As with the “The Quartah,” “oystahs,” and “Chartah Street,” the locals drop the “r” and call it “Galatwahs.”
Founded in 1905 by French immigrant Jean Galatoire, over the last century, this unassuming restaurant on Bourbon Street has become New Orleans’s most beloved institution.
This is where the city celebrates.
For a lively retelling of the restaurant’s history, I recommend Galatoire’s Cookbook. In it, you’ll find the color and flavor of the restaurant along with its recipes, most of which could be promotional material for the Saturated Fats Council.
But one doesn’t go to Galatoire’s to diet.
Nor, as the over-broiled pompano and a cranky Sazerac that the bartender threw together attest,* does one go to Galatoire’s in search of perfectly executed and beautifully plated food.
Subtlety and sophistication Galatoire’s has not.
This is the big top, where one goes to see and be seen, to laugh and forget, and, perhaps, to make a little rain while you’re at it.
Galatoire’s didn’t take reservations when it opened, and it still doesn’t take reservations for the restaurant’s main dining room on the ground floor. This is where you want to be.
Next to a regular, or a server with whom you’ve developed a relationship over the years, patience will be your best friend. Put in your name, head upstairs to the bar, and have a few drinks.
Lucky for us, Barrel (as in a ‘barrel of laughs’) flew in from Texas to join us for dinner. A regular with a house account, he set us up with the host, and within half an hour, we landed ourselves a nice, spacious table in the center of the room.
Though Iggy, Houston, The Hair, and I binged and nearly busted at Commander’s Palace earlier that day at brunch, we plowed through a surprising amount of food at Galatoire’s.
Portions here are large and unforgiving.
We ordered too much.
CLICK HERE to see all of the photos from this meal. Click on the course titles to see photos of the individual dishes.
Galatoire’s Grand Gouté ($32)
Oysters en Brochette
Pommes Soufflé Bearnaise ($12)
Oysters Rockefeller ($9.75/half dozen)
Salad Godchaux ($12)
Poisson Marguery ($24)
Pompano Meuniere Amandine ($34)
Pompano Meuniere ($31.50)
Crab Sardou ($26)
Cup of Custard ($5)
Café Brulot ($6 each)
The food here isn’t bad. But it’s not the type of stuff I’d urge anyone to travel for.**
From what I can tell, the food at Galatoire’s exists solely as an excuse for interacting with the breezy, generous servers who work the room. Consummate professionals, they pull off one of the hardest shows in town, balancing a staggering number of plates, names, and functions. And they do it all with big personality.
What you’ll find here is “French Creole” cuisine, an amalgamation of local flavor and the type of classic French food that Julia Child liked to make.
There are Pommes Soufflé, puffy, hollow, and crisp. There are mother sauces, like creamy Bearnaise for dipping and Hollandaise for smothering. And there are salads with more dressing than lettuce, more protein than fiber.
The Salad Godchaux was a thrilling romp, a heap of shrimp, crab meat, tomatoes, and iceberg laced with a bracingly tart Creole mustard vinaigrette. Topped with an anchovy fillet, it was simple and bright; my favorite dish of the night.
The presentations at Galatoire’s can be a bit slap-dash.
My plate of “Crab Sardou” looked like someone had slung creamed spinach and crab meat at my plate from across the line – replete with a skidding effect – and squirted Hollandaise sauce all over it to make sure it stuck. Served disappointingly cool, the creamed spinach had already formed a skin by the time it arrived.
And Lizzy Borden probably hacked her parents apart with more deft than the kitchen at Galatoire’s did splitting an order of the “Poisson Marguery,” which Houston and The Hair shared.
But, for the most part, the food at Galatoire’s is good, even if it’s not perfect.
The fillet of Gulf drum – a delicate, white-fleshed fish – was kept warm and moist under a thick blanket of creamy mushroom sauce rich with flavor (Galatoire’s version of sauce Marguery is a mix of Hollandaise and Béchamel). And beneath the dry surface of the broiled pampano, you’ll find a nice layer of fluffy meat with which to run through the attending lake of brown butter à la meunière.
“Galatoire’s Grand Gouté,” a crowded sampling of some of Galatoire’s most celebrated dishes, was a table favorite.
The oysters en brochette were, perhaps, a touch over-fried, and the oysters were puny. But the crab maison and shrimp maison – both coated in a light creamy dressing punched with capers and Creole mustard – were fantastic. Boasting large, meaty lump crab meat, the crab maison was awesome.
The Grand Gouté also included the restaurant’s famous shrimp remoulade. Tangy, and a shade sweeter than the maison dressing thanks to a touch of ketchup, Galatoire’s remoulade dressing is spiked with spicy paprika, Creole mustard, and horseradish. (The shrimp remoulade recipe can be found on the restaurant’s website.)
The “Oysters Rockefeller” are de rigueur. They’re like none other I’ve had. Whereas I’m used to a bubbly, buttery topping, the Galatoire’s version is more like a spongy spinach breading. I especially like the strong, spinach flavor of the topping here. The oysters beneath were warm and plump, swimming in a shallow pool of their own liquor.
The “Fried Eggplant,” too, is well-celebrated, as it should be. These batons of breaded eggplant are crisp on the outside, molten and creamy on the inside. Let them sit for a few minutes and they deflate, turning limp and lifeless. Eat them while they’re hot.
No meal at Galatoire’s would be complete without a bucketful of “Café Brulot.” We ordered a big one to cap off our meal.
The huge silver bowl full of liquor, fresh citrus, spices, and sugar was set alight in front of us. Our server, a true showman, drizzled the flaming liquor around our table, making a ring of fire, and over our desserts for a flambé. Extinguished with a pot of coffee and served in demitasses, the Café Brulot smelled like mulled wine and tasted like heaven: warm, smooth, and fragrant.
A rustic version of bread pudding, Galatoire’s “Bread Pudding with Banana Sauce” is wonderful.
The magic is in the sauce, a brown sugar caramel heavy with praline liqueur. Ours also benefited from a good shot of brandy from the Café Brulot that our server poured over it. (The recipe for the Bread Pudding can be found on Galatoire’s website.)
The “Cup of Custard” here is milky and mildly sweet, a fine crème caramel.
With such an injection of fat and alcohol, it’s no wonder that diners at Galatoire’s are prone to socializing. Indeed, it’s the restaurant’s main sport and spectacle.
I thought that only regulars (or tipsies) would be milling about and table-hopping. I did not expect that I, too, would be pulled into conversation with diners at tables around me.
I think I met everyone within two tables of ours, collected about a dozen business cards from all over the country, and swapped thrice as many stories.
I’m sure I joined the entire dining room in singing “Happy Birthday” a hundred times, including to my friend Iggy. We even sang a “Happy Bachelor” song to a fellow whose friends had dragged him out to drown his love woes in cream, butter, and alcohol.
These are things that I’ll remember the most about my first dinner at Galatoire’s, an experience so hauntingly captured by General Manager Melvin Rodrigue in the Galatoire’s Cookbook that I can only believe that it’s everyday.
“People come here to eat and drink far more than they ordinarily would. They visit with friends at nearby tables and they visit with virtual strangers, turning them into afternoon – and even lifelong – friends. In a world that’s become too serious, Galatoire’s is a place where frivolity rules and adults are given license to leave their cares at the door, act foolish, and have fun. So those who dine here keep coming back. They tell their friends and families about Galatoire’s, and they come too. The pleasures have continued for 100 years.”
209 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
* The color of Kool-Aid and having the strength of industrial cleaner, this Sazerac was declared undrinkable by all in our party. I like my drinks stiff, but not this stiff.
** Besides, the recipes in the cookbook are easy enough for the home cook to replicate.