December 19, 2010

The Gentlemen’s Weekend pt. 3 – The Anchor

For this penultimate New Orleans-based installment, I turn to a good friend who has, via a handful of fortuitous circumstances, found himself these past couple of weeks in possession of one of life’s rarest commodities… spare time, made all the rarer still by his vocation as a Washington attorney.  But he has accepted a new gig, one that gets him a big step closer to his preordained destination, and in this temporary hiatus from the real world has penned an ode to dinner.  Well, to dinner, and to friends, the good ones who stick around and help you close down restaurants.  And who recognize that it’s not the details of the memories that count… it’s the context in which they were made. Please enjoy...

Light in August

It’s a rainy November afternoon in our Nation’s Capitol, and with the weather gods all but daring me to venture outside, I find myself, a nip of bourbon in-hand, reminiscing about our annual Gentlemen’s Weekend in New Orleans.  As noted in other posts few weekends are as treasured as our fall pilgrimage to the Crescent City. The balmy air, the parade of oak trees lining St. Charles Avenue, the sound of a street corner trumpet, the distinct flavor of Creole gumbo, the cocktails at the Chart Room, the blurry sights, sounds and smells of Bourbon Street at 1a.m. on a Fall weekend – enjoyed together amongst the best of friends – all make for a joyous celebration of life.

Key to this most important weekend, our “anchor,” is the always-decadent Saturday evening dinner. For the past three years now, this Saturday dinner has consisted of three old friends reuniting around a table of cocktails and food and more cocktails and more food. Years are recapped, life event celebrated, career decisions mulled, and old stories retold (often with unsparing exaggeration). Waiters draw straws over who has to tell us to leave, pointing out that, lo and behold, we’re the only patrons left in the restaurant.

Year after year, our choice of restaurant to host Saturday dinner – itself, a living, breathing contributor to the success of the weekend – has not been taken lightly. In the months of planning that lead up to it, countless ideas are offered, considered and eliminated before settling upon our restaurant of choice.

Before reviewing this year’s, it’s helpful to highlight a few basic principles that have portended memorable dinners in the past: First, it goes without saying that the food must be sublime. Thankfully, in a city like New Orleans, “sublime” lurks around every corner (here’s to you, Lucky Dog vendor). No knock-offs, tourist traps, urban chic, or, God-forbid, “fusions” are permitted – only food that is authentically New Orleanian. Second, the venue’s atmospherics must, above all else, inspire. Jackets are required for the evening (as a self-imposed rule), and the restaurant’s vibe must complement. Elegance is a must, so long as it comes with a surrounding bustle. Stuffiness is forbidden, but a dollop of pretentiousness, compliments of our fellow patrons, that distinct class of New Orleans blue-bloods, adds some welcomed “heavy” to the evening. Third, service is paramount. Our group doesn’t want to feel rushed, only appreciated. Personal attention, an easy, flexible demeanor, and joke-telling ability are rewarded qualities.

After finding great success using these criteria for Saturday dinners during weekends one two, we struck gold again this year with our selection of John Besh’s Restaurant August in the Central Business District. Walking into August was like walking into a painting of a French cafĂ© in the early 1900s. Dark wood paneling, hardwood floors and dim lighting set the scene. The restaurant was busy without being crowded, the wait staff shuttling quickly between tables, casting dancing shadows across the floral centerpiece around which the main dining room was arranged. Our evening began, as it often does, with a cocktail, followed by good conversation, then another cocktail. The menu can wait. When we did finally order, we were blown away. With every plate of redfish, beef, pork, vegetables (fresh fresh fresh!), and veal passed around our table, we were made ever more thankful for this time and place, this experience of enjoying good food with good friends. The service was just short of impeccable – an impromptu champagne shower from our waitress made for a good laugh – but admirable. If you’ve ever been to a John Besh restaurant, you know that the experience is always top-notch, and August is no exception.

We left August senses inspired. If you’re in New Orleans, you should have it on your list – oh, and don’t forget to bring a few close friends. 

301 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Photos Courtesy: New York Times, Times-Picayune, Arts New Orleans.

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