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A Commanding Holiday Dinner


Commander’s Palace’s Wine Room now open

Dan Davis, Commander's sommelier

You have a hands-free holiday option that didn’t exist a year ago: the Commander’s Palace Wine Room is now open for exclusive, lavish dinners.

Forget slaving over a steamy turkey during the holidays. In the Wine Room, Commander’s Executive Chef Tory McPhail and his team have put together a fierce custom dinner menu, with up to nine courses (“we ask diners to be adventurous,” McPhail says).

The setting is a functioning wine cellar—this is where more than 14,000 bottles are stored on their sides, so no music is allowed that might disrupt them —and the table is broad enough for 12 guests (and sturdy enough to hold a woman who danced on it one night).

The swell yet rustic vibe (picture a dinner at Balmoral) is a reminder that local food and good wine come from farmers “blessed with an amazing product,” says Dan Davis, Commander’s sommelier.

He’s the first person you’ll want to consult. “The cool thing about the Wine Room dinner is that it’s a reverse tasting,” Davis says. “Tory and his team write the menu to fit the wine.”

Taking basic elements of party planning off the table—no worries about running out of anything; no need to polish silver or set up flower arrangements—means that the focus is loftier. It’s all about flavors.

“The wine table is meant to be paired with full–throttle food,” says McPhail. “We match it with what you find at the bottom of the glass.”

For the Wine Room, he usually crafts courses outside the Commander’s menu (his biggest challenge was a comparative tasting, which ran up to three red wines in one course; he answered with veal cutlets topped with brie and house-made tasso, over fall vegetables in a truffled wine sauce).

You could, of course, leave it all in the hands of these capable experts. If you’d rather put your own elegant stamp on this party, relieved of any need to shop for groceries, consider these tips:

Invite only people who’ll come along for the culinary ride. Dinner in the Wine Room is meant to be a memorable, over-the-top event. While Chef Tory can create a second menu, I personally wouldn’t do anything more restrictive than having some vegetarian options.

To arrange or not to arrange? Are you trying to keep frenemies apart, or split up clingy couples? Then I’d use a seating chart. If this is a tight-knit group of friends, let them sit where they like.

Don’t search too hard for a theme. You’ve got a unique setting, expert service and a custom menu, so why not just focus on seasonal flavors? Chef Tory’s looking forward to choupique caviar season in December (he folds ghost pepper-touched pearls into foods for seasoning and texture). Fans of the exotic can also expect to see venison, antelope, rabbit and escargot as Wine Room options. Angus beef, apples, pumpkins and Gulf oysters (at their meaty saltiest) are also great bets.

Ask for a sample menu. Unlike your home parties, where it’s smarter to make only one or two showstopper courses, a Wine Room dinner invites an all-out effort. One recent dinner kicked off with crab, quail eggs and champagne. Later courses featured seafood and duck (glazed with Muscadine grapes), and a beef tenderloin stuffed with foie gras. And dessert—white chocolate and absinthe whipped into a soufflé—is proof that even spirits are welcome at a wine party.

Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Ave., (504) 899.8221

Griddle Seared Gulf Fish
Courtesy of Tory McPhail and Commander’s Palace

3 lemons, juiced
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup browned butter, warmed
Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1 gallon water
1 cup Crab Boil spice (such as Zatarain’s)
4 6-ounce portions Gulf fish (light, white and flaky, such as redfish, trout or black drum)
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ear of corn, kernels removed from cob
4 ounces mushrooms, quartered
1 stalk of celery, bias-cut
1/2 yellow onion, julienned
1/2 medium sweet potato, raw, peeled and cut into batons
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled with roots removed and roughly chopped
3/4 cup micro sprouts
1/2 lemon, juiced

In a blender or mixing bowl, combine lemon juice and eggs together. Blend on high until eggs become yellow, thick and foamy. Gently pour in warm brown butter until an emulsion is formed. The sauce should be thick and shiny (thin it out with water as needed). Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the water and Crab Boil spice in a large pot and bring to a boil. Place a large, heavy bottom skillet on the stove over medium heat and heat for 3 minutes. Season the fish on each side with the Creole seasoning. Swirl the oil in the pan to coat evenly. Place the fish in the pan with the bone side down and cook for 3 minutes per side until done, reserve.

While the fish is cooking, place the vegetables into the Crab Boil-spiced water and cook for 4 minutes. When cooked, pour the vegetables through a colander to strain. Reserve the vegetables in a bowl to keep warm.

To serve, combine the cooked vegetables with 2 ounces brown butter vinaigrette and toss to coat. Place vegetables in the middle of four entrée plates. Place fish on top of vegetables, then drizzle the remainder of the sauce around each fish.

Place the sprouts in a mixing bowl. Combine the sprouts with juice from the 1/2 lemon, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss well to coat. Top the fish with the seasoned micro sprouts and serve at once.

Serves 4