(From our archives) Proving once again that, as in most categories, reviewers don’t know shit from shinola, Tom Fitzmorris gave the Upperline “Four Stars;” the Times-Picayune lauded it with “Four Beans;” it has received the Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence,’ and Frommer’s called it “Best Contemporary Creole” in the city.
What a load of hooey.
Ensconced in an old house halfway between the Garden District and Uptown, the Upperline has been catering to New Orleans hoity-toitys (and wannabes) for the past couple of decades.
Extensively decorated inside and out by the works of New Orleans artist Walter LaBorde, the art on the walls at least provides a distraction from the uneven service and the culinary disasters being placed in front of you.
Chef Kenneth Smith was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and attended Delgado’s Culinary program, and it shows. One can only assume that the balance of his education came from watching Food Network shows on Nouveau California cuisine, where he learned “smaller is better.”
The days of diners paying extra money for less are over, Mr. Smith. Didn’t you get the memo? A thimbleful of one more version of Turtle Soup isn’t something to rest your reputation on. One of our party wasn’t even sure if that was any particular variety of terrapin (in the smidgen of protein that was in the thimble) ……..but may have been seasoned bovine, instead.
The $7.00 caesar salad was an ordinary iceberg wedge, a smidgen of dressing, and a single anchovy decorating the plate.
Smith’s version of cassoulet, certainly not a “Creole dish” to begin with, was comprised of a very large plate, with a piece of duck, 12 white beans (yes, I counted), and a single razor thin slice of an absolutely inferior piece of andouille. I’ve had canned versions that are significantly better, on more than one occasion.
Fresh gulf fish was drum (of course), which has replaced the over fished “redfish” as the poisson of choice at New Orleans restaurants. I give credit to the waiter for at least admitting that – many places don’t. Served either grilled or meuniere, it’s not only not spectacular, it’s just sautéed fish.
Like most other aspects of life in New Orleans, the most boisterous fans (and promoters) of a dining experience like this, are those that haven’t been exposed to the outside world. New Orleans society embraces it, because they know nothing different.
I was pleased to see Stilton as a dessert choice, not many places in New Orleans offer a post meal cheese selection; when I was served it, however, I understood their enthusiasm for this wonderful English cheese as a menu addition – the Upperline’s ROI on the less than a teaspoon serving of cheese, accompanied by a half dozen roasted pecans, had to have been several thousand percent, based on a normal Stilton price of $10-$12 a pound (ordered from England, even!)
Other desserts include “the best pecan pie in town” (even the cello wrapped ones at Circle K are better in my opinion), and “Burgundy Pear Sorbet,” which is heavy on pear, and non-existent in the Burgundy department.
The table bread was a non-event, as was the butter, which was heavy in cream content, but light on flavor. The restaurant’s tap water has a peculiar undertaste, is served without ice, and water alternatives were not volunteered by the wait staff.
Service was moderately attentive, considering the crowd (at least on Friday nites, the restaurant insists on you eating on THEIR schedule, not YOURS, and has two seatings).
Easily a $300 tab for four, the Upperline disappoints at every turn. Southern Living Magazine says “If you can eat at only one fine restaurant in New Orleans, make it the Upperline.”
I think not.