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Keeping the good times rolling at the Rib Room

The Rib Room in New Orleans epitomizes the evolution in dining from waiters-wearing-a-tux to delicious approachability. The good times and good food are rolling at this revitalized restaurant.

Several years ago I lived in the New Orleans area. The rap on the Rib Room was its stuffy men’s club atmosphere where city business got done. But after Katrina, recent renovations and a new restaurant team, the Rib Room is a poster child for cultural and culinary change.

In the 1960s the Rib Room was a restaurant for men only. They dressed in suits, ordered meat and imbibed liberally for hours. Now you can dine on table snacks, a two course meal or a prix fixe and fine beverages still flow. The freshened décor is still majestic but brighter than I recalled from previous peeks into the New Orleans icon.

At a recent Rib Room dinner, I almost quit after the table snacks section. Imagine, whiskey-soaked lamb ribs and southern fried chicken skins with charred onion dip Oh, my, those crispy skins were out-of-this-world, forget- your-cholesterol-count, good. I moved on to a Creole-style, peppery turtle soup and small portion of BBQ shrimp, some of the best renditions I’ve tasted.

I briefly considered stopping there, but couldn’t deny the lure of prime rib, rotisserie, house cut steaks, other mains and the phalanx of appealing sauces and sides. The filet was fork soft and the sides of jazzed up cauliflower purée and Creole cream cheese grits was most satisfying.

The table snacks menu had telegraphed a menu working to stay current on what guests’ cravings. But the mains page confirmed that Chef Michael Gottlieb and Food and Beverage Director Krystof Kucewicz are busy making changes.

“Chef and I looked at everything to renovate the menu. Each cooking techniques, each presentation, the sauces, menu descriptions, everything was challenged. On the lunch menu we tweaked our pork offering until we settled on the “Cochon”: Slow roasted pork belly, loin and shoulder,” said Kucewicz.

The prime rib remains a staple available from the King Cut to the Princess Cut. But the team upped the seafood offerings with day boat fish specials and pan-seared scallops. In lieu of continental style seared duck breast and confit leg, Gottlieb menued the popular panéed duck paillards with braised greens, Creole mustard butter and a sunny side duck egg.

The sauces received attention. Truffled ketchup is a new favorite. Horseradish crème fraîche and Worcestershire glaze are also popular along with Creole Bordelaise and Béarnaise. Sides were livened up with shaved Brussels sprouts with crispy pork belly and Rib Room potatoes featured deep-fried red skins with Parmesan. But the loaded potatoes, jumbo asparagus with Béarnaise and creamed spinach are still available.

Kucewicz also upped the seasonality of the menu. “When soft shells are in season, they are daily specials. In the summer, we go crazy with peaches, tomatoes and crawfish.”

Another asset to the Rib Room is the lounge at the restaurant’s entrance and the Touché Bar around the corner. The Touché Bar harkens to the classic age of New Orleans drinking establishments before mixologists and a thousand artisanal liqueurs lined the shelf. Here locals and tourists alike mingle to chat and catch up with each other. Bartender Donna Seyer will gladly fix any drink you may conjure up with her moderately extensive liquor list.

The cocktail list is also highly seasonal and themed to local events. For the big Tales of the Cocktail bash in July, Kucewicz partnered with Cruz Tequila and Tres Agaves Tequila to create new cocktails including the popular “Cruz-Cucumber Margarita” and “Blueberry Basil Margarita.” He also updated the beverage marketing initiatives with a 50% discount on all bottles of wine up to $150 value from Sunday through Thursday.

As a martini maven, I had always wanted to try the Rib Room Washbucket Martini. Back in the “Mad Men” days, the Washbucket Martini used to be served tableside from a cart with a huge portion of vodka or gin and the accouterments—for $2. The Washbucket is served at the table on Fridays with the same price tag.

The Rib Room is a place where servers tend to stay a long time. They know the regulars and read the business guests and tourists well. Hugo Valdez heard me say, “I’d love a very dirty gin martini after a very long day of travel,” and I sensed he knew how to make my day.

As Valdez delivered the washbucket-sized cocktail with a beaker of gin, two shot glasses, one with  olive sticks and another with brimming with olive juice, he said, “Okay, here’s your vitamins (the olives), and here’s the dirt (olive juice).”

That’s my kind of welcome to the table. The generosity of portions and the hearty mix of heritage and on-trend food made the evening most memorable. Up to and including the red velvet cake with cream cheese mousse. Next visit, I’m inviting a male friend to share the famous King prime rib cut and eating the brown sugar bread pudding on my own. After all, every day is a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans.

Rib Room beaker of gin for dirty martini

Rib Room and Bar

Photo Credit: Deborah Grossman 

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