There are a number of old New Orleans restaurants that genuinely deserve the label "institution." Among them is Tujague's, which first opened more than 150 years ago. Its Creole fare has been embraced as a symbol of the Crescent City's traditional cuisine.
Hence, scores of New Orleans natives and visitors alike hovered between apoplectic and disconsolate when, earlier this year, a real estate dispute put Tujague's at risk of becoming yet another tourist trap selling hot sauces, plastic beads and crass T-shirts. The dispute eventually was settled, renewing the restaurant's status as a French Quarter stalwart.
Current owner Mark Latter, son of former owner Steven Latter, has restored the restaurant's interior and updated the menu. With the hiring of chef Richard Bickford, formerly of SoBou and Commander's Palace, Tujague's kitchen embraces the restaurant's history and adds modern elements.
The newly remodeled Tujague's is handsomely refurbished but hasn't lost its distinctive character. Wood paneling has been removed and off-white walls are lined with display boxes filled with a decades-old collection of miniature liquor bottles. White tablecloths topped with butcher paper cover the tables, and the floor's classic octagonal tiles gleam.
The restaurant now offers an a la carte option in addition to its traditional five-course prix fixe meal. Starters include notable new additions to the menu as well as the standards. Spinach salad with fried Louisiana oysters, blue cheese, red onions, spicy pecans and warm bacon vinaigrette was an absolute delight, as was a spot-on Caesar salad with French bread croutons. Caesar salad should be a thing of beautiful simplicity, and this one is.
The five-course meal begins with Tujague's famed shrimp smothered in vivid red remoulade, which is every bit as delicious as in years past. A rich corn and crab bisque was a good soup course. Tujague's signature brisket, braised until fork-tender and paired with red Creole horseradish sauce, is famed for its eye-watering spice, but I didn't find the horseradish to be nearly as assertive as renditions in the past.
Entrees are mostly solid. Blackened redfish was flaky, flavorful and not too spicy and came with asparagus and mashed potatoes. A new dish of house-made gnocchi with Louisiana blue crab and wild mushrooms was a rich, creamy delight. A 14-ounce bone-in pork chop was juicy and had an excellent sear but it was on the salty side.
Ultimately, to have a meal in that dining room is to partake in the tastes of New Orleans history served up lovingly and with a smile. I hope history repeats itself on future visits.