New Orleans Food Tour: Brigtsen’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Classic Creole food by a disciple of the great Paul Prudhomme

Brigtsen’s is one of those Chef owned restaurants that you just want to love because you know they are a labor of love themselves. Chef Frank Brigtsen started his culinary career as a pantry apprentice at New Orleans famed restaurant Commander’s Palace back in 1978. There, legendary chef Paul Prudhomme took him under his wing, teaching him how to cook traditional Creole cuisine. In 1986, Prudhomme helped Brigtsen open his own restaurant, and he has been cooking and serving sophisticated Creole cuisine ever since. In these almost forty years he has won numerous awards, including a James Beard, and has become an ambassador for Creole cuisine nationwide. He is also mentoring the next generation of Creole cuisine chefs.

The restaurant itself is located in a cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s only a couple of blocks away from a cable car stop, and the ride from the French Quarter takes you through the Garden District and by Tulane university. The ride in the airy wooden carriage was long but romantic in that balmy spring New Orleans evening, and a perfect preface to a Creole meal.

I’ve eaten at a handful of restaurants located in old homes, and I like the intimacy of the small dining rooms. This was the case at Brigtsen’s, where we were seated in what once might have been a small dining room itself. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, but it wasn’t needed.

Brigtsen’s is a smart casual sort of place, like most of the nicer restaurants we went to in New Orleans. What this means in practicality is that collared shirts are a must for men.

Brigtsen’s menu is centered in Creole cuisine, though it travels beyond it by incorporating dishes and ingredients that show international influences – what you would expect from a lower-case, ever evolving creole cuisine.

The menu was heavy on seafood and not particularly friendly to vegetarians – fortunately, we didn’t have one along. It’s relatively short, fitting a small kitchen.

I wasn’t extremely hungry so I decided to forgo an appetizer and get dessert instead, though Mike went for the full three courses.

We started dinner with bread. Now, this is true at most American restaurants, but at Brigtsen’s they actually charge you for the bread ($3.50). This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – when I grew up in Argentina, most restaurants charged for bread -, if the bread was particularly good. This one wasn’t. It was just a typical French loaf, distinct only by how extraordinarily airy it was inside. Basically, it was all crust and the crust wasn’t particularly tasty. The salted butter was not particularly noteworthy either.

Mike had a cup of their Filé Gumbo with Chicken and Andouille Sausage ($9). It was my first experience with gumbo and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I’d always been reluctant to try gumbo because I thought all gumbos included okra. That turns out not to be true – they can also be thickened with filé, as was the case here, or even with a dark roux. It’s a pity I hadn’t tried them before, because the gumbo here was very good. Now, it wasn’t out of this world good – the filé, I think, gave it an awkward undertone – but it was tasty and satisfying. This being our first gumbo, we couldn’t really compare it to others when we ate it, but we liked the one we had at Broussard’s the following day more.

Mike had the Seafood Platter ($48), which came which consisted of seafood prepared in five different ways. He was very happy with it. He felt that the grilled redfish with crawfish and pistachio lime sauce sauce was perfectly cooked and delicious. The sauce was “yummy” and the crawfish added a nice texture. He liked both scallop preparations just as much. The baked scallop with Herbsaint creamed spinach and Gruyere was scrumptious and the cheese was mild enough to not overwhelm the scallop. He liked the sauce in the seared sea scallop with Fontina cream cheese grits and mojo sauce that he didn’t mind the grits, though the Fontina cream cheese helped. Mike doesn’t like oysters in general, but here the baked oyster with shrimp and crabmeat was chopped and mixed with the other seafood and he liked the overall dish as well as its presentation on an oyster shell. Finally, he loved the crawfish cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn butter. The cornbread had a kick without being too spicy and the crawfish gave it a subtle flavor. The bread has a nice, standard texture. In all, he was very happy.

Not being a seafood lover, I was more limited on my choices and decided to go with the Grilled Beef Filet with Marchand du Vin sauce ($45), despite it sounding more French than Creole. The filet was described as grilled, but I could have sworn it was sous vide given how incredibly tender it was and how consistent it was its texture. I don’t think I’ve had a more tender steak in my life, though I also don’t think I’ve had sous vide steak before, so I’m only speculating as to what its texture might be. It was also impressively free of any grit. The sauce was as delicious as expected. The mashed potatoes had good flavor, and this was overall a good, solid dish.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Tres Leches Cake with Ponchatoula Strawberries and Chocolate whipped Cream ($14) despite its less than Creole origin. It was a big mistake. The cake was crumbly and lacked both moisture and flavor. A shortcake or biscuit would at least have been able to absorb the sauce and gain it from it, but this one didn’t have the necessary consistency. The chocolate cream provided a discordant flavor that overwhelmed both the cake and the strawberries, and had a heavy consistency, closer to buttercream. Finally, the strawberries were just not sweet. In all, this dessert was a complete failure and should not have been served. Someone should have tasted the strawberries, determined they weren’t ready and taken it off the menu.

Mike had the Lemon Ice Box Creme Brulée ($10) and that was much better. There was nothing remarkable to it, but it had a nice flavor and consistency. It was, at least, what you expected it to be.

I had sparkling water with dinner ($3), but Mike had a Bayou Bonfire cocktail ($13). Unfortunately, he can’t remember it at all – and all I remember is that it was way too alcoholic for me to try more than a sip, but that is true with most cocktails.

Service was competent thought not extremely attentive – for example, no one inquired about how we felt about dessert.

In all, given everything I’d read about the restaurant before we went, I expected more – of the three full fledged meals we had at New Orleans restaurants, this was my least favorite – though that may just speak about the quality of the others. Still, we did have a lovely dinner in a lovely restaurant after a lovely cable car ride, and enjoyed the experience very much. I’d return.

723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA
T-Sa: 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

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