very large rooms with
floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping chandeliers, like the one
where we had enjoyed our dinner, and smaller, even grander
private dining rooms, all brightly painted, containing one long table
elaborately decked out in silver and crystal for the next soiree.
(Not unlike the private apartments of Marie Antoinette in La Louvre.)
In one empty room, we spied a nearly concealed door
at the opposite end. After hearing from our waiter about
secret doors leading to drinking parlors that existed during Prohibition,
I couldn't resist opening this -- an walked head-on into a private dinner
of perhaps twenty people, who of course all turned to view
my ungainly entrance. If I'd had enough presence of mind
and hadn't been so surprised I would've recited a poem
from memory, bowed, then retreated back out the "secret" door.
We collapsed in laughter once I had made my exit and closed the door.
(I don't think I've ever heard Paul laugh so hard.)