It's easy to feel like you're onstage while dining at Tableau, especially if your table is in the main dining room near one of the windows. People coursing past the building en route to Jackson Square gaze in at you, at the server bringing plates of crabmeat and steaks, at the gleaming columns, iron chandeliers and sweeping staircase.
There's a lot to take in at Tableau, from the elegant lobby and picturesque courtyard to the marble-topped bar and open kitchen to the warren of private dining rooms and balconies on the upper two floors. For anyone familiar with this part of the French Quarter, it all represents a remarkable change. When restaurateur Dickie Brennan and his company opened Tableau in April, they reanimated a corner by Jackson Square that had been battened down behind shutters.
The restaurant Muriel's Jackson Square did a similar service for the square's downriver corner when it opened in 2001. But one big difference for Tableau, and the inspiration behind the restaurant, is its special relationship with Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.
The restaurant and the theater are different ventures that operate cooperatively. They share a common facade and courtyard but are in fact two separate buildings fused together.
"Think of it in thirds," says Steve Pettus, managing partner of the Dickie Brennan & Co. restaurant group. "The restaurant has a third, the theater has a third and we share a third — the lobby, the courtyard and the restrooms."
For the visitor, however, it all seems to flow together. During performances, theater patrons can avail themselves of both the main bar and a second bar upstairs reached directly from the theater's balcony seating area, adding a new social aspect to a night of theater. The restaurant offers group dining packages that include private dining rooms and then a stroll over to the show.
"We want every show sold out every night, and we can help with that goal," Pettus says.
Of course, Tableau needs to fill its own seats too. To do that, Brennan's company has built a restaurant that looks, functions and tastes as if one of the French Creole grandes dames had undergone a timely modernization.
Chef Ben Thibodeaux is a Lafayette native who was previously chef de cuisine at Dickie Brennan's restaurant Palace Cafe. His menu is rooted in old-school Creole tradition, with shrimp remoulade, fried eggplant sticks, turtle soup and egg dishes like eggs Sardou, served as dinner entrees. More contemporary dishes are always close at hand, including crab claws in truffle vinaigrette, a large rib-eye paired with roasted marrow and barbecue shrimp over goat cheese grits.
The restaurant design is classic French Quarter, richly imbued with detail and art, all cleverly wrapped around the necessities of a major modern restaurant. Staff members guide diners on tours of the interconnected upper rooms like docents at a museum.
Many of these rooms lead to the broad wraparound balcony with views of Jackson Square.