It's increasingly common for cities to host community-wide dining specials to entice visitors and draw locals out to restaurants during seasonal tourism lulls. We have something like this in New Orleans too, though, as usual, things are a bit different here.
In New Orleans, the current dining deal is called Reveillon, and though this has been re-imagined for modern lifestyles, it's nonetheless based on deep French Creole tradition, that wellspring for so much of our culinary heritage.
Derived from the French word for “awakening,” Reveillon originally was a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Catholic families would return from the late-night service famished and then set upon a feast waiting for them at home. By the start of the 20th century, however, Reveillon dinners grew more and more scarce, reaching near cultural extinction as the years rolled on.
In the 1990s, however, the Reveillon tradition itself was reawakened, and along the way transformed, by French Quarter Festivals Inc., the same group that produces the French Quarter Festival in April and the Satchmo Summer Festival in August. To help spur some local business when tourism and convention bookings trail off at the holiday season, the group approached local restaurants with an idea for a re-engineered Reveillon.
Now, what began as a Creole family tradition in the home is an annual dining extravaganza available for anyone to join at more than 40 local restaurants this year. These establishments offer four-course or five-course meals at a set price throughout December, with many serving on Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year's.
Participating restaurants for 2011 range from the old guard, including the city’s very oldest, Antoine’s (four courses, $47), to places marking their first holiday season in business, like Ste. Marie (four courses, $45).
Many of their menus have a holiday-tinged feel bordering on the nostalgic, with lots of turtle soup, plenty of lamb and duck entrees and a smattering of old Creole specialties rarely seen in restaurants outside of Reveillon, like the bûche de Noël for dessert at Arnaud’s (four courses, $45) or the chilled daube to start things off at Lüke (four courses, $55).
Some also throw in a prescribed “lagniappe,” like pralines at the end of the Rib Room’s feast (four courses, $45), café brulot from the Gumbo Shop (four courses, $38), a glass of house wine from Tujague’s (four courses, $38), charbroiled oysters from 5Fifty5 (five courses, $45), or a brandy Alexander from Mike’s on the Avenue (four courses, $40-$48, depending on entrée).
Overall, the 2011 Reveillon menus look like decent deals. Of the 42 menus listed this year, 28 cost $50 or less per person, though that doesn’t include tax and tip, to say nothing of any drinks you might order.
But prices do range as widely as the styles of the restaurants themselves, and some are now quite conspicuously expensive. Restaurant August and Commander’s Palace lead the pack in prices, charging $95 and $90, respectively, for their Reveillon repasts. These two menus do run to five courses each, however, and they don’t skimp on the luxury ingredients (eggs with truffles come between the foie gras appetizer and the roast duckling entrée at August; foie gras is made into ice cream for the Commander’s menu).
Though I haven’t tried these Reveillon menus yet, it looks like there’s some nice middle ground at the reliably-eclectic Mat & Naddie’s (four courses, $40) and that contemporary Creole favorite Brigtsen’s (four courses, $48), and there even appears to be some discounted opulence at the Grill Room (four courses, $55).
See all the menus and details here.