The staff and kitchen crew at Restaurant August could easily phone in the effort and coast on the rakish good looks and intensifying celebrity of mega-chef/owner John Besh. Peddle enough foie gras and truffles in a luxe environment, and most diners will walk away fattened and feeling special for eating in the chef/author/Food Network star’s flagship restaurant. It wouldn’t be the first time celebrity trumped substance in New Orleans.
Fortunately, this is far from the case with August. A meal here is an extravagance and it is one of a kind in fine dining in New Orleans. Besh isn’t in the kitchen, but chef de cuisine Michael Gulotta is a gifted successor who isn’t idling on the boss’ fame. Inside the renovated French-Creole building, which dates back to the 1800s, twinkling chandeliers and gleaming wood brighten the brocade-draped dining rooms. Front of the house staff manages to pull off high caliber service with military precision, but gracefully so – without the kind of awkward fine dining formality that can spoil a great meal.
And fine it is. The opening bite – like the savory trifle of seafood sabayon, fish fumet and bowfin caviar delivered in an eggshell – winds up being more than just an amuse bouche. It’s an omen of the meal ahead. There’s showmanship, but it’s not all bells and whistles. Delicacy balances the razor-sharp technical skill. The kitchen’s reverence for ingredients shines in the smallest details, from bijou, carved heirloom beets in a baby greens salad to punchy, fascinating ghost pepper caviar lounging on oysters in a velvety cauliflower soup. Technically crafted ingredients grace every plate, and offer the kind of sensual flavor combinations that make you close your eyes while you chew; the candied kumquats and slivers of fennel with the bourbon/citrus cured foie gras; the shaved Jerusalem artichoke feathering the nest of an exploding egg yolk ravioli.
The degustation and tasting menus offer 6- and 4-course feasts tied to seasonal whims and peak farmer’s market goods. The carefully chosen wine pairings for both menus are suggested, but if you’re at all into wine, consider it mandatory.
Some complain that dishes can be fussy, with too many components competing for attention, and lapses do happen, like the “crispy” shrimp tempura that turns soggy in bisque, or sweet braised red cabbage that needs more bite when served with duck glazed in a reduction with sweet, caramelized notes. Closer than average scrutiny is one of the natural burdens a celebrity chef restaurant has to shoulder. At August, you’ll need a microscope to find flaw.
Chef John Besh's Restaurant August delivers a fine dining experience that lives up to its name in a beautifully appointed building in the Central Business District.