By Kristine Froeba, Mid-City Messenger
New Orleans’ luxuriously decadent feast, le Réveillon, is traditionally served on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Now it has expanded to include the entire month of December.
As with much of New Orleans traditions, le Réveillon descends from the French Catholics of the colonial New Orleans period under France’s rule. There were once two Réveillons: le Réveillon de Noël, enjoyed before sunrise on Christmas Day, and le Réveillon du premier de l’an’s, enjoyed early on New Year’s Day.
After Creole families strolled home from Midnight Mass or “la Messe de Minuit” at the St. Louis Cathedral, the solemnity of Advent religious observance and fasting ended with le Réveillon.
The term “Réveillon” comes from the French word for waking or awakening, “réveil” — because one had to stay awake long into the early morning to participate in the luxurious hours-long feast of food and wine.
The original feast was more of a drawn-out breakfast of egg dishes, raisin breads, fruit cakes, wine, strong coffee and “daube glacé,” a richly spiced and carefully prepared jellied meat that held prominence on the Creole table. With a nod to history, Restaurant August prepares a truffled scrambled egg dish course as part of its Réveillon menu.
Le Réveillon and its meaning drifted away amid the Americanization of Christmas and the loosening of Catholic rules on abstinence. The tradition was lost until 1988, when le Réveillon was revived as a marketing gambit to fill French Quarter restaurant tables during one of the slowest months of the year.
This holiday season, dozens of Mid-City, Uptown, Warehouse District and French Quarter restaurants are again participating in Le Réveillon. The menus are prix fixe with four, and sometimes five, courses. Many restaurants provide one or two choices per course. Wine pairings may be offered but are usually extra.
Modern Réveillon menus are served during regular dinner hours — there is no need to stay awake after midnight to participate.
Several restaurants in and around Mid-City have created Réveillon menus.
In Faubourg St. John, Café Degas’ four courses include a Boston lettuce salad, a roasted duck breast with sweet potato gratin and an entrée of almond-crusted frog-leg remoulade with apple chutney. The meal finishes with a Belle Hélène, a poached spiced pear topped with chocolate ganache, vanilla ice cream and toasted almonds. A three-glass wine pairing is available.
Café Degas is serving its Réveillon menu during dinner service through Dec. 30, including on Christmas Eve.
Addis Nola on South Broad near Tulane Avenue has created an Ethiopian version of a Réveillon menu. The meal starts with a lentil sambusa, a hand pie with a flaky crust and Ethiopian spices, followed by bayenetu, a veggie platter. The entrée is Mat Mimitu shrimp with a honey wine pairing. A bread pudding ends the meal.
Ralph’s on the Park has a straight-forward four-course menu: turtle soup, crab-encrusted fish with crab-fried rice and crab velouté, a grilled filet with roasted vegetables and foie gras demiglace, ending with a slice of bourbon-chocolate pecan pie.