Monday, October 26, 2009


OK, I am behind, and I promise tomorrow I will be back on track. The response to the POM giveaway was huge, and I need an extra day to sort every one's entry in order to get it right. BUT, I promise a winner will be announced tomorrow.

But, today, I want to share just a bit more about my vacation in the Big Easy. Today I want to share a story that will tell you the very best side to the city...

I have tried to write this several different ways, each makes either the group I was with sound like country bumpkins, or makes assumptions about wait staff that are unfair. I will get to the point of the story by giving you the short version... I was with a large group, and we were inappropriate for the restaurant. Short version, a group of 13 tourists, inappropriately dressed, and not prepared for the type of restaurant we wandered into.

Arnaud's Restaurant is a work of art. A beautiful old style place, with more character in the architecture than you can imagine. It is also one of the more expensive fine dining experiences you will have in NO. Nothing wrong with that. I enjoy a night of pampering and amazing food. But, I like to be ready... dressed correctly, have the budget planned and prepared and ... well, I can't find the words, but I just like to have my mind wrapped around the experience of fine dining if I am going to make the financial commitment. The short version of the tale, all 13 tourists were in the same position I was. Another time, another day, and with planning, I would have felt right at home. But honestly, the minute we walked into the place, we were the country cousins in the big city.

But then something wonderful happened... We were gifted with our waiter... AARON.

OK, let me digress again for a second... Fine dining waiters work on tips. For a party this size, he would be guaranteed 20%. He also could have coasted through the evening, confident he would be compensated well, but not really working the extra mile. I also know what restaurants like in a dining party. They like drinkers (wine and cocktails can easily double a ticket). They like alla cart orders that include appetizers, salads and desserts. From the minute we sat down, Aaron could see that we were not going to be that group.

I ordered my beloved Sazarak cocktail (that's me at the bar, with my drink. Take a look at the wonderful old lamp, dressed for Halloween), and my wife ordered a glass of wine. Two others ordered drinks, and the rest informed Aaron that they would be drinking tap water tonight. Aaron saw that he would not be getting much extra from the bar tab.

Once the drinks came, we started ordering. Arnaud's did have a $40 Prix Fixe menu that I was hoping would satisfy everyone. Ordering the many excellent dishes on the menu alla cart would easily have doubled that cost. Unfortunatly, the first person to order decided he was going to "share" one order with their spouse. The next couple the same, the next and the next. What should have easily been a $500 total order ($100 tip) was turning into barely $250. Wanting to make my friends comfortable, my wife and I agreed to the plan, and went along with splitting the prix fixe menu. OK, if it were me, and if you honestly thought about the amount of work it was going to take to service a table of 13 people, you would agree that Aaron would be justified to go into the back, kick a busboy, spit in our food and curse his misfortune for drawing the unlucky hand.

Instead... First, he brought out a couple pitchers of sweet tea, explaining in good humour that it was the champagne of the south and wanted us all to try it. Those pitchers were never empty throughout the night.

When serving bread, not in a basket, but offering each person an individual choice, he pointed out interesting bits of architecture, paintings of the owner, the owners sister and his mistress. Told us tales of his life, his Katrina experiences. He was entertaining. Not in a forced manor, but genuinely was good natured.

But next, I have never seen any waiter do. And certainly not one where his tip was being cut in half... EACH person received what I believe was a full order. Many ordered the red fish. Each person received a plate with a full piece of fish on the plate. It is hard for me to believe, although possible, that the full order featured two pieces of fish... But I doubt it. Aaron was quizzed. We were concerned that we were going to receive a bill for $80 per couple. He just shrugged the questions off, said not to worry, he understood what we wanted, he just had the kitchen plate the orders separate. Now, my guess is that we were towards the end of the evening, they had plenty of fresh fish left that was going to waste and decided to do a nice thing. I don't know how much of this was Aaron's decision, or the management or possibly really is standard; but since Aaron is the face of the front of the house, I am happy to credit him with this wonderful bit of above and beyond service.

Aaron had an opportunity to punish and belittle a group of outsiders who would likely never return to the restaurant. Instead, he and his restaurant made us feel welcome, provided positive experiences at every opportunity and made it one of the most memorable nights of our vacation...

But wait, there was more...

Arnaud's offers two flaming dessert options. One, bananas foster is my wife's favorite (JACKIEtober continues). Aaron double checked with everyone, and two of us ordered the extra dessert (we got seven desserts from the prix fixe menu order). He made the dessert table side, with dramatic flair. Flaming brandy was flying and everyone enjoyed the show. He made sure my wife was well served, but then... Magically, a small dish of ice cream appeared for everyone else. Everyone got a small scoop of ice cream and a 1/4 of a banana and some of the caramel liqueur sauce... Again, way beyond expectations.

But wait, there was more... the house specialty dessert coffee is called Cafe Brulot. It again is prepared table side, flaming and comes with a show and story. The back story is that this was something that the pirate Jean Lafitte would make these and while people were watching the show, their pockets were picked. Aaron told the story better...

By this time, more people were understanding the bargain we were getting, and 4 of these were ordered. Below, I copied the recipe from a website. It is (near as I remember) the ingredients and the presentation.

1 orange, peel cut into 1 long, intact spiral
6 whole cloves
1 orange peel, cut into 1 by 1/8-inch strips,
1 lemon peel, cut into 1 by 1/8-inch strips
4 sugar cubes
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup orange flavored liqueur
2 cups hot, freshly brewed, strong black coffee
Stud the orange peel with the cloves.
Light the burner under a Brulot bowl, chafing dish or wok. Adjust the flame to low. Into the bowl place the orange and lemon peels, sugar, cloves, cinnamon stick brandy and orange liqueur. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a long-handled ladle, to dissolve the sugar and warm the ingredients.
When the mixture is warm, ignite with a match.
Quickly, while the mixture is still flaming, hold the spiraled orange peel with the prongs of a fork over the bowl, and ladle the flaming coffee mixture down the peel several times into the bowl for a spectacular presentation. Add in the hot coffee to extinguish the flames
Ladle the Cafe Brulot into Brulot or demitasse cups, being careful to leave the flavorings (peels, cloves, cinnamon) in the bowl. Serve immediately while hot.
Yield: 4 servings

Of course, all of us that ordered the full cup received what we ordered, but Aaron also (magically) had additional smaller cups available so that everyone that wanted could sample the drink. Aaron continued to hover around the table, telling tales of the restaurant and staff, and just generally entertaining his customers.

Sure enough, the bill came. Everything we ordered, 4 extra drinks before dinner, 2 desserts, and 4 after dinner coffee drinks, 13 people well feed and entertained, all for @$350. No surprises... except very pleasant ones. I would not have been surprised had a waiter give us the bum's rush, poor service, no extras, and the labor intensive table side presentations rushed through. I absolutely did not expect separate plating for the people sharing food, nor the extra tasting samples of the flaming desserts and coffees.

But wait... There really was more...

Arnaud's has a wonderful history, founded by a Count (who was never really a Count) 90 years ago, and has been a focal point for many events in the city. The restaurant has converted a banquet room into a Mardi gras Museum featuring the gowns worn by the founder's wife and daughter during their 22 separate reigns as queens of the parades.

Aaron of course offered to give us a tour. Now, the bill had been paid, the tip was given (more than the suggested 20%) and no one would have been offended had he just pointed, and said his goodbyes. Instead, he spent an additional 30 minutes, showing us around the museum, explaining details that could have been missed, and then showed us several of the private dining rooms that most guests never see.

As any old building in New Orleans, Arnaud's is rich in history and Aaron was proud of his job and proud of his restaurant. He had stories of ghosts and famous patrons. Some spectacular artwork that was hidden away waiting to be pointed out to lucky few patrons. The extra time he spent was truly the icing on the cake.

I am sharing this, not to brag about the price we got or the wonderful freebies. I am trying to share a story about what could have been a very disappointing evening for Aaron, as well as us. Instead, he went beyond any one's expectations to provide the best night possible for all. It is easy for a restaurant receiving $100 per customer to provide superior service. Any waiter receiving tips of $10 to $20 per person would be expected to make sure their dining experience was everything it should be. On very rare occasions, a group of poorly dressed tourists, trying to get by in a superior restaurant on the cheap; are treated so well.

If you visit New Orleans, check out Arnaud's for a special evening... Ask for Aaron


  1. Nothing like Southern hospitality! And the portions are huge in Cajun Country, too. So glad you got to go to Arnaud's! Cest bon, cher! Le Bon Manger! I love your N'awlins posts. Keep em' coming, Dude!

  2. Cafe Brulot is a Christmas tradition in our house and has been ever since I can remember. Did Arron mention the name of the Alciatore's? That's my grandmother's maiden name...yep, really.

    Aaron may never see any of you again, but you have blogged about this and maybe more people will blog about this and people will tell everyone they run into for the next few weeks and guess what, if anyone goes to N.O., they will go to Arnaud's because they know they will be treated like royalty.

    I am so glad you enjoyed your visit to Arnaud's, I bet the food was amazing. I cna't wait to read the rest of your tales from the City that Care Forgot!

  3. That's such an amazing story! Some people just love their jobs, and it shows when they do it. I think this is one of those people. He's not necessarily in this for the money - he's in this because he believes in good hospitality. What a generous soul!

  4. Thank you very, very much for being conscious of the server's job and economics, and for calling such careful attention to it. Too many diners take the wait staff for granted, and wouldn't even notice they were impacting his earnings, the way you did. You're obviously good people, the kind we need more of. Tip of the hat.

  5. Hey Dave, that's a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing your great experience! And for putting Humanity back into being human. Very refreshing! Yes, I will go to Arnaud's when I finally make it to N.O.

  6. Welcome to what we call southern hospitality darlin'! ;) Seriously though, it's nice to hear this kind of story for a change in this day and age.

    I had no idea y'all were doing a big group thing. Bet that was fun.

    Hey you're lucky they had the prices on the menu. There are a few of them in town that don't.

    Great post! And welcome home.

  7. What an amazing and wonderful experience. After your positive experience there, I would not hesitate to recommend Arnaud's to any and all of my friends. Aaron probably doesn't know you're a blogger, but a satisfied customer is the best advertisement there is. Look at how many people you will reach.

    Loved this post. It heartened me to see that customer service is still about service.

  8. Thank you so much for this description! I felt like I was walking around with you and experiencing Arnaud's as you were telling us about your evening. It seems like such a great place with such a great atmosphere. should I ever go to New Orleans, I will know where to go.

  9. What a great post!! I love when you stumble across a waiter like that - it makes the meal! We had one like that a few years ago at Emeril's Fish House in Vegas....I liked him so much I maybe accidentally gave him my phone number ;)

  10. I've never eaten at Arnauds. It's on my list for next visit (even before this story) I have an ex-boss who thinks it's the best restaurant in the U.S.

    Great story, but knowing New Orleans this doesn't suprise me.

    Thanks for posting this.

  11. God Bless Aaron! Love it when people go over and above. I call these types "ANd them some" people. We need more of them In the world.

  12. Yum. I have not been to New Orleans, but I love their cuisine.

    By the way, you can steal my pumpkin idea. I stole the idea from the food network. LOL.

  13. I love NOLA, but man you lucked out with that waiter! Another might have spit in your eye! They hate (and some restaurants refuse to do it) splitting dishes.
    Arnaud's can be proud of Aaron and your post might prompt someone to go there who might otherwise have stayed away.
    Nice post and nice description of your evening.

  14. Class place, with class people working there.. Real professionals treat everybody well! It will pay off, nearly every time..

  15. What a wonderful experience for you all. You've told this story beautifully and Arnaud's is on my must-do list next time we are in New Orleans.

  16. What a great experience! You generally only hear when people get pissed at the lousy service at a restaurant. This was definitely a nice change!