A rainy afternoon at Le Meritage

About a month ago, I got a press release announcing “Start Your Dinner at Noon” promotion at Le Meritage and I screamed aloud in ecstasy. John turned away from his computer to ask what the hell was wrong with me and when he spotted the new lunch prix fixe menu open on my desktop, he smiled at me and asked “So, when are we going?”

The first time we visited Le Meritage, which seems oh so very long ago, was one of those perfect dining experiences that remain permanently etched in our memory, something we continue to measure future meals against. The only difficulty that I could not overcome with this particular restaurant, was that of price. Now I’m not complaining really, I believe that the whole concept is a worthwhile experience, especially for the “wine noobs” like myself. Only, it’s something I simply cannot afford to indulge in on a daily basis, or even weekly…monthly? Then I see this new menu offering three courses for $21! Naturally, the wine pairings aren’t included in the cost, but still!

Last Friday John and I arrived for lunch rather late, around 2PM, right as a heavy summer rain started to fall.  We sat off to one corner next to the window and it was very private, though there were only two other tables occupied at this late hour. I got so excited about the prix fixe, I asked if I could add another course (cuz I’m a little piggy) and the server was totally accommodating.

Just before John took way too many pictures of the cutlery laying in different patterns on the linen tablecloth, our first courses arrived. John had the Tuna Tartare Napoleon served in a neat cylindrical shape with bright green guacamole on top, a second layer of crisp kernels of corn and finally, a thick layer of seasoned and citrusy raw tuna all balanced on a crispy fried tortilla square. It was paired with a Santa Barbara Chardonnay. I greedily eyed his plate while quickly slurping my own, velvet vichyssoise with a tasty little heap of sweet crab meat in the center. Our server suggested I have California sparkling wine or “blanc de blancs,” which was tasty, but bubbly always goes straight to my head.

Good thing my next course was a bit heavier. Along with my soup, it was one of the day’s specials and my most favorite crab cake…in the world. Seriously. It’s a small tower constructed entirely of jumbo lump crab meat and big, luscious crawfish tails topped with a fresh wedge of avocado. The whole creation is held together by some mysterious force of nature because it is almost entirely devoid of breadcrumbs. You know that ingredient that seems to overwhelm most other crab cakes, thereby making them almost inedible? To me at least…

Being a bit obsessed with salads lately, John’s second course was a baby cabbage salad with golden raisins, Parmesan, sliced almonds and truffle vinaigrette. It reminded me of coleslaw, but with a stronger bite and not as much “juice,” but still delicious.

For our next course, I actually chose a Malbec, all by myself. The funny thing was, John got the same wine, but when they brought both glasses to the table, one tasted distinctly deeper and more layered than the other. According to the server, they were from the same bottle…was I trippin’? I may never know. Regardless, the good glass was wonderful and paired nicely with our dishes. John had the braised beef short rib and kept mumbling something about sauce as he licked his plate clean and I enjoyed the sauteed puppy drum with a fried green tomato balanced on top. There was also a citrus-laced lima bean succotash that I think I might have enjoyed more than the fish.

At last, it was time for dessert. John had a thick, chocolate “pot de creme” and I had Georgia peaches & cream. As basic as that dessert is, I had never actually eaten it before and I was amazed at it’s simplistic fabulousness (yes, that’s a word…just go with it). Paired with a rich, syrupy Moscato and a light, fruity Sauternes, they practically felt like two desserts for each of us!

Was it a coincidence that the rain stopped just as we stepped outside after yet another memorable meal at Le Meritage? I don’t think so…

Le Meritage Restaurant

Since it opened in March, I have been dying to dine at Le Meritage Restaurant at the Maison Dupuy Hotel.  The incredible culinary talents of Chef Michael Farrell had reached my ears from many sources and I knew experiencing his epicurean gifts would be a dining adventure to remember.

God, I love it when I am right.

After three weeks on my new healthy regime, I was down a total of 23 pounds, ready and raring for my third “Official Cheat ” and I was aiming to cheat big.  I can hear you ask, ”Did Le Meritage deliver?” Did it ever…  I have visited many fine dining establishments in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Paris and right here in New Orleans and I have had some truly incredible meals, but last night literally blew me away.  Last night, my meal, my flavor explosion, pushed itself through the ranks and now sits as one of the top two best meals of my lifetime.  Believe it or not, you won’t know until you try it for yourself.

Before I go into detail about my transcendent dining experience, I must mention my love for the .  Before I became a New Orleans transplant, the Maison Dupuy was my “hotel of choice” when visiting our fair city.  The lush courtyard, the friendly staff, warmly decorated rooms and it’s excellent location made for the perfect stay.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I recommend it to friends, co-workers, and even tourists who call NewOrleans.Com for advice on where to stay.   Now I can add that one of the best restaurants in the city resides in my favorite hotel…

John (my boyfriend) and I arrived at Le Meritage Restaurant a few minutes before our 7:00pm reservation.  We walked into the entrance of the quaint “French Quarter Bistro” which fronts Le Meritage.  The Bistro was decorated with Toulouse-Lautrec murals, hardwood floors and a long bar running the length of the back wall.  We were guided by one of the bartenders to the hostess of Le Meritage who graciously introduced herself as Kim and immediately sat us in the dining room.  White linen draped the well-spaced tables and we luxuriated in the large, comfortable chairs, and although the décor was inviting, we could smell the food emanating from the tables of our fellow diners and were anxious to begin.

The menu features six categories of wine characteristics with dishes to compliment those flavor profiles. Even more convenient, every dish on their menu is available as small plates or large plates. I had already thoroughly perused their website menu and had formulated a plan of attack.  In order to get a taste of as many dishes as possible in one evening, I figured that John and I could share five or six small plates. We selected our choices and the waitress brought the dishes out in groups, from the lighter fare (the sparklers) to start and the heavier (Robust Reds) at the end.  Each dish was paired with a wine we selected from the left-hand side of the menu.

Initially we were served richly scented, warm dinner rolls.  I immediately felt spoiled when I saw the tiny, silver-domed butter dish.  We lifted the dome to see an elegant “M” emblazoned into the butter.  I still regret not taking a picture, although the camera we used was not very effective anyhow (as you probably already noticed).  Cool, stylish, yet small surprises like that just enrich the dining experience as a whole in my opinion, and being the silly girl I am, I just love things in miniature.  We were also served an amuse-bouche served in a small ladle containing a few boiled crawfish tails in an aioli.  It was a simple, yet tasty teaser for the dishes to come.

Our first dishes were a Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with crawfish and a Smoked Salmon Salad with Parmesan, spinach, pine nuts, a hard-boiled egg and red onions.  Both dishes were excellent, but truthfully, the crab cake was the star of the pair.  I usually avoid ordering crab cakes because I often find them loaded with breadcrumbs and other fillers, leaving me wondering where the crab went.  This crab cake was loaded with fresh, delicious lump crab meat and scattered crawfish and it was absolutely mouth-watering…easily one of the finest dishes of the evening.  I am still astounded as to how the cake managed to hold itself together.  These dishes were paired with a ’07 Simi Chardonnay from Sonoma County, complimenting the flavors perfectly.

Our next course was Paneed Rabbit wrapped in pancetta served with tagliatelle pasta, fresh peas and baby carrots.  Although I do enjoy rabbit, my co-worker specifically requested I try this dish and report back to her.  Meghan, if you’re reading this, the rabbit was tender and juicy, not too rich or heavily fried and I definitely recommend it.  When it’s your turn to come to Le Meritage, you have to try the duck for me…if I don’t beat you to the punch!

John and I were steadily demolishing each dish as it was served and our voracity had hardly slackened for the next round, Grilled Quail with andouille corn meal stuffing and a Molasses Pork Tenderloin with braised beet greens and fingerling potatoes.  The pork was juicy and sweet with the deep, rich molasses and the quail’s immense flavor surprised and delighted me.  John and I each had a different wine paired with these dishes. John had a 04 Frog’s Leap, Zinfandel from Napa Valley and I chose the 07 Coppola, Syrah from Sonoma County.  Both wines were rich and full-bodied and combined with the flavors of the quail and pork, made for a virtual fiesta in our mouths!

I thought that the dishes couldn’t get any better until the lamb came out.  The Savory Lamb Chops with sweet potato, apple and bacon hash was exquisite.  If I had to choose between the Lamb and the Crab Cake, I would be in trouble.  The lamb chops were crusted with savory seasoning a cooked medium rare and a careful bite arranged with the hash and a sip of the ‘05 Lonko, Malbec from Patagonia, Argentina made for an explosion my taste buds will not soon forget.  I especially loved how the wine left the flavor of cocoa lingering on my tongue.  It set me up for a tantalizing dessert.

Along with some strong coffee (mandatory after the heady wines), John ordered their Frozen Café Au Lait with mini-beignets and I selected the Blueberry Chocolate Panna Cotta served with chocolate sauce and fresh raspberries and blueberries.  Both desserts were fresh and tasty and we couldn’t have rounded off our dining adventure with a better finale.