“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”~Oscar Wilde
Frugality is king these days. What with our crumbling economy and high unemployment rate, most people are looking at how to save a dollar, rather than how to spend one. We scramble for sales, subscribe to Groupon or LivingSocial, buy bulk, clip coupons (extremely), buy one to get one free, settle for generic brands, and embark on ofttimes catastrophic, “do-it-yourself” projects just to save that extra dime. Monthly subscriptions to Netflix are far more popular than dishing out almost the same amount for two people to go to the theater and food columnists tout restaurants that offer inexpensive meals. With all this scrimping and saving, all of the specials and deals and discounts, wouldn’t it be nice if you had so much disposable income that you could buy whatever you want, do whatever you want and (especially) eat whatever you want without worrying about the expense?
Imagine that you’ve just won a $150,000,000 Louisiana Power Ball. You’re richer than you ever dreamed, thoughts are spinning through your brain about how to spend it…you can eliminate your debt, buy that stunning mansion in the Garden District, quit your tedious job and travel the world, set up trust funds for your children and your children’s children, purchase an Aston Martin One-77 and eat whatever and wherever you want.
With those kinds of ducats at your disposal, dining out at the finest restaurants in town would seem like a minor luxury. But with that much green, you could easily eat the most elaborate, extravagant and expensive dishes in town, on a daily basis, for every meal, with friends. So, where should you go?
Why not start at one of the city’s “grande dames” like Galatoire’s? Founded over a century ago by Jean Galatoire, Galatoire’s has long been one of the restaurants to visit for fine dining. Friday lunches at this historic restaurant on Bourbon Street are notorious for stretching all the way through into dinner, guests taking their leisure, talking to folks at other tables and sipping at cocktails between each dish. This French Quarter restaurant is also about service, so much so that it’s almost above and beyond the food with a bevy of waiters at your beck and call. At Galatoire’s, the most exorbitant dish would have to be a 12 ounce veal chop for $42.00, but keep in mind that all you get is the chop. Add $6 for a side of Spinach Rockefeller, $6 more for broiled tomatoes and another $6 for their famous Brabant Potatoes and you’ve spent $60 before your first Sazerac.
On the other hand, what about trying out something brand-spanking new? The Link Restaurant Group’s latest incarnation Pêche Seafood Grill opened mere months ago on the corner of Magazine and Julia Streets, offering a simpler, more rustic approach to preparing Gulf seafood. As opposed to the “old school” restaurants, Pêche does not require reservations, have waiters falling all over you, nor do they feature a jacket and tie atmosphere. Guests can arrive in shorts and a t-shirt to sit at faux-distressed wooden tables and get their grub-on with dishes that will definitely get their hands dirty, but if they want the eatery’s pièce de résistance, they better be prepared to pay and pay big. Everyone who is everyone raves about Pêche’s whole grilled fish, but set at market price, a beautiful striped bass or swordfish (or whatever is featured that day) can cost anywhere from $45 to $55. Again, this price only includes the grilled fish (in a wondrous buttery lemon sauce, by the way), so if you want to add a side of grilled corn on the cob with white BBQ sauce ($5) and some field peas ($7), your lunch could soar to as high as $67 or more. Actually, it would definitely have to be more because you simply can’t leave without one of Rhonda Ruckman’s incredible desserts. But we still haven’t broken the $100 marker yet.
On St. Charles Avenue in the CBD lies Luke, one of the many John Besh restaurants in the Crescent City. Most of the plates at this unique, “Franco-German” brasserie are fairly reasonable, though the average Joe might scoff at paying $16.50 for a burger (even with Benton’s bacon and Emmenthaler cheese). Luke does offer a daily “Express Menu” that features items like “Boulettes d’agneau,” spicy lamb meatballs with a cup of soup that will only set you back $15. But you, the new-made millionaire, aren’t looking for a deal, you’re want to flaunt your wealth and awe every other patron in the restaurant, right? Then, why not try “Le Grand Plateau de Fruits de Mer” which includes a whole Maine lobster, 16 oysters, 12 shrimp, 10 clams, 16 mussels, sweet crab meat and scrumptious ceviche for a mere $125. You could split the platter between four people (though how do you split a whole Maine lobster four ways?), but why not spoil yourself? Sure, you may not be able to eat it all, but you’ll have a lot of fun trying.
Now if you really want to dish it out, you’ve got to be willing to try exotic foods like foie gras, truffles and definitely caviar and one of the most impressive caviar dishes in the city right now would have to be Tramonto’s Caviar Staircase at Restaurant R’evolution. Located on Bienville Street in the French Quarter, R’evolution is a shiny new incarnation of an “old world” restaurant designed by two of our nation’s most prestigious chefs, Chicago’s Rick Tramonto and our own John Folse from St. James Parish. This dynamic duo spared no expense in creating one of the most luxurious dining spots in the city with hand-painted murals of an 18th century Louisiana countryside, antique chandeliers and upholstered purse chairs. The stunning caviar appetizer should come at no surprise offering whitefish roe, salmon roe, wasabi tobiko and traditional garnishes plus your choice of black caviar from a $65 white sturgeon from the U.S. to a $125 Galilee Royal Osetra from Israel. If you want all black caviars, this appetizer will set you back a mere $200. How could any entree top that?
Unfortunately, the majority of us are not multimillionaires with green as plentiful as the leaves on a tree, but we could always pretend. For example, most places like Sam’s won’t charge you more than $1.50 for an all beef hot dog with a large fountain drink. But if you really want to spend the big bucks, get that same all-beef hot dog at Dat Dog for just under $7. You’ll have to drop another $2 or $3 for a cold drink to wash it down, but who’s counting?
*Article originally published in the December 2013 issue of Where Y’at Magazine