In New Orleans, when a popular fine dining restaurant expands, it's news. When that restaurant happens to be a grande dame eatery in the French Quarter that has remained essentially unchanged for a century, it's big news. New Orleanians are clearly going to be curious.
Such is the case with Galatoire's 33 Bar and Steak, the latest venture from a venerated local institution dating back to 1905, located just next door to the original location. The name derives from the building's first address, 33 Bourbon St., before an 1893 standardization of the municipal address system in New Orleans.
It might be a newcomer (having opened in April), but 33 arrives steeped in history.
A couple of recent visits highlighted the dichotomy of the "Bar" and "Steak" sides of Galatoire's 33; they are two distinct entities, for sure. Dappled in late afternoon sunlight streaming in from Bourbon Street, the front barroom is a social space that looks like an elegantly styled gentleman's club. While the bar menu isn't nearly as extensive as the one in the dining room, it offers a number of pleasing dishes best enjoyed at one of the handsome leather banquettes or at the long wooden bar. And if you're a sports fan, better still: Two enormous flatscreen TVs offer a continuous torrent of ESPN from the far wall.
The bar menu shares certain staples with Galatoire's kitchen next door, including its oysters Rockefeller (and Casino, if you prefer your bivalves with cheese and bacon). The rest of the bar menu is filled with familiar pub grub, including deviled eggs, hush puppies, hog cracklings and other bites.
There's also a fantastic crab cake — piled generously with jumbo lump crabmeat dusted lightly with breadcrumbs — as well as a burger fashioned from prime chuck and brisket served on a brioche roll with basil aioli. It's a solid burger — mine arrived slightly overcooked, but still respectable. The handmade lattice-cut potato chips that accompany it approach the sublime. On the other hand, the bar fries, "dusted with bacon powder," limped sadly out of the kitchen, and lacked the promised bacon flavor.
In the dining room, things get serious, not the least because of the dim lighting, reflected into infinity by mirrors on opposing walls. If you are a fan of old-school steakhouse fare done properly, and are willing to pay for it, this is your place.
A cross-cut shank of roasted marrow bone with a horseradish crust started the meal off on a pleasingly primal note. Of the steaks, a diminutive, buttery soft filet and a 16-ounce New York strip both were expertly seared, hardly requiring the addition of the available sauces (au poivre, bearnaise, marchand de vin, etc.).
The poultry offering, a classic duck l'orange, proved a throwback to another era of steakhouse menu items, in all the best ways. The classic potato sides also turn up in good form, be they au gratin, steamed, fried, shoestringed or lyonnaise.
Some dishes are uneven, but the quality and execution of the steaks, as well as the expert service, make this a new but exciting chapter in the restaurant's history.
I'm sold on the classy yet comfortable bar and its small but satisfying menu. It may well start an afternoon version of the original restaurant's Friday lunch tradition. I'm sure I'll find myself back on a barstool at 33 at some point soon, probably on a late, lazy Friday afternoon, for another burger and a beer.