If you live under a rock (aka, don’t watch TV food shows or read the news), you may not know Chef John Besh, the one-time shooting star of TV food shows and now fallen star of the New Orleans restaurant scene. August, the fine-dining flagship restaurant of the culinary empire Besh started and has since left, remains a marvel of Frenchified Creole and Cajun creativity. Helmed by Todd Pulsinelli and an attentive front-of-house staff, there is the rare mishit here, when a boundary-pushing dish goes one ingredient beyond the limit, or an ordinary dish reaching for extraordinary doesn’t get there (an overcomplicated pappardelle Bolognese on one occasion). But on the whole your experience will be decorous, cultured, stunningly plated, expensive—and memorable.
These are masters of foie gras. It’s unfailingly off the charts, done “Three Ways” or in any incarnation. As well, salads are invariably perfectly composed standouts. Softly lush gnocchi done with sweet blue crab and slabs of earthy truffles melt on the palate. The signature breaded trout Pontchartrain, in its envelope of paper-thin white bread (!), with shrimp, crab, and local mushrooms, is a fine plate of Gulf goodness. Slowly roasted lamb spiked with Andouille produces an orchestra of earthy, rich flavor. A Wagyu hangar steak is about as perfect in temperature, texture, and taste as could be wished for. At the other extreme, the vegetarian tasting menu, including buttermilk-laced spring pea soup and squash blossoms stuffed with a smoked eggplant puree, enticed an entrenched carnivore to gustatory ecstasy.
The sweets are slightly urbane yet playful. The deconstructed banana pudding has a following; we’re more taken with a summery pineapple soufflé. Service is utterly professional and unhurried; tables are well-spaced in the sedate main dining room, where chandeliers glint off the tall windows; the warm, wood-paneled wine room with the clever overhead cellar is slightly less formal. If the prices are off-putting (don’t expect serving sizes to justify them), the Friday prix-fixe lunch, three courses at $26 makes August indisputably doable. Alternately, if the degustation is doable for you, do it.