Eight years later, here's a potential reply. Its what I get for searching "The Atrium" in Google.
I worked at The Atrium around '93. I had been managing restaurants just before getting a serving job there, and was shocked to find out that there was no manager at The Atrium. Betsy, the owner, hired me - partially because of my management experience. But she never asked me anything related to management once I started.
I worked there for a few months - say, October through January. I made a ton of money - more than $100 per night, which was pretty solid for that time. The staff was all veteran, experienced servers - and that was a good thing.
Because the owners pretty much counted on the place running itself. There was no computerized order or payment system. It would have been pretty easy to scam, except the kitchen was barely holding it together. Good luck if they messed up one of your orders, because getting something re-made or fixed was an ordeal if not impossible.
This might sound like a lot of other restaurants, but I am telling you that the place was unorganized and barely logical in its function. Around the holidays, they added more tables to the dining room. The kitchen honestly couldn't handle a typical Saturday night BEFORE the extra tables! Guests waited at least an hour for their entrees. Furthermore, this was a place that used "cart service." The added tables made it impossible to get your cart through the dining room. The carts were how the kitchen kept track of the order of the tickets. So as food came up, the carts all bottle-necked as you tried to leave the kitchen to get your food out to the guests. As the kitched tried to accelerate their operation, Beef Wellingtons would go out under cooked and anything with pasta was soft and sticky. Many items on the menu were sort of goof-proof (prime rib, simple steaks and chops, chicken breast with sauce), but still took forever to get out of the kitchen.
Last point. There was a separate menu for the staff to order from every day. Burgers, rubens, and believe it or not - liver with bacon & onions. I actually liked liver and ordered this a couple of times. Until I got one that wasn't cooked all the way through. I'm not sure if they had undercooked it or if it had gone bad... After this, I think I only ate the soups and side salads.
I was honestly surprised by how long they stayed open. I know that they were trying to make a go of it as a banquet hall for while. But the truth is that Betsy and her brother (cannot remember his name, but I know he thought of himself as a chef - an insult to real chefs...he didn't cook) were running a relic and either didn't know how to update the operation, or didn't want to invest in systems that could keep the place relevant.
Thank you, janybird. So many of the responses here seem to miss the point. My wife and kids have gone to Ribfest for the past 3 or 4 years because it is a great time for the children. Sure, its called Ribfest, and there are ribs to be purchased. But anyone who expects to attend a festival with the goal of drawing thousands of people really should not expect exceptional food... I've had some decent ribs at Ribfest, but considering the cooking conditions, the quantity that have to be prepared and the general fest attendee - quality is not going to be the primary concern.
If you've got young kids (< 12), they are going to have a great time at Ribfest. They usually have a petting zoo, an arts/craft tent, inflatable jumping attractions, toys, fire engines, clowns, etc... If you don't have kids, and don't like crowds, and are concerned about overpaying for mass-produced county fair-type food, why would you even consider attending such an event? Looking forward to the fireworks tomorrow. Naperville consistently has a nice show.
I've been neglegent, and have not reported back on my trip to NO a couple of weeks ago. Stella! came strongly recommended by the kind participants here, and it was the first place we ate at.
Your description of the service and tables is spot on. My wife and I were offered a table right at the door - the hostess told us it would be cooler than some other tables. Apparently I had worked up a little perspiration on the walk from the hotel. Still, we requested a different table, and were seated at a nice, central table.
I found the service to be a little sterile, but remarkably efficient and well coordinated. We noticed that whenever a table received a course, everyone at the table was served at the same time. This is something that is so rare, I've become quite used to someone sitting without their order. This may seem minor, but it illustrates the extensive attention to detail that was present in the service.
We were offered a tasting menu that would have run us just under $100 per person. The cost didn't turn us away. Rather, there was a lamb course, and my wife has never enjoyed lamb. Despite our suspicions that the lamb at Stella! would have been exceptional, we decided to simply order from the menu.
My wife had a risotto appetizer that had lobster and truffles. She was very impressed, stating that it may have been the best thing she has ever eaten. I had the Iron Chef Chili Prawns, which were very good. I expected them to be hotter, but have to say that the spice level seemed very intentional and controlled.
We ordered salads that were fairly ordinary, but were larger than we expected. For entrees, my wife had a scallops dish that was very good. I had the Walu - a Hawaiian fish that I'd never tasted before. It was very meaty, rich and buttery. It was one of the finest pieces of fish I've ever had.
For dessert, we split what was called a peanut butter parfait. Very misleading name, but I wouldn't know what better to call it. There was a cylindrical serving of a peanut butter mousse/nougat that sat in a pool of rosewater with strawberries. There was a cookie "arch" that made a remarkable presentation. The flavor of this dessert was not far from a peanut butter and jelly candy.
One other detail worth noting - our server recommended a glass of wine to me after taking our order (no idea what it was... sorry). When I tasted it before the appetizers were served, I thought it was a very typical chardonnay, maybe a bit lemon sour. But when the food was served, the wine was a remarkable complement to both the shrimp and the Walu. It truly complemented the meal, and the server knew that this would be the case.
We enjoyed Stella! and our only regret was that it should have been the LAST meal we had. While we didn't have a bad meal, the standard was set too high right off the bat.
Thank you all. Not only for your response here, but for your excellent advice and comments on this board. I am sure we will have a wonderful time, and I'll express my gratitude in advance.
I'll be visiting N.O. for the first time in early June, and will be there less than 60 hours. My wife and I are coming to eat, eat and eat and then go home. Previous posts helped me narrow my choices, but I'm going to ask for a little more assistance.
We'll arrive late Wednesday afternoon, and we'll grab dinner that night. We leave early Friday evening, and may be able to grab an early dinner (4:00 or so).
I'm planning on having beignets at Cafe Du Monde one morning and brunch at Marigny Brasserie on the other.
Lunch may be guided by how we choose to spend our days, but I'd like to hit Cochon and Commander's Palace. Somewhere in these posts, someone recommended lunch at Commanders, saying it was a good value.
Dinner is where I need help. I've narrowed the choices to (1) Brigtsen's, (2) Stella!, (3) Bayona, and (4) Adolfo's. Of course there were many other considerations, but these seemed to be the consensus favorites. I may not even be able to get reservations at these (if they even take reservations...), but we'll see.
Please let me know if I am planning appropriately, and how I might plan more appropriately.