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Emeril's Delmonico  - New Orleans

Our first planned dinner in New Orleans was one of the more difficult to finalize.  We knew we wanted to dine at one of Chef Emeril Lagasse's restaurants, but deciding which one was not easy.  The decision was made by one of the party that wanted "a good steak" one night, so Delmonico just fell out as the best candidate to fill that need. 

As a regular viewer of The Food Network and a fan of Emeril's relaxed, straightforward, sometimes self-deprecating approach to cooking I had pretty high expectations when I walked in the door.  I expected world-class service, comfortably elegant atmosphere and a meal of the finest ingredients prepared to perfection and presented phenomenally.  (Sorry for the alliteration, but I just couldn't resist.) 

Where to begin.  The wine list was simply decadent.  If I recall correctly they tout it as "2500 wines from $25 to $2500."  The peak of the pricing bell-curve appeared to be around $100 or so, with a generous assortment distributed between $60 and $130 and plenty of options should your budget fall on either end of that spectrum.  As you would expect in a (dare we use such a pedestrian term...) steakhouse the selections leaned heavily to the red, and as befitting the heritage of New Orleans, French wines outnumbered others by a significant margin.  Having limited experience with French wines and a varied range of tastes at the table I deferred to our waiter to make a selection for us.  After hearing what we all liked (softer, fruitier, off-dry finish, nice tannins, a little smoke, etc.) and getting an idea of the entrees that interested us (beef, DOH!) he presented a nice Burgundy that satisfied everyone and had a very agreeable price.  As is often the case I even carried the wine through dessert, which is a testament to the balance of the selection.

We started with several appetizers for the table, all selected by our waiter.  I'll go ahead and get my one gripe out of the way.  While our waiter was excellent and his selections were all wonderful, one member of our party had a food allergy and was unable to enjoy most of the "surprise" selections.  Instead of "I'll take care of things for you." it would have been much nicer to hear "I'd like to make some recommendations for the table, but first, are there any food allergies or other considerations that I should take in to account?"  (For example, the flavor of bell peppers absolutely overwhelms anything I put in my mouth, so I avoid them like the plague.)  Anyway, on with the meal.  We had Emeril’s New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp Served with Garlic Bread, Fried Sweet and Sour Calamari with Green Onions and Okra and Pan Fried Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Chili-Lime Dressing, Mango, Cucumber and Mixed Greens.  Now, I've had a LOT of fried calamari, and the only calamari that I can even compare to this was the calamari salad at Morimoto.  Growing up on the coast I've probably eaten more shrimp than you can imagine, prepared just as many ways.  (To put it in perspective, when Bubba is reeling off all the ways to cook shrimp to Forrest there were only a couple that were new to me.)  Emeril's Barbecued Shrimp were absolutely mouth-watering.  Now that I reside in Maryland I've become a crab cake critic.  The best I've had so far are at the Ritz in Pentagon City, but they're only a baby step ahead of Emeril, and Emeril's are strides ahead of the rest.  I had the Caesar salad, which was quite nice.  The presentation is everything as the salad is prepared tableside in the traditional manner.  As usual, I enter a restaurant of this caliber with the intent of searching out something on the menu that is at once new, familiar, interesting and conservative.  Although I've always been told "If you don't like it, we'll bring you something you do."  I just don't consider it good form to venture off into altogether uncharted gastronomical territory.  New preparations, presentations or accompaniments are one thing, but I like to keep the foundation within my known universe.  That said, my selection for dinner was Veal Marcelle; “a Tribute to Marcelle Bienvenu” Medallions of Veal with Sauté of Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Field Mushrooms, Asparagus and Sauce Hollandaise.  I like veal, love crab, asparagus is one of the vegetables that I can eat to outrageous excess, and I've enjoyed mushrooms since I was a teenager.  Since this is Emeril's restaurant I expect the hollandaise to be as good as it gets, and it was.  I'm a little leery of some "wild" mushrooms, but these had a nice flavor and consistent texture (texture is probably more important to me than flavor in many cases.)  The veal was fork-tender, the crab light and flavorful and the asparagus just as I like it, barely beyond al dente, the only thing left on my plate when I finished was a knife and fork.  Again, our waiter selected side items for us, including roasted garlic mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach and caramelized onion and bacon smothered wild mushrooms.  The creamed spinach almost started a fight, the garlic mashed were flavored to perfection and the scalloped potatoes were downright decadent.  The wild mushrooms were nice, but I would have been just as happy with a dish full of caramelized onions.

Dessert.  Umm umm good.  Once again our waiter took care of us and boy oh boy did he ever hit the mark!  We had the Dulce de Leche Tart with Espresso Ganache, Frangelico Anglaise and Chantilly Cream, Blood Orange Cheesecake with Grand Marnier-Sour Cream Topping, Milk Chocolate Sauce and Candied Pistachios and Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Fresh Fruit and Homemade Cookie.  My absolute favorite was the Blood Orange Cheesecake.  It reminds me of a creamsicle, only creamier with more orange flavor, almost a creamsicle concentrate.  The Dulce de Leche was good, but the ladies at the table jeopardized that dish so I only got a taste.  The Crème Brûlée was as good as I've ever had, but with the rich, full, fruity flavor of the cheesecake it was hard to give too much attention to the Crème Brûlée.

Overall this was one of the most memorable dining experiences I've ever had.  When the opportunity presents itself I will certainly return.  On a scale of 1-10 this is a 9.9.  (I've got to leave some wiggle room, otherwise I can't justify going back!)