The e-mail arrived late Thursday afternoon, and I began dreaming.
It was a mass e-mail from John Besh, the superb New Orleans chef who runs several of my favorite restaurants. It announced that what I consider to be the best of those restaurants — August — will have special Sunday hours since the Saints are hosting the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Lunch will be served beginning at 11 a.m. Dinner will be served until 10 p.m.
I won’t be in New Orleans for the game, mind you. I just wish I were. A man can dream, can’t he?
The e-mail read in part: “It will be a ‘Brees’ to choose from some of the select dishes that are sure to draw a cheering crowd. For example, you might enjoy wild-caught speckled trout Pontchartrain or jumbo lump crabmeat, wild mushrooms and sauce hollandaise. And hopefully you will save room for the bittersweet chocolate hazelnut pansorte with local satsuma and aleppo pepper.”
If you haven’t tried any of the Besh restaurants, you owe it to yourself to do so the next time you’re in New Orleans.
August features contemporary French cooking with a focus on local ingredients. The late Gourmet magazine (I miss it already) included August on its list of the top 50 restaurants in the country. August is housed in a four-story building in the Central Business District that was built in the 1880s. There are hardwood floors, interior columns and antique mirrors. The food is as beautiful as the building.
Down the street on St. Charles Avenue is another Besh restaurant, Luke in the Hilton St. Charles. Luke is a brasserie that has great cured meats and a number of German dishes.
In the gaudy Harrah’s New Orleans casino, there’s Besh Steak. The walls of the restaurant feature George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog artwork. Besh has foie gras, Louisiana oysters and lots of seafood on the menu in addition to steaks.
In the newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel (Huey P. Long’s old haunt), there’s Domenica. This restaurant features Besh’s take on rural Italian cooking. To give things a homey feel, there are no tableclothes on the wooden tables, and the menus are printed on paper placemats.
At the city’s fine National World War II Museum, Besh has opened a restaurant known as The American Sector.
“This area of downtown New Orleans was historically known as the American Sector,” says Besh, a Marine veteran. “I have been wanting to open an American-style restaurant in this area.”
Meanwhile, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Lacombe, Besh operates La Provence, a restaurant first opened by Chris Kerageorgiou in 1972. The tile-roofed restaurant is filled with antiques from Provence and is surrounded by several acres of grounds. It features southern French cooking.
This is the Besh family of restaurants.
As if the Thursday afternoon e-mail from Besh were not enough, I received my Friday edition of The New Orleans Menu Daily from Tom Fitzmorris. You can subscribe to the Fitzmorris newsletter, which comes each Monday through Friday. He noted that the Pelican Club on Bienville in the French Quarter will have a special Sunday brunch menu. And the Bon Ton Cafe on Magazine in the Central Business District will be open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. though it’s almost never open on weekends.
The Bon Ton, a businessmen’s favorite for weekday lunch, was one of the city’s first true Cajun restaurants, featuring the cooking of rural southwestern Louisiana. Traditional New Orleans cooking is Creole, not Cajun. Most tourists don’t know the difference, just as they think Bourbon Street represents the real New Orleans. You might as well be on the midway at the state fair as on Bourbon (in fact, the people in both places tend to resemble each other).
New Orleans has hosted more than its share of big events through the years — Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, title fights, college football championships, national political conventions, you name it.
But the Saints have never hosted an NFC championship game — until now.
My previous job took me to New Orleans a lot. I don’t get down there as often these days. On Sunday, I’ll truly know what it means to miss New Orleans.