[All Images by Emily Hingle]

There's Nothing Common About Commons Club

10:06 June 05, 2024
By: Emily Hingle

Restaurants nestled in hotels may not get the credit they deserve in the New Orleans culinary scene. They may not have the prestige of being a century old or may mostly cater to the resident guests, but hotel restaurants possibly contain some of the best food you've eaten in this city. That's certainly the case with Commons Club, based in the hip Virgin Hotels in the CBD.

In late 2023, Chef Chris Borges was appointed to the executive chef position, and he quickly set out recreating the menu into something that will thrill visitors and impress even the most discerning locals. Walk through the lobby and the Funny Library (say hi to the Bunny Man), past the swanky bar and lounge area, and you'll find your seat in one of the cozy dining rooms: the long hall for natural lighting, the small quasi-private room for a larger party, or the open-kitchen room to watch all the action while dining in comfort.

It's hard to pin Chef Borges' menu down to any one culinary style. Spaghetti & Meatballs is a homey favorite, BBQ Shrimp is a New Orleans classic, and Blackened Rack of Lamb is a continental delight. Chef Borges is native to Louisiana, and he spent much of his career in San Francisco's cuisine before coming back to his roots here. He said in an interview, "As a chef of a hotel restaurant, my goal is to appeal to both travelers, as well as locals who are looking to try new versions of classic dishes. The New Orleans influences you'll find on the menu are what I consider a contemporary take on traditional classics. You won't see jambalaya, seafood gumbo, or étouffée, but you will see my take on dirty rice, pasta and red gravy, gumbo z'herbes, and panéed veal." This is an excellent summation of Commons Club under his leadership.

The first thing you'll notice about the menu is that there are more starter options than mains. Perhaps that because it was designed to intrigue guests to get several starters at their table and enjoy them family style, encouraging long, fun meals with your loved ones.

The Momenpop Blood Orange Spritz sounded like a good way to slip into dinner as it has a lot of flavor with a lower alcohol content. The fruity, not sugary, fizzy drink paired so well with the variety of starters that arrived after first sip. Those BBQ Shrimp are too classic to pass up, but these aren't your grandpa's barbecued shrimp, either. The big, head-on shrimp are swimming in a pool of tongue-coating brown butter and tangy fermented garlic. A crunch comes from a hefty dusting of lemon bottarga breadcrumbs in their mid-sections.

The veggie-forward appetizer Tempura Fried Asparagus still had just enough additions to make it feel decadent. The thick spears had a slight crust for a little crispiness, but the main flavor was provided by the whipped Green Goddess ricotta that you lap up with your spear for a fresh, yet indulgent, bite.

I cannot say enough about the Nettle Toast. This dish is incredible and unlike anything else I've had before. The crunchy grilled bread is a perfect platter for the gooey burrata cheese. The whiteness of the burrata is almost completely coated in a fine dust of morel mushrooms, pine nuts, and fennel pollen. The combination of crunch, cream, and earth is phenomenal.

The Neutral Ground cocktail seemed appropriate to welcome in the main courses as it is a stout, yet floral drink of Hendrick's Gin, St. Germain, Aperol, and a twist of lemon. The complex flavors of the cocktail easily mingled with the complex flavors of the Wild Mushrooms dish. This is a thick emerald-colored gumbo z'herbes that clings to the spoon, studded with juicy bites of mushroom that are just as chewy as meat. The intense herbaceous flavor really coats the tongue. The puffed rice bits not only add a satisfying crunch, but they are somewhat nostalgic (if you were a fan of Snap, Crackle, and Pop as a kid).

The Pork Ossu Bucco is a literal tower of tasty pleasure. The scaling pork sits erect in the middle of farro verde infused with mint chimichurri. But this tower so quickly tumbles as the osso bucco is so tender that it glides off the bone with the slightest touch of the fork. The savory bites of meat are balanced by the fresh and cooked greens and fresh pop of mint. Again, herbaceous and earthy are words that come to mind here.

A nice, light dessert is the perfect palate cleanser to a memorable meal (though you may want those flavors to linger). The Pavlova is a surprising and curious treat. A white puff arrives festooned in fresh berries. What looks like a plop of soft-serve ice cream drizzled in caramelized honey is actually a crisp confection that shatters open upon being pierced. The confection practically dissolves in the mouth right away leaving sweetness that mingles with the fresh berries in a fascinating way.

Commons Club at Virgin Hotel may be a traveler's delight, but it's a local's dream.

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