Dine Inside the Kitchen at Commander's Palace, The South's Best Classic Restaurant 2020
Unlike the restaurant kitchens depicted in movies or on television, the one at Commander's Palace has an air of calm, businesslike precision.
“Remember, tonight is a marathon, not a sprint.” If only I had heeded those words when I first heard them that night. But, having managed to snag a reservation at the Chef’s Table, I was too distracted by the sights, smells, and sounds to pay any attention. Instead of being seated in the main dining room of Commander’s Palace, which is bedecked with ornate hand-painted wallpaper and crystal chandeliers, I was led to the banquette tucked in the corner of the kitchen, set with the restaurant’s trademark blue ribbon. The table seats four— no more, no less—and is one of the most sought- after spots in the Big Easy. (Yes, anyone can reserve it, but we do suggest booking way in advance.)
Commander’s Palace has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893. For over 20 years, cousins and coproprietors Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan have worked tirelessly to maintain the restaurant’s high level of excellence, from hospitality to the ever- changing “haute Creole” menu. Yet as famous as the restaurant is, many guests haven’t experienced it from inside the kitchen. Those who have will come back year after year, making their reservations months ahead in anticipation of a special night.
Unlike the restaurant kitchens depicted in movies or on television, the one at Commander’s Palace has an air of calm, businesslike precision. Sure, it is busy and can be noisy at times as Creole Gumbo du Jour and Bananas Foster Flambé are sent out and empty plates returned, but it isn’t chaotic. I felt as if I were watching a well-orchestrated show from a comfortable spot backstage. I mentioned this to Argyle Wolf-Knapp, my server and sommelier for the evening, who said the exactness and controlled atmosphere are hard-won and purposeful.
A 13-year veteran of Commander’s Palace, Wolf- Knapp has waited on the Chef’s Table for 12 of those years. As he placed a glass of wine on the table, he caught my eye and imparted those words of wisdom about the marathon that was to come. After making my way through their eight dazzling courses, each with the perfect wine pairing, I understood what he meant.
Chef Chris Lynch, who cooked for the table that night, graciously offered me an amuse-bouche (one-bite appetizer): a single oyster topped with mignonette and osetra caviar. As if they had rehearsed, Wolf-Knapp then appeared with a glass of Champagne. And that’s exactly how the next few hours went. The chef served the next dish on the menu— Seared Diver Scallop, Foie Gras with Sweet Potatoes and Marshmallow, Boudin-Stuffed Texas Quail—and Wolf-Knapp poured another glass of wine carefully chosen to complement it.
Just when I was starting to feel like this meal might go on forever, pastry chef Jasmine Turner stopped by to tell me she was working on a special lineup of seven different desserts, among them Southern-Style Pecan Pie; Commander’s Bread Pudding Souffle; Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake; and her personal favorite, Strawberry Shortcake.
What made this experience so memorable was a combination of an exquisitely planned menu paired with a passionate team committed to making the evening an intimate affair. Chef Lynch noted, “The Chef’s Table is a singular dining experience that you really can’t find anywhere else.”
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I left the restaurant that night feeling fortunate and full in more ways than one. I had enjoyed a meal of a lifetime, and I was able to fully appreciate the dedication, creativity, and hard work that go into making Commander’s Palace a legendary place at each and every level.
commanderspalace.com, 504-899-8221, 1403 Washington Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130