The Brennan family, owners of Commander's Palace, another jackets-no-jeans redoubt, has opened Red Fish Grill, which doesn't require jackets but still bans tank tops and serves such casual fare as barbecued alligator legs and a shrimp and bacon club sandwich.
In part, the consistency is because so many New Orleans restaurants have been run by the same families for decades. Galatoire's has been in the same family since 1905. The Brennan family, which arrived in 1947 to found Brennan's on Royal Street, later Commander's Palace in the Garden District, now has eight, third-generation cousins running eight restaurants here, including Dickie Brennan's Steak House, the Palace Café, BACCO and Mr. B's Bistro.
It's not that a determined dieter can't get a low-calorie meal in New Orleans. Even at Arnaud's, Casmarian's wife and co-owner, Jane, took 30 points off her cholesterol level recently by dining on poached fish and grilled veggies from the menu.
But it would take a discipline that would seem rare among the New Orleanians or the tourists who, after all, come for the Reubenesque cuisine. One can picture any serious threat of change being met by some culinary George Wallace striding onto the steps of, say, Commander's Palace and proclaiming: "Bearnaise today, Bearnaise tomorrow, Bearnaise forever!"
They say even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had to stand in line at Galatoire's. They say U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnson, waiting in line, was summoned inside by President Ronald Reagan to answer a question -- then returned dutifully to his place in the queue. Tradition has ruled at Galatoire's ever since Jean Galatoire came from the French Pyrenees in 1905 to found the restaurant.
"We've been pretty much the same ever since," says David Gooch, grandson of the nephew of the founder.
Formal diners love the jackets-after-5 p.m. rule, and the locals take it even further, arriving in the Southern summer uniform of seersucker suit, white shirt and bow tie. They love its history, remembering that Tennessee Williams set a scene here from Streetcar Named Desire, in which Stella brings Blanche to avoid Stanley's poker game.
It's a noisy place when the food crowd arrives in full cry -- a single, large room lined with noise-bouncing mirrors, wallpaper covered with green fleurs-de-lys and white wood trim. The cuisine is French, but a New Orleans version.
"We've always had some light dishes; grilled fish and the like," says Gooch. "But we still have the same Bearnaise sauce."
Appetizers include Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters en Brochette at $8, but also a spicy, very New Orleans-style Shrimp Remoulade at $8.50. The Cold Smoked Soft Shell Crab with Choron Sauce is an intensely flavorful, chewy portion of crab with a smoky Bearnaise sauce with a spicy infusion of tomato.
Entrees include the Pompano Meuniere Amandine at $21, Crawfish Etouffée at $17; the Filet de Boeuf is big and tender, with a Roasted Shallot Demi-Glace with Wilted Spinach. A specialty of the house is its Potato Soufflé, an unusual dish, hazardous to the cook, in which potatoes are sliced thin, dropped into 350-degree oil, then moved into another pot with 450-degree oil and shaken vigorously. The result: They puff up like giant, crisp snow pea pods, to be served with a spicy sauce.
The even more traditional dessert: Crepes Suzette, fork-tender pancakes topped with Cointreau and intensely tangy orange zest, at $5.