Windsor Court Grill Room
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Until the national deluxe hotel chains began opening here, the Windsor Court was the place where those with very fine heels cooled them when in New Orleans. Its Grill Room chefs knew no boundaries to its pursuit of excellence, resulting in a few best-in-the-nation awards. It became the place where many local people feted their major celebrations. That reputation paled in the early years of the 2000s, and locals largely forgot about it. The last two years have seen the cooking at the Grill Room return to a consistently fine level.
The menu is clever. It pretends to be four menus, each along a different theme: Southern, Unadulterated, Steakhouse, and Indulge. While a full meal can be assembled from any of those disciplines, in fact almost nobody remains within one column. While the food involves ingredients of unimpeachable intrinsic merit, the cooking rides the backside of the culinary waves, and is much less innovative than the Grill Room was at its peak. This, however, may be a good idea as they try to woo the locals back and regain the stellar reputation.
The Windsor Court Hotel and its restaurant were developed by local investors and opened in advance of the World’s Fair in 1984. Only the Grill Room survived of a host of dining palaces that opened around that time. The outstanding imagination of its chefs set it apart, at a time when few restaurants dared to go so far out on so many culinary limbs. It quickly garnered top ratings from everybody. (The five stars from this publication were the first such accolade.) The high standards continued through a couple of ownership changes, but the rest of the dining scene caught up with the Grill Room. In the early 2000s, the place took a wrong turm by adopting a New Orleans theme. That changed it from a world-class restaurant to a city-class one. After the hurricane, the Grill Room wound down to become a standard hotel restaurant. New management and owners (Orleanian Darryl Berger and partners) in 2009 have come a long way to reviving the excellence.
The Grill Room is on the second floor, and is as large as the first-floor lobby. Windows along the widest wall give additional dimension to what is already a spacious restaurant, decorated with British art and a few inappropriate murals from the Creole era of the hotel. The best (although not the most comfortable) tables are on the “porch” next to the windows. The banquettes are plusher. Here is the rare restaurant where quiet reigns without making people uncomfortable. The service staff has show tremendous improvement in the last year, and beverage manager Sarah Kavanaugh is a great sommelier.
The menu changes frequently.
Beet salad with goat cheese.
Sweet onion soup.
Seared foie gras.
Sauteed redfish with shrimp.
Roasted Pacific salmon with couscous.
Seared diver scallops.
Roast chicken with red beans.
Lamb chops with farro and mushroom ragout.
Prime New York strip steak with foie gras butter.
Cowboy ribeye steak.
Dessert specials (most desserts here are specials.)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Reserve a banquette for a romantic evening, preferably close to the entrance, where live music with some first-class local talents is in play many evenings. Breakfast and brunch here are terrific.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu is ready for a round of creative invention–not something I say often in these times, but in this restaurant it’s essential.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +3
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Live music some nights
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Free valet parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
No major New Orleans restaurant showed a worse post-Katrina decline than the Windsor Court Grill Room. It was painful to watch, especially for the many of us Orleanians for whom the place has been the venue for major life events. (My wedding night, for example.)
But there is hope. The management team installed by the Orient-Express group (which has since sold the hotel) has a sense of what the restaurant was and needs to be again. Chef, Drew Dzejak has an interesting new approach, and his food has been very fine lately. But it’s time for the Grill Room to join in the onward culinary charge on the front lines, where it made its early impressions on people.