The holidays are about creating traditions that will linger in the imagination of our loved ones for many years, especially the children. For approximately two weeks before Christmas, making cookies and edible gifts and cooking for the annual family feast takes on a life of its own in our house. In the midst of the merriment, we take a break from the kitchen and pamper ourselves for an evening out.
Over the past several years, it has become a tradition among our family and friends to have a Reveillon (pre-fixe) Christmas dinner at some of our favorite restaurants in the French Quarter. The Reveillon dinners are part of the Christmas New Orleans Style month-long celebration that includes cathedral concerts, caroling in Jackson Square, free cooking demonstrations, and Papa Noel rates at hotels (great for guests who are visiting during the holidays; call French Quarter Festivals at 800-673-5725 for more information about Christmas New Orleans Style venues).
The Reveillon concept was created to conjure up a bit of 19th-century nostalgia during the holidays while promoting local restaurants. During the mid-1800s, New Orleans families celebrated the Reveillon (French for “awakening”) twice during the holidays. The first came after midnight mass on Christmas Eve, when families returned from St. Louis Cathedral to an elaborate meal, which usually consisted of eggs, sweetbreads, daube glacé , and cakes dripping with wine or rum, topped with whipped cream. The second Reveillon was celebrated on New Year’s Eve, usually shared among several families. Today’s Reveillon is celebrated nightly during December in select restaurants that combine multi-course, old-fashioned Creole fare with contemporary New Orleans dishes for a set price. You should check with each individual restaurant for times and dates of availability, and the price of the special menus, which range from $25-$75.
Participating restaurants include 7on Fulton, Albtertine’s Tea Room at the Columns Hotel, Arnaud’s, Bombay Club, Bourbon House, Brennan’s, Broussard’s, Café Degas, Café Giovanni, Commander’s Palace, La Cote Brasserie, Court of Two Sisters, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, Flaming Torch, Gumbo Shop, Hunt Room Grill at the Monteleone, Jacques-Imo’s, The Marigny Brasserie, Mat & Naddie’s, Muriel’s Jackson Square, Palace Café, Pelican Club, Peré Marquette Bistro, Rib Room at the Omni Royal Orleans, Ristorante Carmelo, Tujague’s, Upperline, and Zoe Bistro.
You can make this a season to remember by gathering for an elaborate holiday meal before Christmas and let someone else do the cooking. Say goodbye to the chopping board and rolling pin for the night and head on over to the revived Commander’s Palace, which begins with a choice of wild game gumbo or cauliflower with brie, followed by a selection of entreés that include brown sugar and sugarcane-smoked duck with barbecued onions, sweet potato pone, local figs, foie gras ganache, and vanilla-bourbon demi-glace or the succulent black skillet-seared redfish. End the evening on a sweet note with Commander’s warm banana toffee cake ($42).
There is celebration in the air at Brennan’s, where garlands and lights welcome guests who enter through the bar and into the elegant dining rooms overlooking the verdant courtyard. Dinner begins with a choice of turtle soup, oyster soup, or Maude’s seafood gumbo, followed by a choice of eggs Hussarde or eggs Sardou. A Romaine salad with a tangy Creole dressing gives way to main course offerings that include baby rack of lamb Roussel (named after the late Chef Mike Roussel), trout amandine, or two prime tournedos served in a sauce of natural juices, brandy, and cream. Bananas Foster flamed tableside ends the meal, which includes Brennan’s famous hot garlic bread and a glass of red or white wine ($75).
For a more casual setting, head to the small and romantic Café Degas on Esplanade, which begins with French Creole-style hog’s head cheese served with cornichons and fig mustard, an Herbsaint and cream poached oyster stew, then a main course of rack of lamb with hush puppies, a glass of mulled wine, and a festive floating island for dessert ($45).
A good place to go if you are catching a concert at St. Louis Cathedral is Muriel’s Jackson Square, which offers a reasonable $38 Reveillon meal with main course choices that include wood-grilled semi-boneless Mississippi quail or roast loin of North American elk with a Pinot Noir reduction sauce.
Get in the middle of the action in the French Quarter while dining at the Rib Room at the Omni Royal Orleans, with its wall of windows, glowing rotisserie and open kitchen. The $45 Reveillon dinner includes shrimp remoulade or sweet potato bisque, a salad, and a choice of grilled yellow fin tuna with shrimp and artichoke ragout, or rotisserie duck, ending with angel food cake with fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Café Giovanni is a marvelous place to land for a Reveillon dinner on the edge of the Quarter. The popular, festive restaurant offers a Reveillon feast for $65 that includes a classic shrimp remoulade with fried green tomatoes, oysters and artichoke bisque, and a choice of veal ravioli, duck breast with raspberry chipotle sauce, or Colorado lamb chops (an outstanding dish) with goat cheese polenta that could be mistaken for creamed potatoes, except for its deep, rich flavor. The meal ends with peach and apple cobbler and a smooth mascarpone sabayon. Order a cup of cappuccino (the real thing here) and you are on your way, fortified and refreshed for epic days of shopping and cooking.