For most people vacations are about getting some much needed rest and relaxation, likely on a beach or somewhere else warm, sunny, and exotic. But that's not me. So when my wife and I decided we needed a few days away, we picked New Orleans. Sure, it's warm and sunny (a nice way of saying "hot as hell," particularly in mid-July, but it is also one of America's greatest food cities and cultural contributors. Once we settled on New Orleans I had our meals lined up in less than an hour. And some amazing meals they were.
We had dinner our first night in town at August, in New Orleans' Central Business District. The moment you step in the door at August you are whisked away from the hustle and bustle of the city into a warm, inviting space. Located in a 19th century French-Creole building, August is a study in fresh colors and warm lighting, both of which give the space a magical glow. We settled in with a couple glasses of Delamotte Brut Champagne as we studied the menu, although truth be told, it was not even a question that we would be doing the chef's tasting menu. In addition to the five-course tasting menu, we also added two more dishes from the menu to make it a seven-course meal. The Gluttonous Gourmet was truly in his element.
To get the meal started the kitchen sent out an amuse-bouche, which was a savory custard of fish fumé with caviar and black truffle. It was sensuous, earthy, cool, and creamy; an explosion of flavor and texture. We were off to a great start.
We then moved onto one of August's signature appetizers, the Handmade Potato Gnocchi. Such a simple name does not do this dish justice, for it is one of the best bites of my life. The impossibly light, tender gnocchi came bathed in a creamy sauce and were tossed with blue crab and black truffle. Between the briny sweetness of the crab, the earthy funk of the black truffle, and the salty shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I thought my head might pop off in ecstasy. The dish was complemented beautifully by a glass of crisp, acidic Robert Foley 2009 Pinot Blanc, which was fruity, floral, and fresh, helping to make this course pure heaven. No doubt, this was one of the best beginnings to a meal that I have ever had.
Next up was the "official" first course of the tasting menu, which was the House Cured Belly of Gulf Coast Lamb. The belly was smoked and then grilled, served with compressed watermelon, pickled watermelon rind (a true taste of the South), and a creole cream cheese labneh. The lamb was rich, but not gamy, and was smoky and herby. The watermelon and pickled rind added a brightness to the dish to complement the rich meat.
We then moved onto the pasta course, which was Spaghettini Nero. A gorgeous tangle of purple-black spaghettini (from squid ink, providing both the color and a subtle sea brine), this dish celebrated some of the South's best ingredients with an Italian influence. The pasta was tossed with blue crab, sun drop tomatoes, a bit of fresh mint, and a splash of big, beautiful extra virgin olive oil from Georgia (the state, not the country). Sitting atop all of this was a perfectly cooked jumbo Gulf shrimp, which was meaty with a sweet, clean flavor that can only come from wild Gulf shrimp.
Next up was our second addition to the menu--the P&J Oysters with Creole Cream Cheese and Bacon Ravioli. The mere description of the dish says it all--gorgeous Gulf oysters with tender, rich ravioli. The oysters came from the renowned P&J Oyster Company, the oldest continually operating oyster dealer in the United States. These guys have been selling the freshest, tastiest, highest-quality oysters for over 125 years and, when we got the chance to indulge in some, we took full advantage. The chefs at August let the oysters speak for themselves by complementing them with the ravioli and some sweet sun drop tomatoes and fresh basil. A wonderful, fresh dish that represents the bounty of New Orleans in just a few bites.
Our next dish was the Grilled Grass-Fed Beef Sausage. Made in house, the sausage was garlicky and deeply beefy, tender on the inside, with a nice snap on the outside. It was served with roasted eggplant puree, a light salad of raw shaved corn, local figs, and compressed cucumber, as well as grilled purslane, which was reminiscent of a less peppery watercress. Paired with the 2006 White Rock Vineyards Claret, a complex, fruity red wine, this was a great dish. Here's how I know this dish was good: When I burped later, I could still taste the sausage and it was still awesome. Gross? Perhaps. Awesome? Definitely. Don't pretend you have never thought this before.
Rounding out our savory courses was the Crispy Chappapeela Farms Pork "Graton." Comprised of gorgeous medallions of pork belly with crispy skin and succulent, tender meat atop crushed field peas with bing cherries, and a cherry pork jus, this dish was a knockout in every way. It was bursting with deep porky flavor and was a stunning contrast in textures with the crispy skin, the creamy, marbled meat and the crushed field peas. The cherry pork jus was so good I could make it my morning coffee (Starbucks, take note!).
Last, but definitely not least, was dessert--Chocolate "Chess Pie." This isn't your grandmother's chess pie--not that there's anything wrong with that. This was sophisticated and filled with deep, chocolate flavor and was brightened up with the housemade peppermint ice cream. Mint and chocolate are a classic combination, but presented this way, it was like my first time tasting it.
Whether you are looking for a romantic night out, a celebration with friends, or just a hell of a meal, go to August. The tasting menu is the best way to get the full spectrum of what August has to offer. The service was top-notch and just as wonderful as the meal itself.
The Bottom Line: August is run by an amazing team of chefs, bartenders, and back and front of house staff who work together to create an unparallelled dining experience. At August they are combining French techniques with pristine Southern ingredients and a New Orleans sensibility. Don't just save August for a special occasion; go anytime and go often. I, for one, will certainly be back.
Side Notes: In addition to the amazing meal and service at August, I also have to recommend a couple of wines that we were served with the tasting menu. The wine service at August is extremely knowledgeable and the wine list is very approachable; the team did a fabulous job pairing the wines with the dishes. I highly recommend the Robert Foley 2009 Pinot Blanc, which was fresh and bright with hints of lemon and peach; an easy-to-drink wine that is a great value at $25.00. I also recommend the 2006 White Rock Vineyards Claret. This savory, medium-bodied wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot and is lush, supple, and complex. All in all, an extremely drinkable Bordeaux-style wine from a small, family-run winery known for its excellent quality; a great value for around $33.00.