Ah, the ghosts and ghouls are upon us here in New Orleans, and everyone knows what that means: it’s time to start thinking about Christmas!
At this point, we depart the haunted New Orleans, and say Bienvenue a le réveillon de Noël; Louisiana’s creole take on the advent season. While the words literally mean: “eve,” or “awaken,” or even “to wake,” depending on context, and le réveillon de Noël, absolutely means “Christmas Eve” in the francophone world, réveillon means something entirely different in just a handful of places in the French world.
Historically, the meal involved staying awake past midnight on Christmas Eve to eat more luxurious foods than most were accustomed to in their day-to-day life. Examples in France would have historically been escargot, lobster, oysters, foie gras, and especially turkey with chestnuts. Dessert was traditionally bûche de Noël. A Provencal variant involved the making of an extraordinarily voluminous dessert, thirteen desserts (lei tretze desserts), representing Christ and the Twelve Apostles. It is always acceptable, even into present day, to break out the good wine or bubbly for this meal.
In New Orleans, there are a few stark differences: First, you don’t have to wait until Christmas Eve (the meals run through the majority of December); Second, you don’t have to wait until midnight; And third, and most importantly, you don’t have to cook it yourself, thanks to the many great restaurants putting together réveillon menus.
Some seriously good deals are to be had for the season, as well, with most restaurants coming in somewhere around $50.00 for a multi-course meal.
Coming up with an exhaustive list of what to eat for the special menu would take, quite literally, seventy or eighty pages. The ocean-liner classics will forever be excellent and classic, and you should definitely, absolutely, undoubtedly eat at Commander’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, Tujagues, and the likes. But what I’ll tell you about, instead, is what’s different, really different, but still great.
Roux Carre is a Trinidadian open-air restaurant in Central City that I kind of accidentally stumbled upon while searching for a runaway second-line during essence fest this past summer. The selling point on this place is two-fold: First, after having eaten the food, I can safely say this is one of my favorite restaurants in town; Second, the special menu is $40, with Roux Carre usually having large portions and no reservations required. This requires no thought: get the doubles, oxtail, duck, and Bananas Foster. You’ll seriously thank yourself.
Josephine Estelle is one of the more expensive options, but nestled inside the Beau cadre, bon goût Ace Hotel, the restaurant churns out literally tons of happy customers. Recently the hotel hosted rock-star food writer and Canadian chef Matty Matheson for the release of his cookbook. The special menu for Josephine Estelle takes a decidedly more “American” feel, with shrimp and pork shoulder as the rock stars, and even featuring what I’m sure will be an absolutely mind-blowing peanut butter pie.
The final recommendation I’ll make is that you hit Boucherie. The restaurant’s reputation around town is deservedly fantastic. With a price tag of roughly $50.00, words like Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Coquilles St. Jacques, Gulf Fish Amandine. Duck Confit, and Wagyu Steak Frites all appear. Bourbon and dark chocolate pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream even sounds fantastic. However, being the glutton for all things quirk-filled that I am, Boucherie is doing a Krispy Kreme bread pudding with spiced-rum caramel sauce that I will absolutely get at some point this December.