#13 Among The 33 Best Seafood Eateries
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Muriel’s location is almost too good. It’s on Jackson Square, the center of New Orleans since its earliest days, a few feet from St. Louis Cathedral. With second-flood balconies overlooking the park and the river, there is no better place for an immersion in the New Orleans spirit. Indeed, at least one spirit haunts the hallways and staircases of Muriel’s antique building. A little voodoo here, a little bawdiness there, and distinctive Creole and Cajun cooking filling the atmosphere with its flavors and aromas. The place almost seems touristy, but it has a large local following that keeps the flavors right and the prices attractive. The emphasis is on seafood, prepared with virtually zero use of the deep-fryer.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
In an environment so distinctly Old New Orleans that it could be used as a movie set, Muriel’s rings all the Creole bells. But its kitchen turns out food that more resembles the work of a jazzy gourmet bistro with a native clientele, not the touristy fare you’d expect from an historic location like this. Even the prices seemed tuned to the local trade.
Chef Erik Veney is back in the kitchen here after a few years at the new-extinct (and formerly five-star) Stella! During his first tenure at Muriel’s, he created much of the menu still in place. In the interregnum, Chef Gus Martin–another Brennan-family hand–added a stronger Cajun accent to Muriel’s cooking. Gus has moved on but the result of the mixed influences Muriel’s has the best menu in its history, unambiguously imbued with the flavor of the town.
The New Orleans Muriel’s is the third and only surviving member of a small chain of mostly West Coast restaurants opened by a dot-com zillionaire. He brought in as partner Rick Gratia, an alumnus of the Brennan family restaurants and his own family’s West End seafood house. Muriel’s opened just before 9/11, but despite that struggle and the one after Katrina, Muriel’s was a hit from the beginning. Its building went up in the early 1800s, later to become famous as a pasta factory during the years when the French Quarter was really more Italian. For 25 years it was an outlet of the Chart House chain.
Muriel’s feels like an ancient restaurant. In fact, it’s a relative newcomer. Even lifetime Orleanians find the place authentic, particularly the upstairs rooms, illuminated almost entirely by real candles in the chandeliers. To get up there, you pass a table set with a meal and wine for the building’s resident ghost (ask), then climb stairs to the accompaniment of monastic music. A balcony wrapping around the restaurant upstairs adds further to a near-perfect old New Orleans environment.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Turtle soup au sherry
Louisiana strawberry salad, kale, arugula, black peppercorn, bacon
House salad, pomegranate vinaigrette, manchego cheese
Duck cassoulet salad, white bean puree, andouille
Pan roasted crab cake, wilted spinach, crispy capers
Duck ragout, foie gras, aioli, arugula, black currants, satsuma syrup
Crawfish and goat cheese crepes, Chardonnay cream sauce,
Fried green tomato stack, shrimp salad, tomato-bacon jam, remoulade
Shrimp risotto, chaurice sausage, roasted poblano butter sauce
Escargots, fennel, leeks, oyster mushrooms, bacon, garlic butter, in a vol-au-vent pastry shell
Seafood Bayoubaisse (shrimp, fish, crabmeat, fennel, tomato, veloute sauce)
Pecan-crusted baby drum, crawfish relish, lemon-butter sauce
Blackened redfish, tasso, corn maque choux, potato salad, grilled asparagus, Creole butter sauce
Wood grilled Gulf fish, wilted spinach and leeks, charred tomato vinaigrette
Dijon mustard encrusted salmon, orange beurre blanc
Roasted vegetable curry, flatbread, toasted cumin, Louisiana popcorn rice, cucumber raita
Baked chicken cassoulet, andouille, rosemary
Wood-grilled double-cut pork chop, sugar cane-apple glaze, pecans, sweet potatoes, greens
Smoked duck breast, poached pear, butternut squash, roasted
Three wood-grilled beef tournedos, arugula pistou, choron sauce, blackened shrimp toast
Chocolate and peanut butter dome, raspberry and chocolate sauces
Pecan pie, vanilla gelato and caramel sauce
House made sorbet sampler
Vanilla bean créme brûlée
Red velvet ice cream sandwich
Flourless chocolate cake, creme anglaise and raspberry coulis
Pain perdu bread pudding, candied pecans and rum sauce
FOR BEST RESULTS
Muriel’s runs many seasonal special menus celebrating the arrival of such things as blue crabs, crawfish, and Creole tomatoes. Even when none of that is on, the three-course table d’hote menu is always seasonal and a great value at $40. They also hold frequent wine dinners. Sunday brunch is one of the better ones. The house-label wine is unexpectedly excellent.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some members of the service staff–notably the people at the front door–have a less than perfect idea of what avid diners want from a restaurant, and aren’t having nearly enough fun in such a clearly enjoyable restaurant.
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 +2
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +3
- Balcony tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Good for children
- Free valet parking (ask when reserving)
- Reservations recommended