1940s Archive

Along the Boulevards

Originally Published May 1947

A recent brief stay in the storied precincts of New Orleans confirms the legend that this is still the source and fountainhead, in so far as the United States is concerned, of the easy, casual good life and that, of all the various communities celebrated for their public restaurants, New Orleans alone has survived the follies and fancied urgencies of wartime with something closely resembling a characteristic public cuisine. Good eating and drinking in the Louisiana metropolis, what is more, are not confined to restaurants in the grand manner, although, more than in most other communities, these justify their perennial celebrity. It is possible for the stand-up luncher in the oyster bars of St. Charles Avenue or across Canal Street in the Vieux Carré to satisfy himself for forty or fifty cents with fare which in, say, New York would be unobtainable save in formal restaurants and at approximately ten times the price.

This is the record even in the face of this department's long-considered opinion that San Francisco is the most splendid of all cities, and that its opportunities for the gratification of the senses, generally, are second to none. The fact must stand that the little Bohemian restaurants of the San Francisco of the Ambrose Bierce era had disappeared almost in their entirety before the wars, and that the military occupation of the town during the shooting completely removed the last vestigial trace of fine food and drink in the casual, personal-restaurant manner of the legend. Dining in the grand manner is still emphatically possible amidst the gilded and orchidaceous galleries of the incomparable Palace Hotel. The Palace's sand dabs, champagne cellars, and its great house dessert, petits cocurs à la crème flottants aux fraises, are still the wonder and glory of the West Coast, but the tradition of food and drink in less magnificent places has sadly declined. Indeed, at a recent Sunday morning breakfast at no less a premises than the long-established Cliff House, the management undertook to convince this department that the customer should pay for a bottle of admittedly flat and impotable champagne, and only the prompt arbitrament of an old-time waiter and his unhesitating rebuke of his own employer prevented what might have been a regrettable contretemps. When the management of a San Francisco restaurant of standing undertakes to refuse the replacement of corked wine, there is something very wrong indeed afoot.

But, to return to New Orleans, where managements such as that of Count Arnaud's Restaurant are reluctant to let their friends pay for even the best conditioned magnums of the finest of wines, the entire pattern of food and drink here seems to have escaped the high-pressure treatment of customers which has been achieved elsewhere in the United States as a result of inflation and easy money. The prices at Arnaud's have not advanced appreciably over those of two years ago, the service in his various apartments is the nearest thing to perfection south of Henri Soulé, and Arnaud's crayfish bisque is still, unhesitatingly and without exception, the most distinguished single culinary preparation in America. It ranks with the crème Waterbury at the Colony, steak Diane at Jack and Charlie's, the crêpes Louise at Ernie Byfield's Pump Room, and the little thin hot cakes with ham steak on the breakfast menu of Wild Bill Kruthy's diner on the City of San Francisco. Beyond this gustatory accolade, this department cannot venture.

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