Cigar Aficionado

Commander's Palace, New Orleans

If you're a serious diner, you must make your way to New Orleans. And no visit to New Orleans is truly complete without a meal at Commander's Palace.

This Victorian Mansion has stood proudly in New Orleans' stately tree-lined Garden District for nearly 130 years, founded in 1880 by Emile Commander. In the 1970s, Ella, Dottie, Dick and John Brennan assumed command of the restaurant, redesigning rooms and expanding the outdoor setting and tweaking the American and Creole menu. Two of the world's best-known chefs have emerged from the kitchen, Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

Dinner at Commander's Palace is a hearty and somewhat formal affair. (Jackets are "preferred" at dinner.) One of the restaurant's specialties is turtle soup finished with sherry, a rich, hearty starter that is a challenge to find anywhere else. A good way to try it is in the three-soup sampler, allowing a small taste of not only that, but the daily gumbo and daily soup as well. If you think an oyster is perfect in raw form, you owe it to yourself to try the fried oysters, which are hedonistic, rich and perfect. Shrimp and Tasso Henican brings together fresh Louisiana Gulf shrimp, Crystal Hot Sauce, beurre blanc, pickled okra, hot pepper jelly and tasso, a smoked and spicy pork shoulder that's a familiar star on Cajun plates. The combination of spice and sweetness made them irresistible.

This is not a temple of delicate food. Entrees include the King of Seafood, a piece of local white fish smothered in crab. This is not a place for salad lovers.

Commander's Palace also is a fine place to indulge in libations, either a cocktail or a bottle of wine. (The restaurant holds the Best of Award of Excellence from our sister publication, Wine Spectator). Add cigars to that list. A generous outdoor seating area, including a half perimeter of covered tables for when the weather is unseemly, offers the ideal place to enjoy that bottle of dessert wine or a single-malt Scotch while puffing on a cigar.

"We're one of few restaurants in the city that have covered seating outdoors," said wine director Dan Davis, who enjoys a good cigar himself. We finished our marathon meal outside, with soufflé and an array of cigars paired with Scotches chosen from the many offerings on Commander's menu. Large, thick cigar ashtrays were procured by the excellent wait staff and the evening went on, thick smoke drifting upward and no one complaining at all.

Commander's Palace
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
(504) 899-8221

Lunch (M-F) 11:30 am - 2:00 pm
Dinner (Mon. through Sun.) 6:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Jazz Brunch (Saturday and Sunday)
Closed Christmas Day and Mardi Gras Day