The gumbo is a version of shrimp and okra with a deep-flavored roux that could have come from the stove in a Louisiana bayou house, were it not for its spectacular presentation, poured tableside over a cylinder of rice.
The Grenobloise scallop, with brown butter foam and a lacy crown of fried chicken fat, could only have come from a high-end kitchen.
Both are on the menu at Emeril’s, the original restaurant of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Make them “menus”. Tchoupitoulas Street Restaurant now serves a number of distinct menus, which together pave the way for a different chapter here.
The change is led by a culinary team that includes veteran local chefs Emeril Lagasse and a new collaborator: his son EJ Lagasse. At 20, he is now on the restaurant staff, leading menu development and cultivating an elevated new style for the restaurant.
Always high-end and pushing the envelope in its early heyday for its namesake chef’s “New Orleans cuisine,” Emeril’s today feels like a new restaurant in some ways.
Yet underlying there is something familiar to people who have dined here over the years, beginning with a sense of time and place.
An evolution, ongoing
Emeril’s underwent a makeover when it reopened after pandemic closures in the fall of 2021. Since the summer, and since EJ Lagasse joined the staff, it has taken a more luxurious approach.
Seating in the main dining room has been roughly halved, to focus all efforts on fewer patrons for a more immersive experience.
Emeril’s now serves a choice of three tasting menus, including a three-course dinner ($95), a seven-course classics tasting menu ($160), and a seven-course seasonal tasting menu ($155). .
The only à la carte menu, to order plate by plate, is served in the bar and lounge, now called the Lounge.
I have tried both sides since the switch over the summer. On one visit, a dining companion and I tried two different tasting menus, passing plates to try everything. Seasonal menu items change frequently and a new winter menu is coming soon.
But the new style is consistent, with a progression of technique-driven concepts, artful presentations, and flavors that alternate between intense and ephemeral.
Artistic dishes, concepts.
Mini cornbread muffins have always been a part of the bread service at Emeril’s, and they’re back, a nice nod to the past. Then comes a curtain opener to make way for the new.
An amuse-bouche, an inviting bite-sized flavor, was common at Emeril’s. Now, however, this first taste comes with performance art.
The waiters assemble what look like miniature landscapes, little square boxes arranged with the precision of a bonsai garden: gouges into what looks like a stone path through a clearing, smoked salmon cheesecake with a hint of nestled roe. on a bed of dried red kidney beans. , snapper ceviche and fermented strawberries in nori cups balanced on what looks like a rocky beach.
We’re going to toggle between dishes on the menus now.
Alexa potato turns the humble root vegetable into a smooth-textured showboat doused with truffles and garlic mushroom broth.
A plate-sized raviolo (because ravioli must be uniquely shaped) delicately tops a mixture of sweet shrimp and spicy cream tasso.
The sweetbreads, encased in a supple crunch batter, get an extra punch of umami from the surrounding demiglace.
The aforementioned Grenobloise scallops have the lemony-caper flavor of the classic French preparation, but also an unexpected salty hint of tuile of chicken fat, a filigree thin layer over the top. It tastes like the first bite of a really good fried chicken.
How to make lobster taste Creole? Emeril’s serves the tail with a reduced gumbo-based sauce, which still tastes like a roux against the tender meat.
Slices of filet mignon are spiked with marrow and in a black garlic Bordeaux sauce of velvety darkness, earthy depth and balsamic flavor.
A changing seasonal dessert is modeled after a magnolia blossom, with meringue petals surrounding a cake in keeping with the season: honey yogurt cake in summer, a fig and almond version for fall.
If you’ve already accepted that this is going to be a very expensive meal, get the optional wine pairings. Add $100 to tasting menus. It gives you access to the restaurant’s extensive list, a perennial Wine Spectator Grand Prize winner, through the palate of sommelier Johnny Slamon. A rare Tuscan, allotted by the bottle, a Riesling that doesn’t break through but adds more sparkle to a delicate seafood dish: that’s what you get when you double down on the extravagance.
raising the bar
On the Lounge side, the a la carte menu reads like an ambitious wine bar crossed with a bistro.
Tables here are open to walk-in or reservation customers. Fancy appetizers lead the way, with caviar service, the kitchen’s foie gras torch and cheese platters, and you can whip up quite a substantial meal, too.
That gumbo from above can get things started. Carbonara with mussels puts a fresh twist on creamy, salty, and smoky pasta. The duck pie had just enough rustic warmth to make the candle on the top table feel like a lodge fireplace for a moment.
The Lounge can also be a dessert stop, for a chocolate and toffee composition on a riff on s’mores, an apple pie made with vegan puff pastry, and the Banana Cream Pie, a new take on an Emeril’s classic released last year. It replaces the wonderfully rebellious original with a more subtly seductive study of bananas, cream, and chocolate that still tastes just as decadent and fresh.
Before the end of this year, the restaurant expects to complete a renovation that will create a separate entrance to the Hall from Julia Street and add banquette seating next to the bar.
For now though, walking into the restaurant feels like it has throughout the years. You’re entering a high-end realm that still retains the easy flow that New Orleans lends even to its upscale restaurant spaces.
A visit also brings back the great meals of the past under this roof, or even the indulgence of shared drinks and plates at the bar near the end of the night.
There’s a story here, traveling through three decades from the initial gambit in 1990 with Emeril’s “new New Orleans kitchen.”
Now Emeril’s wants to show how a New Orleans restaurant with Louisiana flavors can relate to the highest levels of contemporary American cuisine.
800 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 528-9393
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