New Orleans, LA – Pelican Club Review

(From our archives) I had some out of town visitors the other day – eschewing my dining suggestions, they wanted to go to the Pelican Club, on Exchange Place in the Quarter. The owner chefs, Richard Hughes, and Chin Ling, despite having heritages that come from tenures at other fine dining establishments, carry fusion a bit into the too distant future, trying to combine Creole, Asian, Italian, and Southwestern flavors into dishes that end up being a ‘combinaison malpropre’ or, to put it simply: a mess.

Once again you will find my opinion at odds with Tom Fitzmorris, and the Times-Picayune, but that’s fine with me, I tend to disagree with most everything both of them say – on dining or any other issue.

The restaurant is a study in contrasts – the front bar, where you enter, is dark and wooded, intimate; the dining rooms are brightly lit, marble-floored, with local art decorating the walls.

One of our party suggested in advance it seemed “Key-Westish,” but I didn’t get that at all. Perhaps the Creole flavor of some of the artwork inspired that thought.

If one had to choose a brief description, from the cuisines listed above, I’m guessing the restaurant would fall into the “Louisiana seafood-Asian” fusion category, though why chefs think they need to keep reinventing cuisines is beyond me. Some work, most don’t.

For example, there’s a clash of balance in the duck-shrimp spring roll appetizer; duck is a heavy flavor, and shrimp is easily influenced by the flavors that surround it. It’s served with sauces from a variety of Asian cultures, further complicating what should be subtle, into the overbearing category of tastes.

Escargot, with crawfish, mushroom duxelle, and tequila garlic butter sauce was another miss: a piece of snail nestled beside a crawfish tail, hidden under a broiled butter cap that tasted only of burned garlic, and nothing more.

In addition to some fairly standard fare (beef filet, jambalaya, a trio of duck entrees served in unison), Hughes and Chin depart from the ordinary at that point, and venture into the slightly bizarre. Soba noodles, a Japanese vegetarian (buckwheat) pasta usually served cold for breakfast or a snack, are offered stir-fried with vegetables, and optional shrimp. Seared yellowfin is offered over rice noodles with a teriyaki sauce. Pecan and coconut crusted tilapia (can a restaurant possibly serve a less expensive fish?) is plated with a mélange of Asian vegetables, fruit, new potatoes and a citrus beurre blanc. I challenge you to count up the number of cuisines attempted in that!

Italy and Louisiana collide in the Louisiana Cioppino Seafood and fish, served with linguine; with a tomato, basil and garlic sauce with Parmesan cheese.

Service was very good to excellent. My final “beef” about the place is the constant traffic to the washrooms, the entrances to which are located in the center of the main dining room, and, as the night grows on, because of the marble floors and relatively bare walls, the noise level can grow to deafening.

Still, being in Exchange Place, the restaurant has a bit of a “bistro” feel to it, and the lack of street traffic out of the front adds to that. I think it’d be great to eat at the bar (if they permit that) in the Spring and Fall, if the doors or windows are open.

But that’s probably a flashback to the time I lived in Paris, and one could lounge for hours as a sidewalk café.

Here, of course, that’s impossible. Our French-heritage city doesn’t allow sidewalk dining in the Quarter.

Go figure.

Pelican Club New Orleans

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