Best Bites from Tales of the Cocktail 2016

I’ll be writing quite a bit on what I drank at Tales of the Cocktail this year, so it’s only fair that I dish on what I ate, too. This is Man Talk Food, after all. Can’t forget about that.

From high-end, multi-course meals at landmark destinations, to affordable classics and all manners of party snacks that appropriately lined the stomach for the marathon of tasting rooms and seminars and parties, here’s a look at some of the best bites from the week in New Orleans.

Mammoth Multi-Course Meals

Of which there were many. Let’s dive in…

Commander’s Palace

Commander’s Palace hosted the Diageo Special Releases spirited dinner, featuring an absurd lineup of Scotch, and the exquisite food from executive chef Tory McPhail to match.

The meal began with an andouille-spiced scallop, served with chilled Clynelish Select Reserve.  Next up was a tropical-inspired seared foie gras and yellow fin tuna dish with coconut, pineapple and plantains, paired with the vanilla and toffee notes of The Cally 40.

The best savory bite of the evening was perhaps the sugarcane smoked duck breast with peaches and a caramelized red wine and brewed tea sauce, paired with Brora 37. That says something because what followed was a sensational 58 day dry-aged Wagyu beef short rib with goat cheese and thyme ground grits, and 3-day beef jus, infused with Cuban cigar tobacco. Paired with the luscious and dreamy Port Ellen 32.

Even after all that, the dessert still managed to be a show-stopper. It incorporated a “chocolate flight” with six different artisanal shades of chocolate, showcasing different cacao and sweetness levels and hailing from around the world. The chocolate masterpiece was paired with the sweet, rich notes of Dailuaine 34 year.

An unforgettable dining & drinking tour de force.

Square Root

Square Root’s executive chef and co-owner Phillip Lopez prepared an extravagant meal in conjunction with Maker’s Mark, and their Private Select program. Each course, as well as the cocktail that accompanied it, was made in homage to a component of whiskey, while a six-whiskey tasting was conducted before the meal, showcasing the range of cask finishes available in Private Select.

“Low and Slow” (not pictured) offered a tantalizing preview of the fare to come in the form of a sesame meringue, olive and Parmesan opening bite. Next was “Amber”, a textural and visual pleasure with grilled chanterelle mushrooms, miso hominy, charred corn, smoked Steelhead roe, and lardo, paired with a Maker’s 46 cocktail made with lemon, cinnamon, Campari and a mezcal rinse.

“Under the Oak Trees” showcased rabbit sausage with poached figs, pickled carrots and a smoked pecan butter, offered with a Maker’s Mark highball, with lemon, honey, bitters, and chickpea.

The “Char” course was the headliner, made with Louisiana Wagyu ribeye, faux “charcoal”, onions, and a marrow jus, served with the all-black A Dark Art cocktail, made with Maker’s Mark cask strength, black sesame orgeat, lime, and Angostura bitters.

Last but not least was the “Smoke” dessert, another playful textural mash-up with frozen bits of panna cotta, black cocoa, and bourbon barrel ice cream.

Brennan’s Restaurant

Stopping in for a visit at Brennan’s Restaurant for lunch offered not just two of the favorite plates I had throughout the week, but also an up-close look at the iconic destination which was was overhauled by proprietor Ralph Brennan to the tune of a $20 million renovation. Reopening over Thanksgiving 2014, the entire layout of the restaurant was changed, not only incorporating wheelchair friendly design and access, but moving the entire kitchen, bar and dining room, so that diners had an appropriate view of passersby on busy Royal Street.

The bar itself is beautiful, and it’s loaded with both current high-end whisky and cognac, as well as vintage selections. The renovation also revealed some hidden away secrets, such as original bottles of Ojen, the newly-revived anise-flavored spirit which the bar serves up at request.

While the aesthetic and spatial improvements were an easy sell to customers, more difficult was convincing them that the revamped menu was worthwhile. Change is tough in a town as tradition-oriented as New Orleans.

Executive chef Slade Rushing though has made his presence felt and his go-to dishes are absolute keepers. Look no further than his eponymous Rabbit Rushing. The monster plate offers fried Mississippi rabbit cutlets sprawled over creamed collards and pickled pork jus, with two eggs over easy ready to pour over it as you start working your way in.

While barbecue shrimp is a southern mainstay, Rushing went in a different direction with a New Orleans BBQ lobster dish, served with lemon confit, Creole spiced butter, thyme and a toasted baguette for sopping up the wonders of a shrimp and shellfish sauce too good to leave behind.

Whether for a belly-filling, leisurely brunch, their popular champagne happy hour, or a formal dinner later in the evening, be sure to stop in to see the latest at Brennan’s.

More Delicious Bites

A quick left to right hit-list of some of the best of the rest:

  • Beignets & cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde… because you have to.
  • Muffuletta & Pimm’s Cup from Napoleon House… because you have to.

The key to this mega-muffuletta is that soft, golden buttery bread. The salty olive mixture is tamed by it but each shine in equal measure. A “half” portion, as in half of the entire round loaf, is a large meal for a solo diner.

When Ralph Brennan (above) took charge of Napoleon House, there was even more reticence to change the classics here than there was at Brennan’s. So he didn’t.

Instead improvements were made via the behind the scenes avenues of superior ingredient sourcing, and updated cooking techniques and equipment. Elsewhere, the place still has its original charm, what with the graffiti-lined walls, dim lighting, worn wooden tables and hidden nooks, and you’ll still get your classic Pimm’s, a seasonal Pimm’s variety or a Ramos Gin Fizz as you please.

  • A tri-coastal oyster pairing with three Fords Gin martinis, served up at Seaworthy.
  • The partially tore open pig’s head, served up as part of the Venezuelan festivities offered up at a Diplomatico Rum party.
  • Soft shell crab popsicle sticks offered up at SoBou. The restaurant is debuting a new Burlesque Boozy Brunch, Legs & Eggs, and toasted its debut with a selection of fare from chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez, as well as creative cocktails from Laura Bellucci.

There Was Plenty to Drink, Too…

… And this collection of photos doesn’t do it justice. (And fear not friends, that treasured Port Ellen was emptied beforehand, and the photo is, alas, staged).

More Tales of the Cocktail 2016 Coverage

For the full details on all of that and everything imbibing-centric from Tales of the Cocktail…