333 Saint Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70130
While chef John Besh's nearby flagship restaurant August is refined, formal and contemporary, Lüke is more rustic, more casual and more of a tribute to Old World style. The cuisine's cultural starting point is Alsace, the border region between France and Germany, and it mixes traditional dishes from both nations with plenty of local Louisiana influence, especially with seafood.
Lüke has a masculine feel with dark wood paneling, brass rails, dish towel napkins and an imposing bar. The décor is a clear tribute to the Germanic eatery Kolb's (a downtown fixture that has long since closed) right down to details like its belt-driven ceiling fans. Lunch is typically busy with a well-dressed CBD crowd and it can get quite loud. Dinner is more sedate. Lüke is upscale, but it's also the kind of place where you could order a burger and a glass of beer for dinner and feel right at home. The restaurant is in a hotel, but feels like its own world.
Clad in neat, long waiter coats, the staff here give an air of practiced formality mixed with relaxed modern sensibilities. Most have a good knowledge of the uncommon menu choices as well. But dishes tend to get mixed up en route from the kitchen to the table. The server who takes your order isn't always the same person who brings it out, and it's common to see dishes hovering in holding patterns as staffers try to figure out what goes where.
First courses go heavily toward charcuterie, like pates, rilletes, hogshead cheese and foie gras. Some of these are rich enough to plaster the palate with pork fat, like the off-putting pied de cochon, or de-boned pigs feet made into little fried cakes. A better choice is the hearty flamenküche, a traditional onion tart made on a crisp crust and covered with tangy, stretchy cheese and smoky bacon chunks. Salads, naturally, are lighter, like the excellent, though dainty, crabmeat maison.
There's a raw bar, and it goes way beyond local oysters. You can really pile it on for a towering, very expensive "le plateau de fruits de mer" combination of imported seafood, but the most of these components can be ordered separately for a much more modest starter.
The theme of heavy, hearty dishes continues with the entrees, and so does Lüke's unique, attractive presentations. Entrees often arrive in copper pots, on cutting boards or in cast iron skillets, like redfish court bouillon with a mix of good-looking local seafood, or the shrimp and grits in a thick, peppery roux-like sauce with plenty of bacon. The choucroûte is like a big study of mixed pork, with fatty pork belly, bratwurst, pork knuckles and roasted pork piled over sauerkraut and new potatoes. There isn't much cover for anyone looking for a light entrée, and the dishes tend to be as salty as they are rich. But if you're going for it, the fries are worth the extra indulgence as a side dish add-on.
The crème brulee is made with duck eggs, and what a difference that makes. It has a sticky, thick texture that makes the dish powerfully rich, but still smooth as butter. The crusty bread pudding with butter pecan sauce is first rate, and the Black Forest pot de crème is a more sophisticated spin on chocolate cake, with brandied cherries and chantilly cream.
The menu opens with a long list of suggested cocktails, mostly from the old school text of Sazeracs and French 75's. Beer suits much of the hearty food well, and Lüke serves three custom-made brews.
Most of the dinner entrees are under $20. Appetizers tend to be more expensive than normal, however, so watch those if you're trying to keep the overall bill low. The "express menus" at lunch and dinner are good values, with a two-course lunch for $15 and a three-course dinner for $23.
This is a lively, attractive restaurant of old school traditions. It's heavy and manly, maybe too much so for some people. But if you're interested in big, hearty flavors rather than culinary invention, this is a unique and rewarding spot.