MURIEL’S JACKSON SQUARE
801 Chartres Street (corner of Saint Anne St)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Reviewed and Photographed by Senior Staff Writer Les Noteworthy
Food: Service: While New Orleans is an amazing cosmopolitan city, home to big business, shipping, sports, education and travel, it is possibly best known for the French Quarter. This tiny segment of the Crescent City is the original City of New Orleans, and an architectural throwback to the by-gone days when both the Spanish and French owned the city, prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The “Quarter” is littered with restaurants, including many great ones, and has been touted as the Home of Cajun Cuisine. While the latter is debatable, it is certainly the foremost advocate of Cajun Cuisine, Cajun-Creole foods, unique ingredients and stylings. Celebrity status was brought about by the late Chef Paul Prudhomme, then “kicked up a notch” by his protégé, Chef Emeril Legasse and his many years of television stardom. It features such items as well known food like Crawfish, Oysters, Crab, Red Fish, Andouille Sausage, Fried Green Tomatoes, in preparations like gumbo, etouffe, po-boys, jambalaya and many other notables, combining unique Creole flavors with French stylings.
Muriel’s on Jackson Square is a testimony to Cajun Cuisine, yet tastefully combines the style with a more modern approach, offering Modern Cajun Cuisine, which struck this author as contemporary American with a Cajun twist…and a delicious twist, at that!
The history of Muriel’s is truly the history of New Orleans, itself. The first building on the site was erected around 1712 by one of the first explorers and settlers in New Orleans, when it was originally named “La Ville de la Nouvelle Orleans”.
After the official city plans were drawn in 1721, this plot of land became a prime piece of real estate, located directly adjacent to the cathedral, the central and most important spot in the young city. Over the decades, the site was a house, a club, several restaurants, a Dixieland Jazz club and is currently said to host its own resident ghost, the spirit of a former owner of the magnificent structure.
Muriel’s opened its doors in 2001 after an extensive renovation, overseen by the National Park Service, which operates the French Quarter as a National Historic Park. The renovation returned the structure to its mid-1800′s splendor. Muriel’s now serves lunch, dinner and Saturday and Sunday Jazz Brunch featuring its unique spin on Modern Cajun cuisine.
The dinner menu is two-part, offering both “Table de hote” or a limited menu, as well as an a la carte menu. However, dishes from the limited menu may be ordered a la carte as well. They feature a clever cocktail list and a small, but well selected wine list. After browsing the menu, my guests and I opted for items from both menus. We had selected a lovely bottle of William Fevre Chablis, a mouthwateringly crisp and clean rendition of the Chardonnay grape, unlike any other, and a perfect pairing to the unique Cajun flavors.
Our starters included the Savory Gorgonzola Cheesecake, essentially a creamy Gorgonzola and prosciutto terrine, served with McIlhenny Farms honeyed pecans, crispy prosciutto, slices of Granny Smith apple and a pair of massive blackberries! Savory cheesecakes frequently appear in Cajun stylings, utilizing the French love of cheese, the Cajun flavors and ingredients, combined in a unique way! The flavor of the Gorgonzola was ever present, but not overwhelming. The cake itself was rich and creamy, with flecks of prosciutto throughout. It was nothing short of delicious! We also ordered a Southern/Cajun staple, in the form of the Fried Green Tomato Stack. This was 3 slices of breaded and fried green tomatoes, dressed with a salad of Gulf shrimp and arugula, topped with a tomato-bacon jam and a sauce remoulade decorating the plate. While the remoulade somewhat lacked any real flavor, the tomatoes were perfectly crispy and delicious, but the tomato-bacon jam was outstanding!
Our servers were a “front and back” pair of formally clad attendees, who were never far from our table, despite having a 6 or possibly a 7 table station. Waters were continually refilled, wine was topped off, and their knowledge of menu items was thorough and definitive. When every last morsel was consumed, our starter plates were unceremoniously removed, and our positions marked with the necessary cutlery for the main event.
One of my guests had selected the Pan Roasted Salmon, which featured a beautiful filet of Faroe Island salmon, a succotash laced with a variety of peas and beans, garnished with what was described as Tabasco onion rings, paying homage to the Louisiana staple. The rings themselves appeared to have been dredged in Tabasco, while the batter also seemed to host some of the spicy stuff, yet its vinegar component was cooked off in the deep fryer, leaving a lovely warm glow! The salmon was perfectly cooked to medium with a gorgeous crust, yet moist and flaky in the center. The creamy succotash was a delicious twist on that often maligned childhood nemesis!
I had selected the “Bayoubaisse“, a Cajun twist on Bouillabaisse, a Mediterranean staple. It was a seafood stew featuring Shrimp, mussels, jumbo lump crab meat, seafood meatballs, Andouille sausage and orzo pasta, incorporated in a tomato-sweet vermouth broth. The tomato broth was too plentiful, and while it offered some texture, it had very little flavor on its own. As it was being sold as a “Bayou-baisse”, I felt the broth could have used more Cajun influence, in short…more flavor, to support the otherwise excellent seafood components of this dish. These were outstanding and plentiful, and clearly the stars of the dish. I felt the conservative portion of orzo pasta went unnoticed due to the volume of broth in the bowl.
Our final selection was the Double Cut Pork Chop. It was a dish to be reckoned with! This giant 14 oz. center cut double boned rib-chop, was lovingly grilled to perfection over a wood flame. It was coated with what the menu called a “Louisiana sugar cane apple glaze”, served with candied sweet potatoes, laced with chopped pecans, and greens (which appeared to be kale). The pork was thoroughly cooked, beautifully scored, crisp and flavorful on the outside, yet moist on the inside. The candied sweet potatoes were a venture into traditional Southern fare, incorporating the contrasting texture of the pecans. The greens, however were relatively nondescript, yet served the purpose of rounding out the balance of color, texture and fiber on the plate. This was an excellent dish, to say the least!
After plates were cleared, coffees, cordials and deserts were discussed; we opted to share the Vanilla Bean Créme Brûlée. This timeless classic was as perfect as any Créme Brûlée that I had ever tasted. The sugar was properly browned, creating a perfect thin crust, while the custard itself was rich, smooth and surprisingly firm. It was an outstanding finish to a delicious meal.
Our visit to Muriel’s would not have been complete without a tour of the upper level, which consisted of a large meeting room, the wine room, a small dining room set in a wine cellar motif, and the inner and outer séance rooms, believed to be haunted! This is a grand old building, lovingly and opulently restored to its ante-bellum grandeur. It is also a delicious eatery, representing Cajun Cuisine with a modern twist.
As always, I ask myself, would I return? The answer is a resounding yes, even if only for the Gorgonzola Cheesecake, the Vanilla Bean Créme Brûlée and perhaps a side order of the tomato-bacon jam! While our other selections were certainly delicious, well executed, thoughtfully plated and representative of their theme, these items were the most outstanding! Our servers were attentive, knowledgeable and pleasant, delivering nearly flawless attention to our needs.
I also ask myself, would I recommend this restaurant to others? Again I respond with an obvious yes! Muriel’s Jackson Square has pretty much anything and everything that an excellent restaurant can hope to offer. It features a great bar, with clever cocktail creations, numerous individual dining rooms, which can cater to practically any sized group, clever and intriguing decor…even the men’s room features an early 1800′s wood cut of New Orleans and the Mississippi. It is charming, clever, scenic, historic, casual, light hearted, yet approaches food and service in a seriously professional manner.
When you are New Orleans, make time for a meal at Muriel’s Jackson Square, and tell them Les Noteworthy from DinnerReviews.com© sent you!