To find the Bombay Club, patrons make their way through the enclosed, tunnel-like driveway of the Prince Conti Hotel. Once inside, though, it seems like the trip is much further, perhaps all the way back to the 1990s.
The hallmarks of this unusual French Quarter spot have remained largely unchanged since that decade — namely its opulent, Old Empire ambience, the suave, retro-style crooners who perform nightly and a martini menu with nearly as many listings as a stock exchange. Food has always been part of the mix too, but this is where the most interesting changes have occured since Ricky Cheramie became chef last year.
It was the duck that first sold me. Sliced to show a rare interior, the skin was crisped into rigid bands supporting a plank of foie gras. Underneath, tiny bits of sweet potato spaetzle were lost in a pile of mustard greens, but these greens — soft, peppery, vinegar-streaked — proved a great pairing on their own for the lusciousness above.
A native of Lafourche Parish, Cheramie is an alumnus of Emeril's and Commander's Palace, and the influences these bona fides suggest turn up in his food, which is robust, ambitious and, at its best, anchored by good bedrock cooking.
The thick, expertly blackened Cajun prime rib was truly awesome, served properly medium rare under all of the crusted seasoning. Blackened scallops were just as deftly done, and then lavishly plated over a hash of brabant potatoes with crawfish and smoky chunks of tasso, all in a pool of creamy corn sauce.
The cooking is exuberant, though sometimes a touch too much. Pan-fried drum featured a large, beautifully textured specimen with a crown of crabmeat and a dollop of bearnaise, but the potatoes layered below contained so much unadvertised bacon that it nearly overpowered the dish. At times, it seems the menu and the cooks are not quite in sync. The star ingredient in grilled artichoke salad was cold and soggy, showing no evidence of the grill but plenty of the can. Prices are high, and consistency could be better.
The windowless, agreeably dark room is full of nooks and corners, including curtained booths as private as opera boxes with sofas for side-by-side dining. That's a setting for a long evening, but the Bombay Club always has functioned well as an off-the-radar spot for a quick appetizer at the bar. The calamari, long a specialty here, remains solid.
The short, basic wine list runs a distant second to the cocktail program, which is detailed in a bound volume of 24 pages. Some concoctions are pretty exotic, though the bartenders generously steer folks back toward the menu's strengths, which are the classics and their subtly updated progeny. These are impeccable, though if all you really want is a taste of prom night from the class of '98, you can still insist on an appletini.