Well, we did it. We had an almost entirely food-and-drink focused visit to New Orleans and I think it was one of our best visits to date. The occasion of the fifth anniversary of our New Orleans wedding was the perfect opportunity to toast many cocktails and stroll slowly from venue to venue. I'll try not to write too lengthy a report but... well, you know how I get...
Over airplane bloody marys we realized that our arrival actually marked the fifth anniversary of the notorious Friday night dinner at Galatoire's which resulted in our engagement (if you just did a quick bit of math in your head you understand how spontaneous our wedding was!) and we laughed about how little we knew of the Galatoire's experience at the time. So we decided to scrap our usual trip-opener of lunch at Mr. B's and head straight to Galatoire's for a proper lunch. We were seated along the mirrored wall with Harold as our server. We started off with a couple of sazeracs (mysteriously filled with chipped ice, as is their style) and leaned back for a leisurely lunch. We eventually ordered a small version of the goute. The mustardy crawfish in the goute was spectacular and ran as a contender for best flavor of the trip. The remoulade and crabmeat were also both fantastic. For entrees we put ourselves in Harold's hands, my wife asking for his a fin fish with his prefered treatment and I for a shellfish dish. She got drum topped with crab meat and I crab sardou. Everything was perfectly cooked and luscious. The drum had a buttery lightness to it and the sardou, bathed in hollandaise and atop creamed spinach ("how Popeye would have liked it" according to Harold) was decadaent and delicious.
Even though we rarely order dessert, we keept seeing little key lime tarts topped with wiggly columns of chantilly wander by so we ordered one and split it. Perfectly tart with a kiss of sweetness. Our ideal dessert. We went through a few sazerac refills and lingered to chat with Harold for some time until we sensed that, as his last customers of the day, it was time to mosey. He was really sweet and gave my wife a kiss on the cheek. We've been back a couple of times since our calamitous first experience, but this was my favorite Galatoire's meal to date.
We never really settled on a dinner plan and had hoped to do a bar nibble crawl but the heat did a number on us and we ended up skipping dinner, using the early evening instead to while away some time at the Carousel Bar (another to-the-day five year location from the fateful engagement night.) We sipped Vieux Carres and watched the crowds swell and recede.
Friday in New Orleans for us means lunch at Commander's Palace. After some cafe au laits from Cafe Du Monde delivered bed-side by yours truly (who said I'm not a gentleman?) we got all gussied up and cabbed to the Garden District. Our tradition of riding the streetcar to lunch was on hold due to the heat, although I was promised a streetcar ride back downtown. For the first time, however, Commander's had lost our reservation! Not to fear, we were in no rush and had arrived early with the intention of hanging at the bar anyway. Bar chef Daniel hooked us up with a series of fabulous cocktails and, along with a chef on break, entertained us with restaurant gossip and chicanery. We love the pre-lunch bar experience at Commander's. We also inquired after some of our waiters from the past and found out where they work now, making a note of checking in with them when possible.
After our lengthy multi-cocktail bar time we made our way up to the garden room where we had a small table with a great view of all the action. We ordered more cocktails and a trio of appetizers: shrimp and tasso henican, turtle soup and white shrimp remoulade. The turtle soup was as good as ever and the remoulade had a delicate sweetness to it but the shrimp and tasso henican was a stand-out. It's boldly flavorful and recalled smokey bar-b-q and buffalo-style dishes. And in true Commander's style, just as we were wondering what "henican" means a server popped up out of nowhere and told us that it's the surname of a Brennan family lawyer. We marked it as another top-of-trip dish. The only thing I would have done differently is start with the remoulade, since it's more subtle and was a little trampled on by the bolder other dishes.
Our entrees were good but I think we made a mistake by ordering them at the same time as the apps. I think they cooled a touch while we lingered over the appetizers and weren't quite as notable as they'd have been otherwise. My wife had a jerked goat empanada and I had a duck dish. The entrees and the coctails were the stand outs this time. After the plates were cleared we ordered some aged scotch and sat back to enjoy the room.
After lunch we strolled up to the Columns Hotel for some pimm's cups to cool us down. I love hanging out here even though it's a little goofy. Eventually we caught the streetcar back to Canal st and did a little window shopping.
For dinner that night we had reservations at Root. But on the way to their Warehouuse District location we stopped at the Swizzle Stick Bar for drinks. The menu wasn't seasonal (it had cocktails "to warm you on a crisp day"... Not what we needed) and the drinks were inconsistent. My wife refilled her drink and what was clear as water one minute came back cloudy the next. Not sure what's going on there.
But we weren't worried because we had Root to look forward to. The last time we were in town we followed our Commander's lunch with dinner at Cochon and weren't impressed. This time we had hopes that Root would be a better bridge between the older style of New Orleans restaurant and the modern world. Luckily it was. We started with a truffle-scented chicken liver parfait served in a little jar and surrounded by beautiful little pickled things plus a little paint tube of blueberry mustard. I had been longingly perusing the entire charcuterie menu thinking we'd arrange a board full of stuff but the waiter suggested that just one item would probably make sense due to all the accoutrements and he was right. Among the various levels of sweetness and tartness, the rich parfait and the crisp flat bread this was a stellar start to the meal.
We also ordered the Louisiana pickled shrimp which are served alongside shrimp-stuffed devlied eggs. Another killer plate of plump, sweet shrimp and some of the best deviled eggs we've ever had.
Our entrees were a lesson in contrast: One was a contender for the best bite of the trip, the other took the dubious honor of least exciting. My wife ordered a Korean hot pot that suffered from a surprising lack of depth and an oddly dry texture. This was the only dish of the trip that neither of us was remotely excited about. However, my plate of roasted marrow bones accompanied by watermelon, "face" bacon jam, za'atar naan and a little pile of coarse sea salt was revelatory. The three fore-arm sized bones yielded the most unctuously rich marrow that, when spread on the naan and combined with the watermelon, bacon and salt yielded a shockingly jaw-tinglingly complex and mind-meltingly memorable flavor. If I'd known that the dish was so big we would have ordered more apps and split it as an entree. Sitting with a pile of bones to make Ed Gein jealous was an odd experience and after a day of such rich food by the end of the meal my wife said I had a "meat sheen." I will say that this dish kicked my ass but I'd gladly go back for more.
Saturday night we had dinner reservations for our anniversary (the anniversary was actually on Sunday) so we started out planning to skip lunch or just have a nibble. Then we decided that rather than SKIP lunch we'd actually EAT lunch! I think it was a good change of plans. We strolled out to Borgne for our first meal in a Besh restaurant. August's menu doesn't really appeal to us and the other places haven't seemed like the right stops but the Borgne's lunch menu looked great. Located in a non-descript hotel lobby fairly far from the central cultural areas Borgne does suffer a bit in atmosphere, although the space itself is cool with giant oyster shell-filled cages and a long, sleek bar. We started with a couple of apps, with my wife sticking to the spirit of our original plan and ordering a cooling yellow tomato gazpacho and me going my own way with delicious duck poppers, featuring bacon and jalapenos. The entrees were just as good: Continuing her quest to stay light my wife had a beautiful creole and heirloom tomato salad and I, being a pig, got a fried oyster and pork belly sandwich on a country toast. This was one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. It was so juicy and textured. I wish I could make it a weekly standing lunch!
That night we cabbed out to Brigtsen's for our proper anniversary dinner. The atmosphere was definitely unique: Small rooms filled with boisterous conversations and enthusiastic diners. There was a slightly loud table of bachelor party guys in the room with us but they weren't too disruptive. At the end of the evening the waitress apologized for them and asked if they had bothered us. We told her that we've had lunch at Galatoire's and she just nodded her head and understood.
Anyway, the dinner at Brigsten's was just as described: Beautifully cooked, thoughtfully seasoned and simply plated dishes that spoke to the soul of great flavor. We started with shrimp remoulade, deviled eggs and corn relish (we couldn't get enough of deviled eggs, for some reason) and mustard and cornmeal fried catfish with roasted jalapeno tartar sauce. These were both absolutely awesome plates of honest cooking with no quirks. My wife got the overwhelmingly comprehensive Shell Beach Diet platter and I ordered the pan-roasted snapper with truffled crabmeat "glaze." Both dishes were pretty massive and for the second night running we couldn't finish, but everything was tremendous. The freshness of the snapper was evident and the crabmeat "glaze" was actually a pile of beautiful, moist crabmeat. All the elements in the shell platter were great, but I think the top prize goes to the shrimp cornbread. So amazing...
On returning to the Quarter by cab we got dropped off at the Carousel Bar for some more cocktails - our second visit of the day. We managed to get seats at the bar and enjoyed the raucous atmosphere. The expanded space really adds tot he overall liveliness (they added a second bar to the bar! What a concept!) A great end to the evening.
The next day, Sunday, was out actual anniversary, although we had some of our most casual eating experiences planned. We strolled the length of the Quarter through some extreme heat, stopping at Rouse's for champagne, and up Esplanade to our usual brunch destination: Lil Dizzy's. The brunch buffet is a favorite of ours and never fails to dazzle us with tasty options. We broke out the bubbly to make mimosas, and our server Lucy joined us in a toast. The staff at Lil Dizzy's has always treated us like family and have really made us feel welcome. As for the food, we've loved it every time. The gumbo stands as one of our favorites in town and the fried chicken is another undersung masterpiece, with crisp crust, moist meat and very little grease. But beyond those the grits are amazingly creamy and buttery and the mac and cheese is awesome as well. Finished off with some fantastic bread pudding, Lil Dizzy's never fails to make our day.
We strolled through the blazing heat back through the Quarter and eventually poured ourselves into Tujaque's where we found Jenny, our Commander's Palace server from years past. A couple came in and said they'd driven past us while we were walking and couldn't believe how far we'd walked, especially considering we were all dressed up. We were like "Eh, it's no thang!" We had some sazeracs but for our second round Jenny suggested her Pimm's Cup, made with her own fresh juice blend. I have to say, in a city that's sporting some exceptional craft cocktails these days, this refreshing version of the Pimm's might have been the best cocktail of the trip.
After hanging out with Jenny for a while we headed back to the hotel to cool down some more. That night we cabbed up to Kermit Ruffins' Treme Speakeasy to hear his father's day show. At a $20 cover it's a pretty steep ticket but the show was loose and fun. I will say that compared to Vaughn's a few years back, it was odd to see everyone sitting at tables lining the walls rather than dancing and grooving. Plus the grab bag of special guests ranged all over the musical spectrum, which could be good or bad. We rolled with it because it's Kermit's house and it's his rules. It was fun.
We were planning to go to Kingfish and SoBou for a small plate crawl but the show ran long and we didn't want to leave early, so our dinner consisted of oyster and roast beef poboys from Verti Marte. It was the actual night of our anniversary and dinner was sitting on the bed at the hotel eating two of the best sandwiches we've ever had. Heaven.
Monday was our last day but since Southwest has added a later flight we actually got to hang out a bit instead of race off to the airport before dawn. We headed to Mr. B's for our BBQ shrimp fix (great, but maybe suffering a bit from coming so late into the trip) and gumbo yaya (rich, deep, dark, fantastic) and then finally over to Kingfish where we tried a few really fantastic cocktails. The big winner was the Cocktail a la Louisiane. Outstanding.
After stashing our bags we strolled up to Tujaque's for a little more craziness with Jenny and some more Pimm's Cups then hopped in a cab to the airport. We made a quick stop at Cochon Butcher to pick up our dinner: Their muffaletta plus a roast beef with horseradish. As much as we were underwhelmed with Cochon in the past we loved these sandwiches and would gladly have them again.
Anyway, that's the trip! If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Cheers!