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Nawlins trip debriefing (long)


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Nawlins trip debriefing (long)

andy huse | Oct 7, 2002 12:44 PM

First off, we were delighted with our accommodations. Do yourself a favor, if you go to NO, don’t waste your money on a hotel. The bed and breakfast scene is very cool. We had our own place, living room/bedroom, kitchen and large porch/balcony. The gays in the area run very nice B & B’s, and I almost prefer gay owners because at least I know they won’t be uptight. Lovely courtyard with Jacuzzi, clothing “optional.”

Our first great find was a little place around the corner. I always like to walk around before I unpack, and I found a place called Schiro’s. I say “place” because it really is so many things: grocery, liquor store, bar, restaurant, sundry, Laundromat. They perform all of their roles admirably. The groceries are great, with imported cheese, good ice cream, etc. They stock plenty of juice and soda to mix with the liquors you buy. The nice little bar area serves great food as well. The gumbo brimmed with seafood, we ate and some of the best fried shrimp we’d ever eaten—so good we ate something like five orders before we left a week later.

Out of extreme hunger on our first night, we went to Remoulade. It is right on Bourbon and a bit touristy. Abita Amber lagers refreshed us, but I never got the badly needed water I asked for. Food was solid but not inspiring. They serve the gumbo in a big bowl, but barely half an inch deep over rice. The Shrimp Remoulade was good and spicy, but nothing better than what we regularly have at home. The shrimp po boy arrived and once again was decent, but not special. We got the bill and left just as the long drive (and recent drinks) caught up with us. We got drinks to go (mint julep and hurricane) at Pat O’Brien’s—I really like their drinks.

Caught a great Klezmer band on Frenchman St., marching band style. I think they were the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. Sadly, I was out of energy and cash—not a good combination in the Big Easy.

We took in lunch at Mr. B’s the next day, and it is one of my favorite memories. I always come here for lunch—dinner is expensive. A kind of place where you can dress anyway you like, but the waiters still wear their tuxedos and treat you with respect. We tried both of their gumbos—the seafood and Ya-Ya. I cannot make this clear enough: go to Mr. B’s and order the Gumbo Ya-Ya. It is a heady, rich and smoky delight, abounding with andouille sausage and chicken. The seafood gumbo is good as well, but with but a fraction of the flavor of the Ya-Ya. The fresh bread was appreciated. A dish called the Crawfish Andy was excellent: the firm edges of potato cubes giving way to the creamy taste of butter, sweet peas, green onion, and crawfish tails. Best of all, their drink special that day (Friday) was $1.50 Bloody Mary, a delight with such a lunch. Strongly recommended. The server forgot my girlfriend’s salad, but we were nonetheless satisfied.

We hit Port of Call for their touted mushroom burger that night. Two recommendations. One: go for lunch, it is crowded at night, especially Friday. Two: don’t get there too hungry, because they can’t rush burgers (and business) this big. Good tall drinks (order a double), simple bar, and a very simple menu: four kinds of burger, four kinds of steak and a variety of pizza, all accompanied by big baked potatoes with typical toppings. We had the huge mounds of beef, mushrooms and shredded cheddar cheese that they serve on a bun and call a hamburger. Reminded me of mom’s: a huge, semi-spherical slab of good ground beef grilled exactly to order. Very good, not NOLA, but a universally good burger.

We had a great lunch at Tujaque’s just when we were about to snap with hunger the next rainy day. Bread and a little crab and spinach bisque salvaged us from hunger panic. Pickled salad was interesting, and good for pickle lovers. I ordered their wonderful brisket as an entree—I had previously had it as an app. The hot horseradish sauce shot right into the back in my nose in a heady rush. New potatoes and sautéed zucchini rounded out my meal. My girlfriend had a catfish dish that was ridiculously small for $17.50. Boy, was I glad I got the brisket. The bread pudding was small as well, but was good. We both left satisfied out into the cold, rainy afternoon.

Knowing that a parade would march by our balcony that night, we invested in two highly anticipated sandwiches: Central Grocery’s muffaletta and Fiorella’s shrimp po boy. The parade was the first of the Mardi Gras season (late January), and is most irreverent of them all. Floats included giant genitalia, sexual acts and “lick the habit,” which included a nun and, uh, sexual acts. 2002’s theme was anti-corporate: they want to resist incursions into the quarter from the likes of Wal Mart and Pizza Hut. Accordingly, the “Pizza Slut” sat atop her own float, passing out cards and tossing pizza boxes with sexual instructions and crude diagrams. This is what happens when a Catholic city matures.

We had a great breakfast at Olde Nawlins Cookery during our last visit and we wanted to repeat the experience. Unfortunately, we would leave disappointed. The $6 breakfast had gone up to $7, which was fine; but the quality went from $10 to $4. One hungry couple ordered three breakfasts: the Pain Panou (Creole French Toast), the eggs and bacon and the biscuits and gravy. The last two dishes we had before and wanted to eat again. The biscuits and gravy were smaller than last time, and the ham in the gravy lent a very slightly skanky flavor. The eggs and bacon were BLAH—last time the bacon was an excellent black smoky variety, this time Waffle House could bested them. The Pain Panou was what must have been an entire French Loaf cut lengthwise, deep fried, and served with vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon and lots of powdered sugar, none of the milk or egg that make French toast so satisfying in the first place.

We found a nice dark pub on St. Ann (?) called the Morgue, complete with tombstones, inscribed stone faces and a certificate of death. Conversation and jukebox were very good with a decided Irish accent. Good draft beer.

Had a solid dinner at the Gumbo Shop that evening. The grilled boudin sausage—soft and flavorful—was a highlight, served with spicy Creole mustard. My girlfriend’s Crawfish Pasta with tasso cream sauce was good but not great, a little bland and dry. My combo plate was very good: decent Shrimp Creole (I make it better), good red beans and rice, and an excellent jambalaya.

Bayona was a great treat on a sunny afternoon for a solo lunch. A simple dignified interior does not intimidate a casual diner in shorts and a short sleeve shirt like myself (it was hot outside!). I was in a bit of a daze from a few screwdrivers (and more) and was famished, so I would not hold back. I started off with two soups, as they are always the sign of a cook’s skills. The turnip green and black-eyed pea soup was a hearty but fine affair, with an earthy, mild, and rustic taste. The garlic soup, which I had to try to satisfy my true love of garlic, was a bit disappointing. It was a dull roux-like soup/gravy that tasted of burnt garlic and flour. A little salt may have helped, but it could not have covered up the bitter garlic aftertaste. The two breads provided were excellent, the best on the trip.

After the soups, my server brought me the vaunted duck sandwich. Hounds would always mention the sandwich, but never tried to describe it. To neglect so would be to invite diners to miss this excellent creation. First, take duck meat smoked to moist perfection. Top it with a sweet glaze of onions (caramelized? grilled?), cashew butter (like coarse peanut butter) and jalapeno pepper jelly, all of which melt together and mix as the sandwich is grilled. The bold onion, sweet/hot pepper jelly and smooth-tasting cashew butter enhance and embrace the smoky duck flavor. The hearty wheat bread, with prominent grill marks and studded with sunflower seeds, brings out the smoke flavor further. Finally, the garnish of thinly sliced apple and leafy celery (root? hearts?) salad in a light, tart vinaigrette was wonderful. It counterbalanced the heavy flavors of the sandwich perfectly with sharp and cool overtones, and throws the entire taste of the sandwich into a new perspective.

I sat sighing, licking my lips and alternating between bites of the sandwich and nibbles of the cool garnish. I watched the sunlight filter through the slats of the shutters, the indistinct sliding shapes of passers-by. Before leaving, I inquired about the ingredients of the dishes and acquired reservations for the next day—my girlfriend had to try the sandwich that she thought she wouldn’t like. For only $9, everyone should try it. In all, lunch for one cost $21. So what? A perfect bargain—even after the tip.

Dinner at Schiro’s, the neighborhood grocery/liquor store/tavern/restaurant/sundry, was very good to us. For very reasonable prices, we had a gumbo rich with crab and a good (and rich) roast beef po boy with brown gravy. Shrimp with waffle fries blew us away—the best fried shrimp we’d ever had! It was so excellent, we ate the shrimp almost every day thereafter.

Our lunch at Bayona the next day was excellent. Girlfriend thought she was underdressed, but the servers made us at home. Drinks are quite expensive. A thin (in size and taste) Sazerac cost some $9. A glass of nice Alsatian wine was $7, very pleasant.
The grilled shrimp with black bean cake dazzles with contrasts. The large grilled shrimp arrived glazed in an excellent sauce: sweet, buttery garlic with a pronounced grilled flavor. The smooth, rich black bean cake served as a hearty anchor to the sharper flavors in the shrimp, with the added benefits of sour cream. The appetizer portion was very small in addition to being well-prepared, and we felt blessed for even haven tasted it.

The duck sandwich delivered, and we both enjoyed, although it was a bit rich for her tastes. The pork loin arrived stuffed with a puree of wild mushrooms and rosemary, a strong counterpoint to the mild and savory pork. The sweet potato risotto was one of the highlights of the meal, an incredible creamy portion, subtle and intriguing.

We had a long day in the quarter and ended up eating a Central Grocery muffaletta and Schiro’s excellent fried shrimp for dinner in our room. With copious beer and cocktails—divine!

Café au lait and beignets held us over for our longest walking commute to Uglesich’s. Crossed the French quarter by streetcar and walked clear through the CBD, past the interstate into a strange neighborhood. We walked past dozens of fine restaurants to try the Chowhound fave in NOLA.

Uglesich’s was packed, so we perused the menu at the counter, under the scrutiny of an old man with small pad. We shortly attained outdoor seats and relaxed.
As an appetizer, we ordered the firecracker shrimp in a spicy Creole mustard sauce—very tasty but quite sparse for $8. The fried green tomatoes fulfilled our high expectations, battered with corn, crispy and not too greasy, with a mustard-heavy Remoulade sauce, all crowned with a small shrimp. Shrimp Uggie was overpriced at $14, and was a good but bland blend of oil, shrimp, onions, oil, peppers, potatoes and oil did I mention oil?). Rich, greasy, savory and a bit too salty, but good eating nonetheless. Potato crab cakes were much better—delicate onion, crab and potato cakes fried to perfection. Sauce proved to be unnecessary. Even their good slaw was topped with shrimp—light on the mayo, slices of red bell pepper. The walk made us very hungry. We destroyed the food as soon as they brought it.

We spent our last night in NOLA munching on several orders of Schiro’s shrimp. We had a few cocktails before catching the wonderful Soul Rebels marching band at the Matador. Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers guided us gently into that good night, until we stumbled home to sleep and drive back to our regular lives.

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