I apologize for the belated reporting of our eats... we had a delicious time in N.O., but when I got back I was just too busy to post. We visited for 4 days in late September, and N.O. was empty without the usual influx of tourists, too scared to travel. While I felt bad for the business owners, we were able to get into many restaurants w/o waits or reservations at this time, even though I'd reserved dinner at Bayona and bruch and Commander's. The one exception was Jaques-Imo's, which was packed with locals... and my mom was too hungry, so we gave Jaques-Imo's up for Brennan's.
Fresh off the plane, we headed to Felix's... wasn't my 1st choice, but we were hungry and it was the closest place in view that I'd heard of. The oysters were nice, but they could have been colder. I liked the softshell crab po-boy I had also. I liked the fried seafood here much better than at Mother's, whose batter seemed more dense and less crisp. The gumbo was thin and kind of blah.
I was so happy to be in a city where Tabasco and a few other hot sauces are on every table. I have a strange and strong attachment to Tabasco, prefer it's taste to most other sauces, and actually carry it around in my purse when I'm out at home.
Cafe Du Monde: Yum! Hot beignets! Love the copious amounts of sugar on top. I actually eat around the centers, leaving the doughy, unfried part behind. Who wants to eat that? I also like the coffee, though on a 2nd visit, the iced coffee has a strange, bitter essence to it, almost like oysters. I know about the chicory, but it tasted a little off to me (or maybe I had eaten too many oysters by then).
Lunch @ Uglesich's. The Trout Muddy Waters and BBQ oysters are a little too salty for our tastes. The Fried oysters are good, but I honestly can't taste the blue cheese. The Fried Green Tomatoes are the BEST- next time I come, I'm ordering 3 plates for myself. Raw oysters are plump and perfect with the cocktail sauce the shucker mixes up. And 2 glasses of a good French white (sorry, forgot name). No dessert and coffee served here, but the shucker offers us his mom-in-law's homemade pralines and a huge grin at $1 a piece. Delicious!
Dinner @ Brennans. This wasn't really supposed to happen- we had tried to get into Jaques Imo's but we were too hungry to wait the 45 minutes. I had wanted to try Brennans just for the Banannas Foster, but when we slinked into the cozy and attentive atmosphere of Brennans and saw the Prix Fixe menu, we each ordered a full meal.
I tried to start with Turtle soup, but they were serving up the bottom of the pot, which was unbearably salty, so I got the gumbo, which was delicious (to my Yankee palatte). My mom had the oyster cream soup, which she loved. Caesar salads came next, just fine except for the croutons being stale and soft. I know, it's prob. the near 100% humidity they have, but still, I think that a huge factor in seeing the quality of a restaurant is the bread products (inc. croutons). Bread is the staff of life, no?
For mains I had some Gulf shrimp covered in a creamy sauce (sorry, I forgot the exact name- I'm sure if it were totally delicious, I'd have remembered). This was a huge pile of small-med sized shrimp. Yes, the shrimp was tender and yummy, but it was hard and monotonous (texture-wise) getting even half the plate down, since it was served with rice. My mom had some fish dish (trout?) which I liked better. (She finished her plate).
And finally, dessert- we both got the B.foster. What a presentation! Made table-side with lots of flourishes and lots of butter/sugar. The sauce is really really sweet and not as thick as I imagined. But the way they pre-shape the ice-cream is very smart, in a mushroom-wedge shape, so it all doesn't melt right away when they put the sauce on it. MMM... they could be a little more generous with the banannas too- it was something like 1/2 a bananna per serving. And the coffee wasn't ludicrously expensive like I'd read- normal for any restaurant, I thought. And about the service- yes, we had a whole team of waiters, but each was very nice and maybe b/c the restaurant was 2/3 empty, it felt personable. The captain certainly took the time to inquire about our opinions, and even when I brought up the crouton thing (as constructive criticism) he was very kind.
Breakfast at Cafe D'Or- The coffee is good, and I like the little outdoor area in the back, but I really DIDN't LIKE the pastries here. I gave it 2 shots: a chocolate crossaint which had way too much bread and not enough chocolate. The thing is 3 times bigger than I'm used to seeing. And the crossaint itself has no discernable crisp or flakiness. I'm sorry, I can't just eat colored doughy greasy bread. I pick out the chocolate and feed the rest to the birds. I also tried a napoleon and was also disappointed. The layers were not crisp. (Can you tell i'm big into textures?) BTW, if you're in NYC, I love the napoleons at Ceci Cela, down in the Soho area. I leave Cafe D'or in a hurry, and race over to Bayona for lunch.
Bayona for lunch is great- very friendly service, relaxed feel. (We also went for dinner, but I say go at lunch!) I have to try the duck sandwich, and I want my mom to try it as well, but she's in a conference and then we have to rush to a swamp/plantation tour. I ask my waiter if he can help, by packing a sandwich to go... and he says that they don't do take-out lunches, but since I'm seated and ordering, they'll make an exception. So I get the mushroom crouton with a cream sauce and it's really really good. The mushrooms are buttery soft and contrast perfectly with the extra crisp and delicious thin french bread slice that is the crouton. The Duck sandwich with sweet pepper jelly and cashew nut butter is awesome!!! It tastes incredible and even my mom, who'd prefers Chinese food to everything, loves it, can't stop eating it. At my request, Bayona also packs a slice of berry cheesecake- the berries are baked inside- it's a good slice, not really dense. Oh, I also try my 1st and last Mint Julep here. Not really my kind of drink- and whatever alcohol they put in it (bourbon?), isn't really my kind of alcohol (I don't like hard liquors such as cognac, etc..) Anyway, as I rush out the door, the waiter also gives me the printout for the mushroom app. How nice!
Dinner at Mother's -they ran out of bread and can't make a Ferdi po-boy! Oh well, I'll end up having the jambalaya, red beans and rice, and fried shrimp. They also ran out of Abita beer, so I got a Corona. I love jambalaya, so I was quite happy here. I'd give it a 6.5 on a scale of 1-10, 10 being homemade goodness. The beans and rice are magical. How much pork can you squeeze into something that sounds so vegan??? Pulled pork, ham, and sausage fill every other bite. Definitely get the beans and rice. Skip the fried seafood here- as I said before, the batter they use is heavy and not so crisp. About the atmosphere- I like the vibe here, a no frills local food joint. While we waited in line, the owner? or supervisor? (a big guy) chats with us about looking like Elvis (he pulls out old pictures to prove it). Then by request, he sings some Elvis tunes (he sings well). We're charmed, and after we eat, we head to the casino to see if we can continue our luck, and get some free coffee too. (We make a small profit of $25 at the slots).
Breakfast at Cafe Du Monde again. Lunch at Mother's- this time we get the Ferdi- a soft-meat sandwich. Everything is tender about it- the bread, the meat, and all the debris they put on. I'm still more impressed by the red beans and rice. Snack at Crescent City Brewhouse- wish I'd had the room to sample some beer. We came for the oysters, which are delicious. Can't have too many though, b/c we're having dinner at Bayona.
Bayona for dinner. The restaurant is packed, and we order apps to share (but they're really small)- a tuna tartar with fried wonton skin and seared scallops. After everyone else at the table voted down sweetbreads, the waitress brings out a little piece for me, after seeing my disappointment. I've never had them before, but I'm willing to try, and it's interesting- can't say I'd order them again though. So the app. plates were cleared away, and then we started waiting. And waiting. And waiting. There was a ridiculously long wait until we got our mains. To the point where I started getting embarassed for picking the spot.
Between us we had roast duck (yummy), salmon with sauerkraut sauce (yummy), and I had some meat dish (veal? venison? reindeer?) that I forgot b/c I didn't really like it- too chewy, with too much veins and fat to really enjoy. For dessert- a pumpkin praline cheesecake slice- a variation on the berry slice... fine piece of cheesecake, softer and not too dense.
Last day: Jazz brunch at Commander's Palace. There was actually only jazz for half of brunch, since the band kept moving around the restaurant... so when they were playing right next to us, it was very loud. We try/love/reorder the milk punch... if you like milk, and you like sweet drinks, this is for you! It's not too sweet, and doesn't taste much like alcohol... has some vanilla and a dash of nutmeg, is served cold. Why have I never had/heard of this before? It's a perfect brunch drink... less thick and less cloying than eggnog. Apps included the fish cake, turtle soup, and salad. Everything was solid and good. Entrees: pecan-crusted fish (very delicious!), fried jumbo soft-shell crab, stuffed with crab, over salad (delicious) and roasted quail (good). I'm getting the pecan crusted fish next time- nice contrast between creamy, flaky white fish meat and crunchy dark nutty crust. Desserts were: bread pudding souffle- not really a souffle, as I had thought. More like a bread pudding with meringue top. The sauce is delicious. Mom got the dessert special- an apple crisp. It's the best apple crisp I've ever tasted, a shallow dish of apples, not too sweet, with the crispiest crumbly topping... served warm, with vanilla ice cream. If they offer this, GET IT!
And finally, like all the rest of you, before we hopped on the plane we ran over to Central Grocery for muffalettas. We had one on the plane, and it's a VERY salty sandwich. The bread is also soft-crusted. I liked it much better once I got home and was able to toast the whole thing. The fragrant oil-soaked bread takes on a delicate crispness that really goes well with the thinly sliced and chewy meats inside- almost like a tender focaccia. Toast your muffalettas if you can! That's my advice.
Other highlights: The French market has good quality decently priced silver jewelry, IMHO. The Voodoo graveyard tour was not worth it, but the alligator swamp tour was. Guess what they bait the gaitors with??? Marshmallows!!! It's funny to watch these creatures open up their big traps to chomp on a jet-puffed. Then, once they get closer to the boat, they feed them chicken. I also liked the perfumes from Hove, a little boutique on Royal St. They have a great rose scent called Radiance. And I forgot to buy file powder, but luckily, a friend sent it to me on a later visit.
Also, since I'm used to walking around, I felt a little indignant asking for directions and being told that I need to take a cab everywhere (Staying in the FQ, i did cab it to Uglesich's, but not to Mother's). I'm sure they're thinking of my comfort and safety, but i"m not that lazy or that coddled. And I know according to the 2000 Census, LA is the poorest state in the US, but to charge extra if more than 2 people are in a cab? They don't even do that in NYC.
Well, that's about it. I had inquired about Hansen's Sno-blitz, but heard that their hours were really questionable b/c management is changing hands within the family? In any case, thanks for reading, and thanks for all your recommendations. I really had a memorable and delicious trip.
Also, to help the rest of you out, before I went to N.O. I cut and pasted a lot of old posts here, so I'd have a 'chow guide'. Then, one of the 1st things I did upon arrival was to mark up a map with all relevant food spots.
Here's the 'amalgamation' of posts I've made (thanks to all previous posters):
Uggelsichs my favorites are the oysters, esp raw and fried (that hit of blue cheese is the best), tho the bbq are also great, and the trout muddy waters, which is my single favorite fish dish bar none. the crab cakes are stellar, as are the other trout dishes and the fried green tomatoes and the shrimp. you just can't go wrong. 1238 Baronne St.
We had the Shrimp Uggie(recipe can be found in Saveur or online in Epicurious), panfried trout with grilled shrimp and bbq oysters. We shared so we can taste the different dishes and we all wished we had ordered more. A couple of my friends didn't think they liked oysters but they ended up eating their share of the bbq oysters (which is not dry grilled oysters but more like oysters cooked in a garlicky wine/vinegar sauce -- like New Orleans BBQ Shrimp).
I thought that I was getting shrimp but it turned out I was getting softshell crab. I thought that I was having potatoes on the side but it turned out I was having eggplant. And I had no idea that I was having fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade (my my my), but of course I was. Of all of the things that we had at U's, I have to give the plaudits to the eggplant side dish that came with my crab. I can't really describe this well except to say that it is a) unlikely, b) has shrimp in it, c) is smoky and the best thing that I've eaten this year.
Regarding Uglesich's: Go early. I went last week at 11:30 in the pouring rain and we got the last table, and the line formed behind us. Also take cash. It's not cheap and they don't take credit cards. The appetizers are small but many of the entrees are large.
Jacques-Imo's is not open for lunch. If you can fit it in for a dinner, again, go early (I think they start serving at 5:30). They don't take reservations. If you go after 6:00 you will have to wait. It is worth it, though, and remains on our must-do list for out of town visitors.
Café du Monde
We arrived in the afternoon bleary eyed from 2 hours of sleep the night before, with the weather overcast and drizzling rain. After dropping off our bags, we dashed across the French Quarter in anticipation of our very first taste of beignets. I doubt that I need to describe the Café to anyone on this board. My wife and I had heard about CdM years ago, and we had both been dreaming of it ever since. Fried food especially very simple fried food is one of our favorite things. The beignets managed to live up to the weight of our crushing expectations while still being quite a surprise. In all the things I ever read about Beignets, no one ever mentioned that they are not sweet; sure, with the heapings of powdered sugar on top, they taste delightfully sweet, but the actual dough itself almost borders on savory. They are so much more addictive than I had ever imagined; I would advise eating them fast, however, for as they cool they harden and, well, congeal. (And, of course, the chicory coffee was splendid as well.)
We ate very well on the trip, but nothing was really quite as wonderful or satisfying as the beignets.
We both avoid eating meat, but our first muffaletta was still quite satisfying. Again, Im sure that regular readers of the board are familiar with the C.G. (invented the muff, blah, blah), but I do think it bears mentioning what a wonderful grocery store surrounds this muffaletta provider. (We actually bought a bag of popcorn rice to bring back home.) A vegetarian muff seems (to our novice eyes) to be a regular with the meat replaced by provolone. Though neither of us really likes olives, we did truly love the sandwich. Something about the salad (pickled peppers, etc.) balances out the olives, leaving just a singular and enjoyable peppery, oily taste. I know that theres a debate on who does it the best, but we were very happy with the C.G. version.
We arrived around 11:45. Only once we left did we realize how lucky we were: exiting the restaurant there was a line of at least 50 people who were not even allowed to enter the restaurant yet.
Zagats gives Mothers an 11 (out of 30) for décor, which might be the most egregious example of how screwed up Zagats actually is. I cannot imagine a more picturesque restaurant than Mothers rough brick walls with old pictures and accolades, cooks scurrying back and forth into the kitchen with sagging plastic bags of sauce, and dazed tourists slightly awed and extremely intimidated by the whole thing.
I had a Shrimp Po Boy and my wife had the breakfast special eggs, biscuit, grits, soda, and turkey. (They couldnt not give us the meat.) Grits were surprisingly non-buttery (the way we like them), and excellent. The Po Boy was good, but it didnt rock our world. Frankly, we were hoping to have a fried potato Po Boy, but were not able to make it to Liuzzas, a restaurant that is supposed to serve such a thing.
Tee-Evas (sort of)
After lunch, we decided to take a bus west to visit Tee-Evas, a fantastic sounding pie shop in the Garden District that we read about on Chowhound. Almost immediately we caught a bus on Magazine street, and stayed on for 46 of the most beautiful blocks of architecture weve ever seen. Building after building, house after house, each seemed to be a more perfect version of some ideal version of what New Orleans was supposed to look like. Sadly, however, Tee-Evas was not able to live up to our dreams, as the shop was closed; a gallery owner across the street said that she (Tee-Eva, I guess) comes in and out at her own whim during the winter months. One of these days I suppose we will actually order the pie through the mail.
Café du Monde
On our second trip we were nearly overwhelmed by the crowds; we thought it was busy the day before, but the lousy weather was just suppressing the teeming masses. This time we tried a hot chocolate (easily our favorite in the U.S.) and the much-recommended Frozen Café au Lait; though this iced drink is undoubtedly more soothing during the blistering hot months, we enjoyed this gourmet Iced Blended very much.
The only way that we could get into Brennans was to take advantage of their policy of allowing walk-in seating for dessert during the time of 9:30 10pm (the half-hour prior to closing). That worked fine for us, as all we wanted was dessert: for nearly a quarter century, my wife has heard her parents talk about Bananas Foster at Brennans, and we came to the city with the steely determination to see some flaming bananas.
Even in our brief time in the restaurant, we were quite impressed. A massive restaurant (modest only by New Orleans standards), it reminded us two California kids of the now defunct fine dining chain, the Velvet Turtle. Service was practiced and professional, the best of the Creole palaces we would dine in. Our waiter explained the entire process for making Bananas Foster, and then stepped over to a special station (surprisingly, not next to the table, for insurance reasons apparently) to prepare the dish. Again, Im sure everyone here is quite familiar with the dish, but the taste of the caramelized brown sugar and the crispy bananas was amazing; I think we could have gone through two or three each.
N.B. At $3 a cup, the entire overhead of Brennans wait-staff seems to be underwritten through their coffee! In the future, Id hold out for drinks at Café Du Monde after.
(It must be noted that coming in to New Orleans, we had no reservations at any restaurants. We decided to take the trip at the very last minute, and besides, we didnt think reservations would be needed in such an off month. In fact, this turned out to be very much incorrect all of the places we tried to get into were booked up at first. Some persistent calling and we were able to get in everywhere wanted.)
On the flight in, I had plainly stated to my wife, without any provocation, that I had no intention of eating at Bayona. Why? Bayona seemed like a restaurant that could be found anywhere, and I wanted to maximize our Creole exposure. My pointless resistance crumbled soon after, and I am quite glad: our meal at Bayona was simply our favorite on the trip, and probably the best food we have had in a long, long while.
At around 10:25, we dashed out of Brennans, splitting the crowd of people gathered to claim their cars from the valet, and speed-walked the few blocks to Bayona.
Simply entering the restaurant was like entering a unique world. The greeting from the hostess was warm and familiar, and the walls of the 200-year-old building are colored in a comforting and traditional reddish-brown. Our waiter was superb he recited the preparation of each dish with a care and passion that made it sound like he himself would be cooking the food. When he presented our 1999 white Bordeaux (I never wrote down the name), he specifically presented it to both my wife and I, having noted how we made the selection collectively.
As our meals were served, I think we both knew we were in for a treat while the food was carefully, artfully arranged on the plate, it was placed in the style that one might do at home, where each side dish occupies a separate quadrant of the plate. No food piled high on the plate, waiting to crumble down after the first bite.
And, of course, the food was superb. We started with seared scallops with a sesame crust, paired with both chutney and a mustard sauce. The quality of the scallops was remarkable, and they had a seductive, smoky flavor. For main course, I had the well-known Salmon with Choucroute and Gewurtztraminer sauce, while my wife had the Mahi-Mahi with grape leaves and a lobster-cream sauce, orzo with olives, and butternut squash. Of course, the fish was superb quality and perfectly prepared, but what really sent us into ecstasy was the choucroute paired with the wine reduction, and the butternut squash. Simple, hearty dishes, yet so delicate; we were still raving about them to each other when the star chef, Susan Spicer, stopped by to ask what we thought of our meal. (By now it was around 11:45pm and the kitchen was done for the night.) She seemed quite pleased (and somewhat surprised) that we had fallen in love with the simple side dishes; she talked to us about how each was prepared, and then had the staff bring over a printout of the recipe (which appeared to be a common feature of the restaurant).
And, as noted previously on Chowhound, the meal was, for this quality and service, ridiculously cheap. I can't stop talking about that duck, cashew butter and jelly sandwich -- and only $9! Yeah, maybe in NY I could get something just as good for $27, served with a side of attitude.
Sunday, January 21
We woke up barely in time to catch the streetcar out to Commanders Palace to make our early afternoon reservations. We both knew that to have brunch at Commanders Palace meant breaking so many of the rules we had carefully collected in our years of travel. For example: a mimosa is a waste of perfectly good orange juice; dont go to a Jazz Brunch; dont go where everyone says to go; and, definitely dont go WHEN they say to go.
Considering what a violation of our deeply held principles our brunch at CP was, it actually wasnt that bad. Dining there felt like a ride at Disneyland, only more crowded. We were ushered back into a crowded room that felt like a banquet hall at the Woodland Hills Marriott, but thankfully seated looking on to a patio where we could watch the chefs take their cigarette breaks. Sticking with the crowd, we got the specialties shrimp remoulade, eggs sardou, and the bread pudding soufflé. Everything was good; nothing was fabulous. Service was solid, but with a different person bringing out each little thing (more vodka for the bloody mary, the soufflé, the cream for the soufflé, and so on), it was more like being gang tackled than waited on.
(With our final real meal in New Orleans ahead of us, we both began to panic slightly. Had we eaten authentic Creole food? Had we fully maximized our time in New Orleans? What had we missed? Speed walking around the city in an attempt to garner an appetite, we realized that for all the wonderful things we had ever heard about food in New Orleans, we werent quite sure what exactly we MUST eat. We both welcome the comments of Chowhounds on this topic; our realization was that our goal for New Orleans was to eat delicious food, carefully prepared.)
So, only 3 hours after leaving Commanders Palace, we ate dinner.
Galatoires is yet another storied New Orleans institution, with a long tradition of rich sauces and no reservations; while the sauces are the same, they now take reservations. Do note, however, that those with reservations are seated in a somewhat less distinctive dining room on the second floor.
The menu at Galatoires is quite curious. With the exception of a distinctly Creole dish or two (like Crawfish Remoulade), it almost feels like food from turn of the twentieth century France, frozen in a time capsule.
The collection of side dishes is the most impressive pairing of cheeses and vegetables we have ever seen. Distant memories of Scandia danced through my wifes head as she read the list of potato preparations. We finally settled on Potatoes Brabant and Potatoes Souffle. The Brabant look like what coffee shops call home fries, but taste so much better; they are chunks of Idaho potatoes, twice fried to a delicate crispness. The Souffle are like gourmet potato chips, and neither of us quite grasp how they are made; long and narrow, they are simply thin, crunchy slices of potato that have puffed up into a hollow oval.
As much as we love side dishes that somehow incorporate fried potatoes, our entrees were even better. My wife had the Poisson Meunière Amandine, a long piece of fresh Trout, crumb battered and fried, covered with a pile of buttery almonds. After much deliberation, I had the Poisson Margeury. A rolled-up piece of fresh trout is smothered in a sauce that mixes a revelatory Holandaise (neither my wife nor I had ever had anything so well-balanced; not too lemony, not too yolk-y, just perfectly thick and creamy) with shrimp and mushrooms. Both were amazing.
And, to, uh, cut the richness, our vegetable was Cauliflower au Gratin, which came in a thankfully small dish, diced Cauliflower pieces in a béchamel sauce, covered thin coat of bread crumbs.
Casamento. In the 4300 block on Magazine (I think its Magazine, but you can look it up). The cleanest, neatest, oyster bar (with lighting like a luncheonette) and restaurant I've eaten at. And cheap too! Try to take the trolley and then walk down to Magazine. The cab fare is expensive.
Bayona -- awesome lunch. The smoked duck sandwich is a candidate for the sandwich hall of fame. Indescribably delicious. Forgot to ask them what they put in the dressing for the apple celery salad that comes with it - anyone know? If you think you're too full for dessert, get the petits fours. You'll find room.
Casamento's -- may be worth a trip for the "décor" and cast of characters alone! Impeccably fried, greaseless oysters.
Lagniappe Guest House -- wonderful breakfasts (guests only) - banana pancakes, perfectly cooked bacon and the best scrambled eggs I've ever had (Helene's secret is Tony Chachere's seasoning mix). 1925 Peniston St., 800-317-2120 www.lanyappe.com
Southern Candymakers -- An homage to the pecan. Pecan brittle that should cause peanut brittle to hang its head in shame. Delicious glazed pecans (and I don't like that kind of thing). And the turtles ... yum! 334 Decatur, 800-344-9773
Tee Eva's -- go go go to this little pie/snowball stand a block or so from Casamento's. At $2 a pop, we should have sampled all the mini pies she had, instead of only the sweet potato pecan and cream cheese pecan. Both amazing. Let me repeat -- cream cheese pecan. Sort of like cheese cake or cheese danish on the bottom, pecan on top. And the mini pies provide a great crust to filling ratio. Wish I had one right now. 4430 Magazine St. And, amazingly, at http://tee-eva.net Cute website -- "Sorry we can't ship you a snowball."
Uglesich's -- remember that it's not open for dinner. We forgot. :(
Mother's -- Get the Ferdi's po boy (but you knew that already) and skip the gumbo and the pecan pie. Make sure the napkin holder on your table is full before you dig in.
Café du Monde -- had a good time watching the guys make the beignets. Go around back and peer through the window.
Dry Dock in Algiers right by the ferry station -- great muffaletta (this from the girl who hates olives). I admit that it's the only one I've ever had, but my friend Elizabeth said it was better than Central Grocery's. They heat a bit so the cheese melts and the roll is toasty.
Roadhouse Café -- the bleu cheese salad that Mike C. raved about was really good, though I wouldn't recommend going out of your way for it if you're not in the neighborhood (near Tulane and Loyola). Shrimp and crab claw gumbo was delish - better than Mother's by far.
NOT ABOUT FOOD
I definitely recommend visiting New Orleans at Christmas-time (especially if you luck out with 70-degree weather!) -- it's not too crowded, and they do a great job decorating for the holidays -- houses, street lamps, trees, skyscrapers, even construction cranes (one had a huge lit-up Santa dangling from it).
The Historic New Orleans Walking Tours garden district architecture/cemetery tour was really great -- lots of info and sites packed into about 2 hours for $14. www.tourneworleans.com
Saw Jerry Lee Lewis at the House of Blues. Yes, he's still alive! However, he is 65 and is reportedly quite frail. I was preparing myself for something like the old fat Elvis -- maybe dottering, forgetting words, wavering voice -- and when he slowly walked on stage, his back curved over like an old man, it seemed like my fears were going to be realized. However, once he got to the piano he was pretty amazing -- belting them out and banging the keys (tho he only played for about 40 minutes). If you have a chance to see this rock and roll legend, don't pass it up.
If you've got a few hours to spare and you've never seen a swamp, the Jean Lafite Park is a great excursion. Algiers is a nice detour on the way back to the city. The view of the underside of the bridge is very cool.
Lunch at Mothers consisted of another shrimp po boy for me and a turkey po boy for Allison. Both were better than what we had at Felixs the night before. A po boy is the equivalent of a submarine sandwich, wedge, grinder, hero, etc. I guess that it all depends on where you are from. Mothers po boys came dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and Creole mustard. It should also be noted that the local brand of potato chips called Zapps are great. They have a real crunch to them.
Refreshed, we headed over to the aquarium to check out the sharks and other sea creatures housed there. I tried to convince Allison to go see the Michael Jordan IMAX film, but I wasnt successful. Afterwards we made a quick pit stop at Café du Monde for some frozen café au lait. We then went to see St. Louis #1. This is the oldest above ground cemetery in New Orleans. It was a bit eerie and strangely attractive. Supposedly this was in a high crime area, but during the day we felt safe. I would stay far away after dark though.
After a long day of sight seeing and eating we went back to the hotel for a much-needed nap. Dinner tonight was at Bayona. We were meeting four of our cousins for dinner who were in town for a wedding. Bayona has a small but very interesting menu. Allison started with a goat cheese and mushroom toast while I had the eggplant caviar with tapenade and feta. The combination of the three tastes in my appetizer was excellent. For an entrée, Allison had the salmon with sauerkraut in a gewürztraminer sauce. It sounds like an odd combination, but was actually quite tasty. I had the duck breast with haricot vert, which was wonderful. Dessert for both of us was a no brainer. The pumpkin crème brulee stood out in a field of interesting desserts. It was awesome. The winelist at Bayona is very nice and reasonably priced. Also the sommelier was very nice too. My cousin is a bit of a wine connoisseur, but unfortunately we have dissimilar tastes. I let him order the wines. We had a 97 Chateau St. Georges Bordeaux and a 98 Ridge Sonoma Station. Neither were anything to write home about. I liked Bayona a lot and would highly recommend it.
I almost forgot I stopped into the Vieux Carre wine shop and left unimpressed. An average at best selection coupled with high prices and questionable storage made this visit a quick one.
Saturday, October 14, 2000
Breakfast of frozen café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde again. From there we walked over to the streetcar and rode it out to the garden district. We did our own tour of the beautiful homes assisted by the Frommers guidebook. The houses here are stunning. To think that the Garden district was once one big plantation is amazing. Afterwards we took a long stroll up Magazine street and window shopped.
Eventually we took the streetcar back to Canal Street and walked over to Acme Oyster Bar for lunch. I had an oyster poboy and Allison had the Creole jambalaya. I liked my po boy better than the one at Mothers. Unfortunately, Im still a bit wary of raw oysters after a nasty bout with food poisoning earlier in the year caused by a bad raw oyster. Otherwise I would have sat at the bar and pigged out. FWIW, I thought the bread used for the po boys at Acme made their po boys a superior product to the one at Mothers. However, it should also be noted that I didnt try the Ferdi, a special po boy that Mothers is known for.
Just got back from New Orleans, and again cannot too highly recommend the Riverhouse Cafe at Magazine and State Streets. I absolutely love their food. The best po-boy's I've ever had (although I admit I didn't get to Mother's for their po-boys's to compare, as I had hoped) and a blue cheese salad I still dream about. This time, they even had a duck sausage that I wanted to try but will have to wait until next time.
Definitely Mandina's oyster artichoke soup, which is more of a heavy stew than a soup, so full of artichoke quarters that you can barely eat it with the spoon they give you. A bowl of this offering with a half loaf of French bread makes for the perfect Lenten lunch, plus you get to tell people that you are fasting, having eaten only a bowl of soup for lunch
NOLA for a party of eight on our first night. I knew we'd all be pretty tired after our travels, and we had a couple of teenagers in the group, so I wanted someplace fun for them (somewhere they could tell their friends about - Hey, I went to Emeril's place) and someplace not too fancy. I must say, we did enjoy the food and the atmosphere. Although I give one warning - our reservation was for 6:00, and only six members of our party were on time, so the staff would not seat us until they all arrived. We ended up being a party of nine - no problem, they just set another place at the table and there was plenty of room. The place was funky in design (take an elevator to the second floor), and the waitstaff was very accommodating, if a little over the top. They explained everything on the menu to everyone's satisfaction, taking the time to repeat some items because not everyone heard things the first time. Presentation of the food was very dramatic. Five servers would swarm the table and place all of the dishes down at the same time. We had a variety of foods that night, including a tasty gumbo, some hot jalapeno cornbread, miniature crabcakes for appetizer, and an excellent salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cherries and smoky cheddar (I don't remember what the dressing was). Several of my companions had salmon and were not disappointed; the two teenagers (girls both) had the "cowboy steak" - a very large ribeye, I believe; and I enjoyed a thick-cut grilled porkchop which was cooked to perfection (just slightly pink inside). We shared one dessert among several of the women - a banana pudding cake of some sort with dried banana chips in it. I only had one bite of it, but it was good. Considering my "tourist trap" expectations, I really did enjoy NOLA.
The next night was reserved for a romantic evening with my husband. I chose Bella Luna, since it is hyped as the most romantic spot in N.O. It, too, did not disappoint. We had a table by the window, overlooking the river and the moon. The menu was very diverse, not to be described by any particular style or ethnicity. For starters we had a lobster crepe sort of dish, crab-stuffed shrimp which were deep-fried and served with a jalapeno mango jelly (very yummy), a mixed tomato salad with yellow and red tomatoes, and gumbo. Yes, we had two starters each - we wanted to eat everything on the menu, so we made room! For entrees, we enjoyed osso buco and a thick-cut grilled veal chop. (Everywhere I went, I got a thick-cut grilled something. I'm five-two, 105 pounds. Everyone wondered where I was putting it all. I found out after I got home - I was carrying it "behind" me!) Both were delicious. We were very satisfied. I know we had dessert, but I don't remember what. We had only two disappointments. First, most of the other patrons were dressed very casually (jeans or shorts and golf shirts), which is a real gripe of mine in many restaurants. If you're going to such a nice place, dress up! Second, the port which I ordered to go with dessert (vintage - '83, maybe) was bad. It tasted like the bottle had been open for a very long time. But that was not enough to keep me from recommending the place. I would definitely return there.
Next day we were unexpectedly on our own for lunch, so we headed out to explore. We wanted to hit Mother's, but because it was so oppressively hot, we decided we didn't want to wait on the sidewalk the hour it would have taken just to get inside the place. So we settled on Remoulade, which is the cafe sister of Arnaud's. It was pretty busy inside, so we sat at the bar to eat. Good choice! We had a drink called Bayou Self, which tasted like a pina colada, but without the creamy stuff. And they were green in color, so that made it even more fun. Lunch was basic but good, jambalaya and crab cakes. After lunch we had an hour to kill, so we got a couple of Bayou Selfs to go and walked a bit.
Dinner that evening was a double-date, so I chose Bayona. Another good choice. But first we headed back for more Bayou Selfs - those drinks were good. I made every friend I ran into taste them. They would hesitate, take a sip, then look at me - Where did you get that? Then they'd run, not walk, over to Remoulade for a to-go cup. Dangerous!
Back to Bayona. The location was away from the crowds. The interior was relaxed but lively. The small rooms gave an intimate feel and kept the noise level down. The staff was very friendly and helpful without being overbearing. I don't remember the appetizers, but I do remember lots of sharing and lots of mmmms going around the table. Entrees were lamb loin, pork chop, tuna and rabbit - each prepared in a unique way, each tasty. I generally don't like lamb, but this was good. Too much talking going on at the table to remember exactly what was in each dish, but I distinctly remember as we shared our food around the table, nobody disliked anything. Skipped dessert because we had a party to attend - what a shame! But maybe we'll make it back soon, and leaving without dessert will not be an option!
The only disappointment was Mr. B's Bistro for lunch, another off-the-cuff decision. The waitstaff was less than helpful. I asked if a cup of gumbo and a salad would suffice for lunch, but the waiter hedged and wouldn't really offer advice. So I ordered the gumbo and an entree of shrimp and cappellini in an herb and garlic sauce. The gumbo was fine, but the entree was tasteless. I ate the shrimp but saw no point to eating the pasta. Plus, the bread was served in a bag, a whole loaf, and no knife in sight. For a casual lunch joint that would be fine, but it just didn't seem to fit with linen napkins and formally dressed waiters. Nothing to write home about.
A great place for coffee and pastry is the Crossant D'Or on Ursulines St. You would not believe how cheap the homemade pastries are and the coffee! We had a very good lunch at the Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur. They have a two for one coupon that you can get in a magazine or those little cards on the desk in the hotel. You have to choose from the entrees which are $15.00 and up. We had the special. I had the grilled grouper with sauteed vegetables that came with grilled shrimp too and topped with a lemon beurre blanc sauce. It was fantastic. The vegetables were so tasty and seasoned so well. I could have eaten an order of just that. As a matter of fact, I went back another day to ask them to special order just the shrimp and veggies but they said they don't do that because they buy specifically for each day's specials. My husband had a pasta jambalaya and that was yummy too. If you like beer this is the place. They have a $5.95 sampler where you get four glasses of different beers. It was fun, delicious and different.