My wife and I stopped in NOLA for three nights a couple of weeks ago on our way home to San Diego from Durham, NC. As was the case on our last visit three years ago (hard to believe it’s been that long), we would like to thank the people of New Orleans, easily the most hospitable we’ve met anywhere, and the locals and visitors who post on this board, for helping us have a fantastic time. We really need to come more often.
We hit the Carousel Bar right after we checked into our hotel. It was pretty crowded at 4:30, but we found seats at the bar. The remodel really opens up the space, but the atmosphere around the bar seemed like we remember from last time. I asked the bartender (don’t remember who it was) for a recommendation, and without hesitating, he said sazerac, seconded by the guy next to me at the bar. After my first sip, I couldn’t have agreed more. The guy next to me turned out to be a NOLA native who is the superintendent of a nearby parish school district. Talk got around to food, and he gave sterling recommendations to the oysters Rockefeller at Brennan’s and po’ boys at Parkway. We told him we were headed to Galatoire’s that night, and he said it’s one his favorites. He’s also a horn player, so we talked about music, too. He recommended several places on Frenchmen, but strangely, just like another local we met at Carousel 3 years ago, he said it might be a little iffy to walk there after dark. He also spoke highly of Irvin Mayfield’s and said that Bombay Club was worth checking out, too. Said it was too bad we were leaving on Friday, because he would be playing at Seafood Festival that night.
Several sazeracs later we decided to walk to Galatoire’s before we got into trouble. As was the case last visit, the loaf of hot, crusty, and feather-light French bread was great. I had sautéed soft shell crab and lamb chops, my wife had shrimp remoulade and crab Yvonne. The soft shell crab was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, without a doubt. I love fried soft shell crab, but sautéed, it rose to a completely different level of flavor; every bite was an explosion of crab succulence. The only reason I can think of for not ordering a second one was my sazerac-addled brain couldn’t connect the dots. My wife’s shrimp remoulade and crab were both outstanding, and the black bottom pecan pie we split was a nice way to finish up. Our server, Bryant, was great. Stopped in at Irvin Mayfield’s for a set afterward. Ellis Marsalis was scheduled, but had to go out of town so a local progressive jazz band filled in. Good set, nice relaxing place.
We woke up feeling pretty fuzzy, so I took a one-block walk to get an order of beignets from the Bourbon St. location of Café Beignet. I failed to eat one immediately, so they were tainted by the amount of time they spent in the bag, but they were very good. We never did an A/B test with CDM, but nonetheless found these beignets to be pretty tasty.
We ended up having a late lunch at Cochon. We split wood fired oysters, fried alligator, Louisiana cochon, and banana pudding. Everything was very good, especially the vegetables accompanying the cochon. The lightly battered alligator nuggets were perfectly fried and had a perfect texture, although they didn’t have a lot of flavor. The oysters, while tasty, didn’t have a trace of smokiness. The cochon itself was a tender, moist, nicely flavored ball of shredded pork with a nice crust on the outside. The Louisiana hayride was the perfect drink to clear the cobwebs.
Back to FQ for a hurricane at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (not that great). Dinner was at Upperline, which I’d been looking forward to for awhile. It turned out to be a charming restaurant where we felt like dinner guests at the home of a gracious hostess. However, the food wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. We started with another great loaf of French bread. For my 3 course dinner I chose fried veal sweetbread w/burrata&olives, roast duck, and bread pudding, along with a side of fried oysters St. Claude. My wife’s 3 courses were shrimp remoulade w/fried green tomatoes, cane river shrimp w/mushrooms , and crème brulee. Best items were the sweetbread, mashed sweet potato side accompanying the duck, and the perfectly fried oysters. The St. Claude sauce was too assertive for the oysters, though. Likewise, the burrata and olives were good with each other, but didn't go with the sweetbread. I was looking forward to the duck most of the day, but the actual bird was unfortunately quite overcooked. The shrimp remoulade was good, but unexceptional. JoAnn is truly a lovely lady and hostess. She told us that the front dining room had just re-opened the previous Friday after repairing damage from Isaac, but that offices upstairs still weren’t ready.
Three martini lunch at Commander’s. The garden room was closed, so we had a window table next to the patio in the rear dining room. Lively crowd and a great lunch. I had the two course lunch, choosing turtle soup and shrimp&grits. My wife had the 3 course creole luncheon with creole gumbo, bbq brisket, and bread pudding soufflé. The gumbo, with its rich smokiness, was out of this world, one of the best things I ate on this trip; my wife only let me have a couple of bites, though. The turtle soup was fantastic, and the creamy cheese grits and big, fat grilled shrimp were a perfect entrée. The brisket was also very, very good; very tender from the slow smoke and not overpowered by the barbecue sauce. Loved the soufflé, but there were bites of pasty bread here and there. Don’t know if it’s meant to be that way. Our server, Clayton, was excellent, and those 25 cent martinis were just outstanding.
After a short stroll through the neighborhood, we took the bus back to Canal (the bus had apparently replaced the trolley all the way down St. Charles), then straight to Carousel Bar. It was very crowded at 3:30, too. We had dinner reservations at Herbsaint, so the plan was to have a drink here. Sat next to a NOLA native now living in Atlanta who was back in town for a conference and headed with a group to dinner at SoBou. He told us he misses Mr. B’s the most. After he left, a couple of guys, who were buddies, sat on either side of us. Both were transplants who had moved to NOLA 7 and 10 years ago, from Michigan and upstate New York, respectively. They played off each other like morning drive-time DJs and were a ton of fun. They both gave SoBou a thumbs down, listing Galatoire’s and Felix’s among the many places they liked. Talk got around to music, and they said we should walk down Chartres to Frenchmen and that we should definitely come back to town during Carnival.
So, after too many sazeracs, we cancelled Herbsaint and started walking down Chartres to Frenchmen. While my wife was changing into walking shoes in Jackson Square, a local guy on a bike overheard us talking about Frenchmen and told us about a concert going on at that moment in Armstrong Park. So we headed over there, listened to some good music, and had a couple of really good grilled andouille “dogs” (there was some real smoke in those sausages). I was still wearing my jacket from lunch, so, after the concert ended, I decided to hit Galatoire’s and try to have one more sautéed soft shell. Alas, they had run out for the day, and next day would be hard to do, because it would be Friday lunch, and we had to head to the airport by 3.
We had a little trouble getting up, but made it to lunch at Emeril’s. Only two other tables were occupied when we got there at 12:45, but the dining room was more than half full when we left. Last time we had lunch there 11 years ago, I had a truly memorable roast duck. This time we split the gumbo (chicken/andouille), which was very good but not as good as Commander’s. Also split the chicken and corn waffles, shrimp mac ‘n cheese, and banana cream pie. Standout by far was the pie. It was as good as it’s reputed to be. I had high expectations for the chicken and waffles, and the waffles and watermelon slaw didn’t disappoint. The chicken breasts, though, were overcooked (didn’t have good luck with poultry on this trip), and had far too much crust, sort of KFC extra crispy on steroids. The mac ‘n cheese was good, but pretty ordinary.
After lunch we walked up to Cochon Butcher and picked up a muffaletta, which we had for dinner when we got home. It was a good sandwich, but we thought that the muffuletta we got at Central Grocery three years ago had a better olive salad and better bread.
Another great visit. Although the remodel has changed the ambience at Carousel, we found the bar itself to be as convivial and as much fun as on our last visit in 2009. The sautéed soft shell crab at Galatoire’s, creole gumbo at Commander’s, and banana cream pie at Emeril’s were my favorite dishes, especially the crab. I will regret not ordering a second one until the next time I can have one (I mean two). Our best food experiences were at the places we re-visited from last time, Galatoire’s and Commander’s. Herbsaint is definitely on the list next time. Also mulling Clancy’s, Gautreau’s, Felix’s, Casamento’s, Bayona, oysters Rockefeller at Brennan’s, and a re-visit to Mr. B’s. Think the next visit might be in January.