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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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I See No Seafood

Thursday, June 17, 2010 @ 01:06 PM

008Summer is in full force and it’s hard to believe we are already half way through June. I have a feeling this one is going to fly by.  I have been a crazy person attempting to get settled in our new home. Between the home projects and figuring out my new career path, it’s hard to sometimes think about the other joys in life…like great food. That is why I love it when the time of the week comes around when I get to touch base with you loyal PCC fans and put out good reviews and possibly even feature places you will want to visit on your summer travels.

So, although I am well aware that seafood is available year round, I typically tend to start craving this area of cuisine in the summer time…and I know I’m not alone here.  I think there is something so fresh and light about a wonderful seafood dish that just seems just like summer.  Or, it could be that the dishes I crave (my mom’s dripping in buttery goodness peal n’ eat shrimp) are really ones that don’t require a fuss to prepare and you can just sit back and enjoy the weather and each other’s company.

Now I know many people are angered over the oil spill in the Gulf and the havoc it is wreaking on the wildlife there, and to be honest…I don’t blame you. However, in an effort to shed some light on that area, this week I’m once again highlighting one of our favorite cities and one of its more famous restaurants…New Orleans and the king of oysters in the Big Easy…Drago’s.

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant has been a Louisiana staple as far as seafood is concerned since 1969.  That is was when Drago and Klara Cvitanovich set out to provide good seafood and a fun atmosphere for all their guests. Little did they know then that it would gain the notoriety it has today.  It was at their original location in the “Fat City” section of New Orleans (Metairie, LA) where they invented a dish that would forever write the seafood history books…the ever so delicious dish of chargrilled oysters.  Now many of you may remember me mentioning this dish before when Adam and I first tried them at the Acme Oyster House on our first visit to New Orleans.  You also may remember that we were not overly fond of Acme, however, the chargrilled oysters were the lone highlight. They were absolutely delicious! So after talking to many friends of ours who are New Orleans natives and learning that Drago’s was in fact the originator of this dish, we knew this was a place we had to check out; and we couldn’t wait (especially Adam) to have them at the place that invented the dish.

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On this particular trip to New Orleans we were traveling with our good friends Garrett and Audra. Garrett is a New Orleans native and a great source for what to do and see in the city. He mentioned having been to original Drago’s Metairie location years back and really enjoying it, and that they had recently opened up a new location downtown near the French Quarter, where we were staying.  So, being our first night in the Big Easy, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it.

The downtown/French Quarter location is located in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which was a little bit of a walk from our hotel, but we didn’t mind after being in the car all day.  However, I did not consider what that could mean “being located inside the Hilton.”  Sadly, it was exactly how it might sound. Instead of being an attached restaurant set apart from the lobby of the hotel, it was literally the whole bottom dining room floor of the hotel, complete with spectacular views of guest rooms, hotel shops and beautiful lobby (sarcasm…drip…drip ;)).  This would not have been so bad, except it looked exactly like any other hotel dining room, even down to the table linens and place settings which were branded as ‘Hilton.’  I guess we were just disappointed because it just didn’t seem very authentic.

Still, one aspect that was extremely unique and I am sure comparable to the original location was their chargrill oyster bar.  Let’s just say it was a charbroiling…smoke and flames galore!

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Yes my friends…those flames are literally the oysters!  They just char those babies until they are buttery and uber-crispy; and seeing as Adam enjoyed that dish so much at Acme, he knew he wanted to try the original creation, so an order for a dozen chargrilled oysters was put into the bar.  I, on the other hand, ordered something more up my alley after perusing a pretty impressive menu… ravioli, which were fried and covered in a creamy crawfish sauce…right up my vacation alley; and being that lobster is another dish they can charbroil and specialize in, Garrett went in that direction (with a starter of chargrilled oysters, of course :)). Lastly, Audra ordered their crab cake.

Now, before our meal came, we were presented with what seemed to be some yummy French bread.  Sadly, we were mistaken.:( Although it was French bread, it was super dry and stale…not a very appetizing way to start off the meal.  Also, to start Adam ordered a cup of their shrimp chowder and my meal came with a house salad, which sadly was just some lettuce tossed on a plate with some dressing…nothing to write home about or even worth photographing.  Adam had the same review of his soup. He enjoyed it, but was kinda disappointed by the lack of shrimp. I think he found 2 in the entire cup that ended up being not much more than a simple bowl of cream soup, not what you would hope from a famous seafood joint.

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So after a lackluster start to the meal, we were very excited and hungry when they presented us with our meals.

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I mean…they look pretty darn tasty don’t they?  Unfortunately, look and taste are two very different things.  My ravioli, although good, were not all that exciting in flavor…pretty bland.  The crawfish sauce barely had any crawfish to speak of and the cream sauce lacked flavor itself.  The fried ravioli were typical or many appetizers of that nature, and the portion, although I did not finish it all, was not worth the almost $20 price tag.

Perhaps the saddest part was the reason we went to Drago’s…the oysters. Adam was not impressed in the least…his high hopes definitely not fulfilled. For this place being the birthplace of chargrilled oysters, it left him very disappointed.  According to him, they were so charred that it was hard to tell if they had any taste at all. All he could taste was butter and charcoal; and to use his words, “You might as well have served me a plate full of charcoal briquettes!”  I tried two of them and considered them to be fairly tasty as far as oysters go…but again, still not my favorite; and for being the originator of the dish, I am not sure I see how they gained the notoriety.  That being said…I guess we still managed to enjoy our time with one another.

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I think what was most disappointing about our trip to Drago’s was that I will always wonder if the experience would have been better if we had been able to visit the original.  There is something to be said about taking a concept that has worked for years and then expanding it to too large of a scale due to popularity.  I think given different circumstance we may have enjoyed our meal better.  Also, it didn’t help that not 24 hours later, Adam came down with a flu-like bug that kept him in bed for much of the remainder of the trip, which so far we have only been able to equate to the two meals prior to his getting sick, this being one of them.  Although it may have not been the direct culprit of his illness and consequent miserable time this trip, you can be sure we won’t be jumping in line to try those Drago’s oysters again anytime soon! 😉

SIGNATURE DISH: As the creators of the first chargrilled oyster, I would say it is definitely their signature.  However, they are also well known in the area for Lobster, and it is one of their signature dishes and restaurant mascot. In fact, one whole page of their menu is practically devoted to just their oysters and lobsters. I would say they make it pretty clear what they want you to order, but not sure if it would make a difference in my case. 🙂

TASTE: This was probably what Adam and I were disappointed with the most.  Maybe it was the high hopes we had, but had I gone to any other seafood restaurant, I would expect that all their seafood dishes would be flavorful, especially if “SEAFOOD” is in the name. Unfortunately, what I got was neither flavorful nor tasty.  As I said, it was not inedible. It simply lacked flavor or excitement.  As for the famous chargrilled oysters…Adam could not get over how “chargrilled” they were and I would agree that if there is no flavor outside of the char…what’s the point?

AMBIANCE: I hate to be “Debbie Downer,” but this was another area where we were very disappointed.  I understand wanting to have a bigger location to cater to more patrons in the tourist section of New Orleans, but at least make it seem authentic or close to the original.  True…I have not been to the original, but based on what locals have told me, I can almost guarantee you it ain’t no high fallutin’ hotel dining room complete with hotel branded china and linens!  That fact alone makes me wish I could have gone to the original instead.  In my view, a location has to fit the menu and occasion. I was expecting a normal backyard down home Louisiana shop and what I got was a staunch hotel setting.  It was void of color or character and just felt off.

PRICE: Their prices are a bit high in my opinion.  I know seafood typically is more expensive, but I am sorry…$18 for cheese filled fried pasta with a sauce that is lacking on the seafood, not cool!  And on top of that, it was not an overly large portion.  Had it been something you might see at any normal joint, I might not object so much, but let’s be real…it was an appetizer masquerading as an entrée for $20…and barely any crawfish!  Their other dishes (including the oysters), were also pretty pricey. It is clear that the name has driven up the cost and that is always a bit disappointing, especially when the cost does not equal the taste. In the end…not worth the cost.

SERVICE: This area of our dining experience I have to chalk up to the sheer size of the restaurant.  Taking up almost the entire base floor of the Hilton, each waitress seemed to have a large station to cover.  So although we were attended to within reasonable amounts of time, we were often left waiting a little longer than we would have like to; and for the prices we were paying and being the type of restaurant they are trying to be, I would say their service was not up to par.

I want to end with a little disclaimer to follow up that review.  There is a part of me that feels bad about panning them so much. I really would have liked to try the original, and feel in my gut that if we had only gone there, the experience would have been more “original,” quaint, enjoyable, and therefore an overall better experience.  That being said, we were unable to venture to that original location, so their sister restaurant will have to take the brunt of my review. So, apologies aside, and until I have the opportunity to try the original location to make up for this Drago’s experience, I accordingly give Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (Hilton New Orleans Riverside location) a meager 1 Little Piggy.

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