Psychologist Abraham Maslow expounded the theory of “peak experiences”---activities that were so intense and transcendent that they induced a euphoric state.
While it’s probably not what Maslow meant, Galatoire’s has always been a peak experience for me, as well as for a legion of foodies. It was established in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, an immigrant from the small village of Pardies in south-western France. The décor and menu likely haven’t changed much since then. The main room downstairs is a long, rectangular space, with a tiled floor and flocked wallpaper. The noise level can be deafening when the restaurant is full, which is just about all the time. No reservations are accepted for the downstairs room, regardless of who you are.
The menu is a roll call of Creole classics. Start with Crabmeat Maison, Shrimp Remoulade, Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Sweetbreads or the Godchaux Salad (Bibb lettuce, lump crabmeat, shrimp and hard-boiled eggs, tossed in a grainy mustard dressing). There’s a strong selection of local fish (redfish, drum, pompano, lemon fish and sheephead) and the shellfish you come to New Orleans for, along with roast duck, veal chops and a litany of steaks. On top of that, we were fortunate to be there when soft shell crabs were in season. Dishes are simply prepared, to let the quality of the ingredients shine through.
Given the history of Galatoire’s and the relative formality of the place (it’s one of the few restaurants in the city that require gentlemen to wear jackets at night), you might expect the tuxedo-clad waiters to be a bit stiff. Not at all: They are the epitome of warmth and charm, and their service combines precision, humor, and good old-fashioned hospitality.
The wine list is a connoisseur’s delight. While comprehensive, it’s naturally heavy on French wine, and contains a number of scarce gems from Burgundy and the Loire Valley. Finding something under $100 may require a search, but life is but once---and peak experiences are hard to find.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Mooonshine Nation, will be available in late spring 2014. For more infor information, go to amazon.com