by Ian McNulty
You’ll be seeing more reveillon menus offered at New Orleans restaurants this holiday season, with a record 47 participating in the annual holiday tradition, which officially begins Dec. 1. You might also notice a more contemporary flair across these menus this year too.
The term reveillon is derived from the French word for awakening and this was the name early New Orleans Catholic families gave to the elaborate meal they ate at home after mass on Christmas Eve. Reveillon dinners grew increasingly scarce as American Christmas traditions took hold and by the middle of the last century they were all but extinct.
But in the late 1990s, the French Quarter Festivals Inc. organization invoked the reveillon tradition for a new restaurant promotion, transforming it into multi-course, prix fixe meals served throughout December.
In the past, organizers recommended that participating restaurants feature traditional Creole dishes on their reveillon menus, but Georgia Rhody, a manger at French Quarter Festivals Inc., says this year the group encouraged chefs to let more contemporary cuisine hold sway.
That helps explain dishes like foie gras beignets on the reveillon menu at Palace Café (four courses, $55), oyster and tasso tourtiere (a Quebecoise meat pie) at Martinique (five courses, $58), lobster, scallops and shrimp with pork belly at the Pelican Club (five courses, $56) or chestnut-crusted sweetbreads and veal at Commander’s Palace (five courses, $85).
As in the past, these reveillon menus do tend to feature hearty, wintery dishes, with plenty of lamb and duck entrees, plus a few holiday themed dishes, notably desserts involving eggnog — see eggnog crème brulee at 5Fifty5 (five courses, $45) and at Brigtsen’s (four courses, $48). And if you’re after bûche de Noël, a highly traditional French and Creole dessert, check out the menu at Criollo (five courses, $75), the new restaurant inside the Hotel Monteleone. Meanwhile, at Broussard’s Restaurant (four courses, $48), the theme is Bavarian food, in line with the German heritage of owners’ Gunter and Evelyn Preuss.
The restaurants run the range from the very new, like Restaurant R’evolution (five courses, $95) and SoBou (four courses, $48), both marking their first holiday season, to the very old, including Antoine’s (four courses, $49) and Tujague’s (four courses, $40).
More than half the restaurants this year have menus at or below $50. Of course keep in mind that tax, tip and whatever you drink are all extra, though in some cases a glass of wine or aperitif is included — or, in the case of Crescent City Brewhouse (four courses, $45), a beer.
Also new this year is a weekday series of cooking demonstrations held in the French Market, where chefs will prepare and serve samples of a dish from their reveillon menus. These demos are held each Tuesday through Friday through Dec. 21 beginning at 2 p.m. on the Market Fare Stage.
See all the reveillon menus and details here.