Having already enjoyed three days of eating with father's birthday troupe, I switch to a slightly cheaper hotel and await the arrival of two friends who will join me for part two of my gluttonous and glorious 3rd trip to New Orleans.
Monday Lunch, Cochon Butcher: Pretty bustly place with appealing and modestly priced meat-wares. We split two sandwiches (muffaletta and a bacon melt), some duck sliders (which turn out to be a 2nd grilled cheese), coleslaw (which never arrives) and a peanut butter and jam cookie (I think they called it a cookie, whatever they called it it turned out to be a soggy muffin but one which had a great peanut butter flavour). As others have noted, the muffaletta loses out because the olive salad just isn't as good as other versions. It's kind of hard to even figure out what they are going for, but as a basic first reaction, you have to ask why they would chop the olives so finely when part of the olive salad appeal is the meaty chunks of olive, right? The meats on the muffuletta were great, though, and so it still ends up being a very good sandwich. Both grilled cheeses are nicely done--and the homemade bacon is pretty special. We also had some headcheese, which is as smooth as I remember from the restaurant, but feels a little muted in flavour--it's pretty much just a meaty butter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Monday Dinner: Mimi's in the Marigny: We are astonished and disappointed in ourselves to find that we are still full all day from lunch. Tapas in a dive-y bar sounds like just the ticket for non-committal eating. Wow! low expectations might play a part, but I am blown away by Mimi's (having previously thought that going for spanish food in NO seemed like a bit of a waste of time.) We have patatas bravas, a braised pork with dried fruit, and three "trust me" dishes (off menu dishes which might be hot or cold) which include a cold roast beef with aioli and habanero jam, garlic shrimps, and...oh man I feel bad but I don't think I'll remember the last one. Everything was very good, a bit rustic, but the ingredients (especially the shrimp) were very good quality.
Tuesday, Lunch: Emeril's: Great service, though one of my party felt our server was a little green--it didn't bother me...but he did seem to not know what a macchiato was...and in any case never brought the requested one. Food was a little hit or miss. The much praised bbq shrimp were amazing--an absolutely delicious sauce and some of the most perfectly cooked shrimp I've had. The tasso and smoked mushroom angel hair was very good too---but there is something totally strange about eating pasta with bacon cream sauce and angel hair in 2011. Gumbo was pretty decent, but no Cochon. My porkchop was sadly overcooked---what a horrible fate to befall such a beautiful and THICK piece of meat. My friends had the andouille crusted redfish (good), and a malfatti dish called macaroni and cheese involving shrimp (this one really suffered from cream sauce blandness). For dessert we split a scoop of mint julep ice cream (excellent fresh mint flavour) and the famous banana cream pie (maybe this was yesterday's pie, the cream had become a bit too solid and indelicate, though the flavours were good). The general consensus was that we ate a few really good things, but that there was a real similarity of flavours and that a few missteps had occured in the later part of the meal (which can really bring things down). I forgot to mention the bread service, which was very tasty (potato, sweet potato, and corn bread) but all of the breads had an odd mushy texture, which you usually associate with industrial supermarket rolls. The place is lovely--in a 90's BIG restaurant kind of way--and the service is generally of a polished and gracious variety (as has been frequently noted). It seems a pretty tight ship at the old Emeril factory--which makes it more of a shame when things don't go quite right.
Tuesday, Dinner: Coop's: Again...full all afternoon from Emeril's (we are really starting to doubt our eating stamina...about which many outlandish claims have been made in the past)...someone suggests coop's because of the bar atmosphere--it doesn't feel like you are committing to a restaurant experience. My last two meals at Coop's have both been around midnight, as it was one of the few well-regarded places to eat after getting off a late flight. The jambalaya both times has been baby-food mushy, but the flavours have been fine. I really was pretty sure that it was just bar food. Now I understand why Coop's has such strong defenders. Tonight the jambalaya is much firmer (not al dente, but not mush) and the flavour even seems brighter. We also split a fried shrimp po-boy, and some lamb ribs with pepper jelly. We agree that the deep-fry job on the shrimp is excellent...I feel like it's nearly as good as the shrimp I had on a po-boy at Parkway two trips ago. The bun is not great, so we ignore it...but we've got a mountain of great shrimp. One friend doesn't love the lamb ribs (too fatty), but I think they are just right...though a little lukewarm. So...not a perfect meal, but the jambalaya was a real winner--and the place is really fun and has great seasoned bar staff.
Wednesday: I wake up earlier than my friends, feeling the effects of the previous night's revelry quite acutely. As an act of heroic generosity, I decide to lift myself up and make the trek to mother's (not far since we are at the intercon) and return with some black ham biscuits, and coffees. I've enjoyed mother's biscuits before, but a breakfast experiment resulted in some of the worst eggs I've ever had--and the famous debris was both watery and dry (a miracle!). Again, low expectations and better decision-making are my keys to success. The fact that they have a bloody-mary machine is just serendipitous icing on my hangover cake. In line I start thinking jambalaya (after last night's triumph) and a guy who works for the Picayune, behind me, tells his dining partner that Jambalaya is a respectable option here--which is confirmation enough for me. Jambalaya ends up being delicious, with a very flavourful sausage, but it might be more that it is the restorative properties of rice and sweetish tomato sauce that really make this such fine dish for me at this moment--the bloody mary/jambalya pairing turns out to be a fine one as well. So...maybe mother's is a safe bet for biscuits and jambalaya? Even the debris looked and smelled good today.
Wednesday 2nd lunch: A muffeletta from Central Grocery: My friends love this and insist on having it. I think it's good--how could meat, cheese, olives, and an absorbent bun not be good? But I don't dream about it or anything. Very nice to eat one in Jackson Square in nice weather, though.
Wednesday dinner: Brigtsen's: Here's the one I'm really gonna mess up on...unless I check the menu to figure out exactly what we ate. Three drinks at Cure beforehand turns out to probably have been too many----BUT...the bartenders are so charming (explaining their strange bitters and offering tastings of odd bottles) and the drinks so good, that it seemed a worse sacrifice at the time not to continue.
Brigtsen's is a more charming restaurant than you would expect, even if you have been told many times that it is a very charming restaurant. The servers do a perfectly balanced rendition of southern hospitality and big city professionalism. The food is old-fashioned, even quaint...but there is serious technique there, too---evident in things like a butternut squash and shrimp bisque which had absorbed more shrimp flavour than I would have thought possible--or a crawfish cornbread (a concept which I am still not quite sure I understand), that appeared as part of the seafood platter, and which sent one of my companions into "BEST MEAL OF MY LIFE" hysterics. Everything we had was good--though the sweetbreads could have been a little less cooked and it was all very rich. We could only imagine eating a single dessert...the pecan pie, which was a model of its kind. I remember especially the crispness of the pie's surface, as if the sugar had been caramelized.
Thursday: We get up and head to the FQ Camellia Grill, for a bit of sustenance before the festival. I order a cheeseburger and am presented with kind of loosely packed, perfectly browned, well proportioned burger that enthusiasts seem to favour these days. Much better than I could have hoped for--especially in a second location. Fries are diner standard, and my friends' eggs seem competent but less transcendent than the burger. I wish I'd had a slice of pecan pie.
Thursday at the fest: We eat some very good jambalaya--of the more cajun, less tomato-y variety. We try a piece of fish in a pecan meuniere--which is the first of the more elegant jazzfest dishes that works for me. What else? What else? Oh yeah...I have a shrimp bun from a Vietnamese place, which I feel is the best bun I have ever had--though maybe Vietnamese food in Toronto just isn't that good. Obviously the quality of the shrimp is going to be high. A cochon de lait po boy is ordered, and it pleases its owner greatly, I have another bite and can confirm for myself that I think it is delicious...but not more delicious than you would expect it to be.
I'll be back!
930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA 70130
626 S Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118
800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130
723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118
930 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130