My last few days in New Orleans are a blur, partly because I'm tired and wiped out after a turbulent flight home, and partly because the last several days involved leading large groups to restaurants. It's fun to eat with large groups, but it puts a strain on many places.
We had a fabulous lunch at Bayona. Some of the great dishes: the delicate sweetbreads appetizer; the smoked duck, almond butter and pepper jelly sandwich (don't let the description scare you -- the almond butter is used sparingly and judiciously, and the sauteed onions are at least as prominent -- this is a fabulous, sloppy sandwich); and the lamb loin. Didn't have time for dessert, much to our consternation.
Uglesich's. Went back two more times, and our discovery this time were the fried mirlikins (chayote) topped with a superb etouffeish crab sauce, with little hunks of crab (ordinarily, crawfish sauce is used). This dish provides the perfect counterpoint to the fried green tomatoes. The mirlikis are sweet and rich; the tomatoes tart and hot.
The raw oysters at Uglesich's are the best I encountered anywhere in New Orleans and at $6 a dozen, a bargain (these are among the best huge oysters I've eaten anywhere at any price). And of course the atmosphere can't be beat.
Lowlights: Was disappointed in the "Vietnamese Creole" Lemon Grass, located in the sleek International House Hotel. The entrance walls are lined with glowing review after glowing review, but the food was blah, and the Vietnamese influence was, to say the least, minor. This is really an American restaurant (and not Creole in any way that I could see) with a few miscellaneous Asian influences. And it is very expensive. Service was poor, but this was one of the dinners for 10.
Not a crushing disaster, but the food at Casamento's wa
wasn't as good as previous visits. Not the raw oysters or the frying (the fried oysters and fried trout were the strongest -- the fried shrimp and fried crabs were drab). In fact, the french fries were perhaps the best food we ate (gumbo and oyster stew are not triumphs). The atmosphere and service can't be beat, but I don't think it was worth a detour from the Quarter just to go there.
One constant problem in the Quarter is the short window for eating at most restaurants. Most restaurants are open only from 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. for dinner. About the only good restaurants that serve straight through from lunch to dinner are Galatoire's and the Redfish Grill. Since we had to eat at an obnoxiously early hour, and had eaten at Galatoire's the night before, we tried Redfish Grill, yet another Brennan offshoot located between Iberville and Canal on Bourbon St. It's a spacious place with friendly service, and is not better than its cousin, Mr. B's in any way. But it IS open between 3:00 and 5:30. The alligator entree is terrific, though, and everything is edible.
Due to different exigencies, I didn't get to eat a po' boy at either Domilise's or Mother's, so we settled for Johnny's, where I had a Johnny's Special, sort of a Ferdi's Special Lite. Neither the roast beef nor the ham were as good as Mother's, but then pan drippings are pan drippings. It tasted great. My friend's crawfish po' boy wasn't too tasty, although she wasn't complaining. And the huge bread pudding was mediocre, although that seemed to disappear, too.
Two final comments. First, you can no longer plan on waltzing into your favorite restaurants with impunity in New Orleans. Although we were not there during any major convention, the lines at popular restaurants were long, and reservations at the upscale places scarce.
Second, I think restaurateurs everywhere could take lessons from the the primo spots in New Orleans. I know of no other town where the waiters and owners provide such hospitality with enthusiasm and eccentricity without the slightest tinge of fawning or condescension. Doesn't matter if it is Uglesich's or Bayona, Casamento's or Galatoire's, Mother's or Mr. B's, Cafe du Monde or Acme Oyster House -- you will not only have the opporunity to eat wonderful food, but to spend time in congenial settings with other people who adore food.