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Nola trip report 6/14-17


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Nola trip report 6/14-17

superk | Jun 20, 2008 11:10 PM

I've been lurking around on Chowhound for probably years now and just signed up so I could give a report of our trip this past week.

We arrived on the 14th driving in from Houston. It's my first trip back since Katrina and my BF's first since he was there in the mid 80s (!!) when he was in the navy. Since we drove in, we stayed at LeRichelieu, which I prefer because of the secure parking lot included in the price, plus it's just a great value with excellent staff. And the location is my favorite part of the quarter. The weekend of our trip was the seafood/zydeco/creole tomato festival happening at the Mint and the French Market, and at one block from the hotel, couldn't have been better.

Had reservations at Irene's for 8:30 Saturday, so after a couple of drinks and a walk around made our way there. Full disclosure, Irene's is historically my favorite overall restaurant in the quarter, and the fact that they take reservations now made it even better. We had a wait of about 10 minutes on an 8:30 res, enough time to order a drink. We were seated in the front room (yay!). Our waiter was slightly casual and friendly, by very professional. Had an amuse plate of bruschette with the creole tomatoes and herbs. I had the paneed oysters, which came with more spinach than I remember, which was a good thing given the richness of the meal. There's a smokiness to the fruit-based vinagrette that's addictive and I can never figure out. I could eat a dozen of those paneed oysters. BF made a very unusual choice, and ordered the crab gratin. Very tasty, but not really memorable IMO but he liked it a lot, so that's what mattered. Salad course we had a our first of many creole tomatoes this trip. Big, luscious, sweet tomatoes perfectly ripe served with some very fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of (v. good) balsamic vinegar. It was a whole tomato (the creoles are huge) and we ate every bite. I wish we could get them here in Texas, where tomato crop is not so much yet, but I digress........BF had the chicken (he loves his roast chicken) and I had the soft shell crab special. I think Irene's chicken is some of the best ever, even better than mom's, and it was the way I remembered it. My crab was pan fried with a light sauce of crab and crawfish. Delicate and perfect, but I felt like it was a little on the small side for the price. A shared slice of creole cheesecake to end. In all, a wonderful meal, nothing on the cutting edge, just relatively simple food well prepared, with wonderful service in a nice setting. For the price point, hard to beat. The only downside was a over-abundance of too-casual folks in the piano room. Some drunk gal pushed past me on the way to ladies room, and then she ended up going in the men's, intentionally. The maitre d' was not amused.

We're not really breakfast people, so a couple of coffee's from Cafe EnVie behind the hotel was our morning standard. Sunday was festival day, we got up early to do some walking down the riverfront and through the quarter, and made it back to festival grounds at the Mint about midday. Yum. Deanie's had the biggest booth there and it was damn good, I had the crab balls, perfectly fried, still hot, with lots of meat, BF had a little mini-shrimp boil in its own bag with a small potato, small corn and 6 good sized shrimp, boiled to order. Had a couple of creole tomato bloody marys (hey, they come with vegetables--olives and green beans). Some great BBQ fried oysters, (I don't remember the stand) perfectly fried fresh to order with hot sauce and some mayo-based drizzle. A half dozen for $6, on a bed of lettucce and tomato-- can't beat that!

A friend had taken me to Mandina's years ago and I've wanted to go back, so we went a little early expecting a big Father's Day dinner crowd. Got there around 6:30 and it was slammed and noisy and perfect. I'm a fool for crabs, so I had their softshell with lafitte sauce, the one with crawfish tails. OMG. The sides there are totally forgettable and the remoulade on the salads is just way too heavy handed, but what they do well they do really, really well. My BF had the spaghetti and italian sausage and proclaimed it the best he ever had. My mom's family is Sicilian, they landed in the Beaumont area, so I'm intimately familiar with gulf coast italian, and Mandina's sweet sausage was so similar to our own family recipe, it was almost creepy. A little fattier and finer ground (commercially made) than our homeade and a tad less lemon, but the real deal!

Breakfast the next day consisted of coffee from our new favorite place, and leftover spaghetti, garlic toasts and bread pudding from the night before. Chicory coffee and leftover Mandinas at not-quite room temp is a hotel room breakfast I'd recommend to anyone, lol. Lunch consisted of beers at Cooter Brown's waiting for the streetcar, ( the US Open final was on so we got distracted). Finally made it back to hotel after a stop at the liquor store on Decatur for beers and water. A quick dip in the pool, then time clean up for Cochon. BF and I both love the pig in all it's splendor so we're pretty stoked for this. The room was pretty much like I expected from reading reviews here and elsewhere (anyone from Houston would be familiar with the same warm-industrial/ 'country' thing that's popular now. ) We got stuck with a bit of a dud waiter who was very stiff in presentation, and who seemed snooty but I think was just nervous. He didn't offer the specials; I had to ask. I asked him the house special cocktails and I got a blank stare and then a stutter before an answer. Bless his heart, he loosened up a little, and he had an experienced back-up. Had a manhattan and BF had a straight rye (ok, 2!) and waited for my pork cheeks. OMG, I just want to eat about 3 plates of those. The pork, the corn cake, everything worked perfectly. That crunchy sear on the pork cheeks--I don't knw how they did it but I want more! BF had grilled shrimp with the homemade chow. That chow was something! Shrimp simple, perfectly cooked with what tasted like an ancho chili rub. We opted for entrees rather than tasters--he had the cochon which he oohed and awed through-- the cracklins and bacon, also outstanding. I should in retrospect have ordered the boucherie plate. I had the rabbit and dumplings. Really very good--a perfectly seasoned gravy, but needed about two more mouthfuls of rabbit. The prep staff in the kitchen needs to peel and cut the turnips more carefully--every one in my dish had a fibrous end. Bad step on the execution of an otherwise very, very good dish. The gravy nor the dumplings took away from the flavor of the rabbit.

Desserts, eh. BF enjoyed the orange cream ice cream well enough. And while I really liked the flavor of the custard in the buttermilk lemon pie a lot, the crust was soggy mush. If you run a restaurant in the South, you just can't serve an ice box pie with bad crust. Just can't. We have rules!! Overall, big thumbs based on one dish--the pork cheeks/corn cake dish was the most amazing thing I've eaten in while.

Next night was Mr B's. I have to say--I had a moment of trepidation when making the res (earlier the same day). I've always had very good food, and good to very good service there, and it's convenient in the quarter when you don't have other plans.
Mr B's: never again. First, we get there, with reservations, and are trotted to the back at a table directly across from two banquet tables. The noise was deafening, literally, from 30 shreaking, drinking conventioneers. Siberia, with a party of 30 next to us! And, trainee waitstaff to boot. So I march back to the floor manager (who had seated us!) and politely said it was not going to work out and we'd like another table in the front. What was he thinking? We had reservations, they had a half dozen better open tables, we were dressed for dinner, unlike some of the other patrons getting seating in shorts (since when did Mr Bs relax the dress code that much?) I can understand if you need to give the waiters in a certain section a break, but you take the half-drunk, no-res shorts and golf shirts to the back, not people with reservations. Service at the new table was brisk, a tad too brisk, but attentive. My app was the fried oyster. Very pretty presentation, the oysters drizzled with hot sauce and a creamier remoulade, placed back in shells and arranged on a platter of rock salt. The oysters were on the small side, the cornmeal-based crust on the heavy side. I thought of the fat, piping hot, half dozen I had at the festival for $6. BF had duck spring rolls. Eh, tasted of duck but everything else about it was PF Changs. He had the roast chicken and was underwhelmed. I had the soft shell crab, and I will give Mr Bs this, it was probably the best fried SS I've eaten, and I've eaten a lot. It was huge, meaty, the batter (not cornmeal) was light with a good dose of red and black pepper. Outstanding. On the other hand, it was $38, a la carte for one crab.

We drowned out our Mr Bs sorrows across the street at the Carosel Bar and watched Boston kick the living crap out LA in the final game. The bar was full, and a couple of very stiff bourbons went down well. I still couldn't get over the smarmy floor manager seating us in the back next to a huge party, with open tables up front.

So! We'll be back near Christmas. Can't wait! Revillion dinners, and after walking past the Stella menu a few times, I'll definitely make plans there. I left out a perfectly adequate lunch at Gumbo shop of shrimp-stuffed creole tomato salad and bloody marys. They still have some of the best bread in the quarter.

Oh, and as the postcript, on the way out of town, our last meal was lunch at Mandina's. BF had another helping of their spaghetti and sausage, and I had the crab with menuire. Man, they can make a gravy!

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