Starting with the weak bits again: okay, what's the big deal about Pralines? I've tried them from two places now -- one of the more common brands, and a stand in a farmer's market -- and our reaction is a resounding "shrug". It's basically undercooked pecan brittle, far as I can tell, usually with too little pecan flavor and too much sugar to be interesting, with all the complexity of milk chocolate. I sincerely don't get why every block in the French Quarter is apparently required by law to have at least one Praline shop, all of them in desperate competition.
On the other hand, we did stop for snack at Cafe du Monde yesterday -- 9 for food, 2 for atmosphere, but the place does live up to its billing. Having to fight our way through to find a table was less than thrilling, but -- well, I've rarely seen such a simple menu. They sell coffee (excellent) and beignets (also excellent), and that's pretty much it. Points for sticking to what they have perfected, though, with a coffee/chicory combination that is delicious. And never let it be said that they don't give you enough powdered sugar for your beignets -- after doing my damnedest to repeatedly dredge them in the mounds of sugar, I think there was still half a cup left. I think the only way to use all the sugar they give you is to pick up the plate and simply pour it into your mouth. I'm glad to have gone, and would love to have the food again, but I honestly don't know if it's worth the table-hunt.
Brunch today was Commander's Palace. We declared that this was our fourth Dinnerversary (really, are you surprised that we celebrate the first time we went out for a fancy dinner together?), and it was well up to the expected standards. Everything was quite good, but the standout dish was her Spring Lamb Hash with Lamb Belly. The Hash was out of this world -- meaty, spicy, complex and flavorful -- and the Lamb Belly, like my Pork Belly last night, was meatier and less fatty than the interpretations I tend to get at home. We each got the right dessert: she took the opportunity to try a *real* Strawberry Shortcake by people who know what they are doing, with all the elements just right and not over-sweetened, while I had a Pecan Pie that I liked more than I would have expected -- less sweet filling than usual, but livened by crunchy roasted pecans (maybe with some spices?) providing more than enough flavor to make up for the reduced sweetness.
Service was as remarkable as you'd expect from a place of this caliber, livened by having my Esquire-brother Argyle (the second Silverwing Philosopher-Laurel), who moved from the East down to New Orleans about eight years ago, and who is now Floor Captain at Commander's Palace, waiting on us. We got a good deal of schmoozing in amongst him needing to run around, along with lessons about things like the history and construction of a proper Sazerac cocktail.
Great stuff, and well-recommended. Not cheap -- we paid about $150 pre-tip (including a good deal of booze) -- but a great splurge if you're looking for something elegant that still has powerful, punchy flavors...