When I moved to the City of New Orleans, I had my my first upscale dining experience at Emeril's Nola Restaurant. I remember that day quite vividly. After securing a last minute reservation online, the beau frantically rummaged through his luggage to find clothes appropriate for an elegant dining establishment. He wanted to treat me out to a memorable meal the day before he was going to return back to the Bay Area. We excitedly threw together a strange ensemble of clothing with the "touristy" and summery outfits in our baggage, and drove to the French Quarter from our hotel on Saint Charles Avenue, to sample the food prepared by the Food Network star.
We felt a little out of place upon arrival because of our clothing, but were immediately welcomed with a freshly baked basket of Emeril Lagasse's famous scallion cornbread muffins.
After reading the mouthwatering menu selections, the beau and I decided to start with the pan-roasted crab cake. The crab cake had a crispy and evenly browned exterior and was topped with a delicate dollop of smoky eggplant puree and crinkly leaves of fried spinach. The crab patty was served on a plate scattered with substantial crumbles feta cheese and pitted kalamata olives, and placed in a pool liquefied citrus butter. The classically flavored crab cake was moist and bound together well with fine bread crumbs and New Orleans seasonings. I thought the crab cake itself was delicious and had a relatively good crab meat to breadcrumb filler ratio. However, while I love kalamata olives and feta cheese, I found them to be too salty and a tad overwhelming in comparison with the delicate crab cake and citrus butter flavors.
The beau and I each had a bowl of Emeril's gumbo. I know I will make many enemies by saying this, but after having (and loving) the thick okra or file-enriched gumbos at Mother's and Acme Oyster House, I noticed that the gumbo was more watery than I had envisioned. However, the penetrating flavors of the spicy gumbo were deep, earthy and left a fiery, burning sensation in the back of my throat. I also loved the simple touch of how the chocolate-colored gumbo was served, ladled into a shallow bowl and topped with chopped green scallions.
For the main course, I ordered the hickory-roasted duck with whiskey-caramel glaze, natural jus, buttermilk cornbread pudding, haricot verts, fire roasted corn salad, and candied pecans. The haricot verts were blanched perfectly, so that they retained their verdant color and vibrant "fresh produce" crunch. I loved the chilled, sweet corn kernels, the sugary candied walnuts, and the moist bed of cornbread stuffing. However, I found that the dry, jerky-like duck meat to be over-saturated with the strong flavors of hickory smoke, and the glaze and the jus had concentrated unappetizingly into a salty syrup.
The beau ordered grilled pork porterhouse with brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes, toasted pecans, and a caramelized onion reduction sauce. It definitely had similar taste and textural elements as my duck entree, but without the same shortcomings. The pork was tender and juicy, and the slippery slices of sweet potatoes tasted like a Thanksgiving feast with the pecans and oniony gravy.
I was originally going to name this post "No Love for Emeril's Nola," but after reminiscing, I realize that there was a lot to appreciate in bold, experimental flavors in each dish. While I felt a little overwhelmed to an extent by the salt and sugar used in each entree, my tastebuds have a lot to learn from the master. Bam!