New Orleans Birthday Trip – May 17-24, 2015
We arrived around 2:30 on Saturday 5/17 and had tickets that evening for the Marc Maron show at the Joy Theater on Canal Street that same night. We ate dinner at Red Fish Grill, and as Jazzy B wisely posted, we were not missing much if we hadn’t dined there. At least we got our least favorite meal of the trip out of the way the first night. This place is a tourist trap of the first degree , all the way from the exuberant waiter who talked too fast, to the loud crowded atmosphere, to the adequate food served at room temperature. We started with the famous fried BBQ oysters, topped with blue cheese and Crystal hot sauce. I liked them better than DH did, but they were not worthy of the hype. I had the signature specialty of the wood-grilled red fish topped with lump crabmeat over vegetables and tasso and mushroom Pontalba potatoes. Hubby had the crispy grilled gulf wild red snapper with roma tomatoes and Swiss chard. I had a bite of his snapper and it was much better than my redfish. At @ $35 price points, these dishes were too expensive for the quality. Food not being served hot was the downfall. We had pre-ordered the double chocolate bread pudding and after we had been there for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and we asked for the bread pudding to go, the waiter just comped us on that since it had taken so long, which was much appreciated. Certainly nice the management at Redfish allows the waitstaff to be able to do that. We ate it the next day and it was good. Drinks were seasonal sparkler (raspberries and Champagne) and DH had a Sazerac. Probably would not recommend Redfish Grill. Hope the rest of Ralph Brennan’s restaurants are not like this. The Marc Maron show was great by the way.
Monday 5/18 was DH’s 50th birthday. Had made lunch reservations at Antoine’s and we both got the $20.15 3-course lunch special. We spent about 15-20 minutes in the Hermes Bar before lunch, enough time to have a Sazerac (he) and French 75 (I). Moving into the small narrow dining room (don’t know what it’s called), straight back and off to the left, I ordered the vichysoisse, shrimp bonne Femme, and meringue glacee with chocolate sauce. Hubby had the oysters Bienville, veal Florentine, and pecan bread pudding. We also had time to consume more alcohol (of course)…a Sidecar for me, and a Beefeater martini up with one olive for Hubs. Then a little more…their house Chardonnay (John Golt?) for him, and I took advantage of the 25 cent flavored martini of the day. Told it was going to be orange, but they changed it to pear, which I preferred anyway. Had two of those (at a quarter each, it’s hard to pass up). We thought the food at lunch was great. I loved my vichysoisse and meringue with chocolate sauce, but the shrimp bonne femme was a little rich for me. When the waitress noticed I wasn’t eating it, she asked “what’s wrong with the shrimp?”. Told her it was a bit rich and I was already pretty full from the drinks. DH helped me eat it so it didn’t go to waste. Antoine’s lunch is a steal at $20.15.
Dinner Monday evening at Arnaud’s. I had made reservations for their Jazz Bistro side, and I’m sure glad I did. The 3-piece jazz combo (clarinet, banjo and standup bass) was well worth the $4 pp upcharge. Spent a little time in French 75 before our reservations. I had the Ellipses and Dash (Mount Gay and Eldorado rums, allspice, falernum, orange and lime juices, and Angostura bitters) and DH had the Curari (rye whiskey, ruby port, and orange bitters). Starters were a dozen raw on the half shell, and also the Shrimp Arnaud, both excellent. He had the assorted greens salad (arugula, radicchio, and butter lettuces with hears of palm, duck cracklings, and Creole mustard dressing) and I the Arnaud’s salad (Romaine, celeriac, and pistachios with their house dressing- can’t remember what that was). Mains were the Pompano Duarte (he) and I had the Frogs Legs. The frog legs were the best I ever had; the batter in which they were prepared was so tasty. There were about 15 of the meaty fellows so I took about half of them with us to stick in the fridge for later. Hubby had a glass of Merryvale Chardonnay with his meal, and an espresso after dinner. They also brought out a saucer of whipped cream with a candle in it for his birthday. How sweet! The best part was when the jazz trio started touring the room, and ours was the first table at which they stopped. Hubby requested Basin Street Blues, and the bass player did a bang-up job singing it, complete with the “growl” and everything. Memorable evening.
Tuesday 5/19 brought us to Boucherie on Carrollton for lunch….heavenly! A little amuse bouche arrived in the form of two large silver spoons filled with a delectable creamy garlic soup. We ordered the mussels with collard greens and crispy grits crackers, arugula salad, jerked duck, and the carnitas with pineapple salsa. Drinks consumed were many: one Sophia Loren, one Back to the Future, one Bloody Mary, one Dark and Stormy, and one Abita Light. This place was A+ and a nice break from seafood-centric places.
We took the St. Charles streetcar from Boucherie back to the Quarter where we wandered into Deanie’s for a quick drink break: one Rum Punch (DH) and Dixie Light for myself. This was the other place I was thinking of going before the Maron show on Sunday night. Who knows, we probably would have liked it as much as, if not more than, the Redfish Grill for dining. It was exceptionally clean and friendly (sounds weird, but true). After that, we wandered into Déjà vu for a couple drinks (two Bloodies and one NOLA blonde). Déjà vu was friendly, but not so clean, which really doesn’t bother us; it was just a stark change from Deanie’s bar.
Back to the hotel for a freshening up before our Tuesday evening dinner at Liuzza’s by the Tracks. I had the BBQ shrimp and Hubs had the fried seafood platter. I also had some type of green salad, and they brought out all three of their homemade dressings: green onion, a pepper one, and I can’t remember the other. A Bloody Mary and Abita amber draft were the drinks of choice. We must have really looked like tourists as the waitperson asked us how we had heard about LBTT, and I told him I am always reading about and stalking New Orleans restaurants on Chowhound and elsewhere. He mentioned both Yelp and Trip Advisor. Oh well. Don’t know why we mentioned the mule-driven carriage rides in the Quarter, as we’ve never done them, but he said “Yeah, the Quarter…it has mules AND jackasses!” Gotta love that! Even our return cabdriver asked us how we knew about Liuzza’s by the Tracks; it was funny.
Wednesday lunch reservations were at Herbsaint on St. Charles Avenue. Started off with drinks: I had the champagne cocktail and he had his good old standby drink of choice, a Sazerac. Food was quite good: I had the soup of the day (sweet potato) and Hubs had a seasonal greens salad, with feta, focaccia croutons, and grilled leek vinaigrette. He is a sucker for country-fried steak (we call it chicken-fried steak here in the Midwest), and that happened to be one of Herbsaint’s “special sandwiches” that day. It was served with arugula and Creole tomato and home fries, and he deemed it excellent. I believe the “steak” was ground round. I had the housemade spaghetti with guanciale and fried/poached egg, which definitely lived up to the hype. Would have loved to have eaten dessert there, but we were quite full by that time.
Dinner that evening was at Port of Call, close to our hotel and one of the few restaurants we’ve repeated in New Orleans. I needed to buy a T-shirt there for a friend (check), so we did our usual splitting of the Schooner salad with blue cheese dressing, a cheeseburger ordered medium that the kitchen promptly ignored and prepared medium rare instead which my husband loved and I ate anyway, and that big baked potato. A Port of Call and a jumbo Red Turtle were our drinks, which were enough to set us sailing (pun intended). This was the only time we’ve been to POC when it wasn’t packed and didn’t have to wait. It was strangely not crowded on a Wednesday night.
Thursday 5/21 was our day out of the city. We rented a car and drove north the 24 miles across the Causeway Boulevard across Lake Pontchartrain on our way to Abita Springs. We first went to the Abita Mystery House and met the venerable curator/proprietor John Preble. The Mystery House was truly weird, wild, and wonderful. We loved it. I would best describe it as a mash-up between Hoarders and Carnivale/Freak Show. Truly unique experience. Two “natural” things that I thought were neat: saw a couple of little lizards skittering around outside in the damp, humid, leafy green environment, and also spied some type of red bird with a red beak flitting in the trees that I could not identify. Wonder if it is native to the south and/or Louisiana as I had never seen one before. It looked like a larger tropical-looking cardinal. After buying some tchotchkes and our second Bobby Lounge CD in the gift store (Mr. Preble being Lounge’s producer), we were on the hunt for lunch before the 2:00 pm tour at the Abita Brewery. Mr. Preble recommended Mama D’s Pizza, which is where we went. He also said to tell the Turkish owner “some kind of big lie…tell him I touched you inappropriately”. OK, a lot of people would not think that was funny, but I thought it hilarious. DH and I each had Mama D’s lunch special of any half sandwich, plus chips and a drink for $6.05. Can’t beat that with a stick! I had a half muffuletta and Hubs a half Mama D’s Special (kind of like a pizza sub-style). When we left, I told the guy that Mr. Preble from the Mystery House wanted me to tell him that he had touched me inappropriately. His eyes widened as he asked, “Did he”? I couldn’t keep a straight face and said “No, of course not…I’m just kidding”.
Abita Brewery tour: not much to say here, except it is free and you can drink as much beer as you can hold, both before and after the tour. My husband asked about people driving after the tour, and the guide thought he meant driving during the tour, because she replied there was no driving during the tour. Ha! I assume they think no one gets that drunk on beer. I do remember one impressive factoid about one of the vats: it holds enough beer that every person seated in the Superdome could have a 12-oz. beer, with some left over. That’s huge. We already had a 12-bottle party pack of Abita in our hotel fridge, so we didn’t partake too much of the free taps.
I had New Orleans Seafood & Spirits on my radar for dinner, so we drove to Bucktown from Abita Springs and spied the original Deanie’s on the way. R&O is right next door to NO Seafood & Spirits, which I didn’t realize. The food at New Orleans Seafood & Spirits was fantastic, what I would consider to be real New Orleans comfort food. It was Thursday and I was pleased to find out they still had their lunch special available of white beans and stewed rabbit. Yum! We also had a dozen raw, and DH had the catfish topped with crawfish stew, plus seafood gumbo. It was happy hour, so we had four “small” Bloody Marys for $3 each. As we were nearing the end of our meal, three different high school graduation groups came in with about 20-25 in each party. The place was slammed! On top of that, it was pouring rain, so they had to close the patio, and it got crowded quickly inside. In spite of that, the waitstaff never missed a beat in the service, and remained courteous, prompt and efficient. Excellent!
Friday 5/22 lunch at Restaurant August on Tchoupitoulas turned out to be the best meal of the trip, and quite possibly the best meal we have eaten in any New Orleans restaurant, and we have eaten at many. From the amuse bouche of some kind of delectably creamy cheesy egg concoction that was served in a silver egg cup, to the deconstructed gazpacho, to the grilled lamb loin, this was an impeccable dining experience: from the food to the service, it was all divine. I wish I had paid more attention to the description of the egg amuse bouche; I do remember parmesan cheese was part of it. My husband was so overwhelmed with the deliciousness of the food that he made a prayer of thanks to the Great Architect of the Universe for providing us with such sublime food. I had the 3-course lunch for $20.15 which I would defy anyone anywhere to find more delicious food at a better price. I started with the gazpacho, which was first presented as a cylindrical cube of green herbs and vegetation sitting alone in a shallow bowl, no liquid. As I stared in disbelief, I thought OK, this is different, maybe it’s a new variation of gazpacho, but I’m going to trust Restaurant August and go with it. Not to worry, though, as the waiter poured a beautiful thick stream of the beautiful tomato-ey gazpacho from a silver pitcher, and as it touched the small green cylinder in the bowl, it all diffused into one glorious gazpacho splendor. Wow, obviously the most unusual presentation of gazpacho ever, but also the most delicious. Second course for me was the grilled fish, which was supposed to be flounder, but turned out to be swordfish instead. No problem, it was great. Third course was a chocolate torte for dessert. Equally exquisite.
DH did not go with the $20.15 summer lunch special, and instead chose the grilled lamb loin, with an heirloom tomato salad to start. Again, the best lunch ever. For drinks, I had a French 75, and he a Hendrick’s gin martini up with one olve. We cannot praise August enough. For those who have stated that it is stuffy, cold, and sterile, I’m not sure you were in the same establishment we were.
After Restaurant August, we headed over to the Toulouse Street wharf to catch the Steamboat Natchez Mississippi River cruise at 2:30. This was touristy, but fun, and we were glad we did it. The cruise lasted 2 hours, and it was a good way to see the “back side” of the Quarter and Bywater buildings and businesses as we headed downriver (?). I must say Domino Sugar must pay Steamboat Natchez handsomely for the 2-minute “advertisement” as we cruised past the sugar facility (“Domino Sugar, how sweet it is!”). We had a couple drinks while on board that were just fine (a rum punch and a pomegranate margarita). We might try the Creole Queen tour next time for something different. One funny thing (or at least I thought it was funny): there was a Cajun guy hawking “ice cold bottled water” as we were standing outside in the hot sun waiting in line. He was missing many teeth. We had also struck up a conversation with another Cajun native at the Abita Brewery on Thursday. He, also, was missing a lot of teeth. As I was standing in line to board the steamboat, I said to my husband in what I thought was a hushed voice, “What’s up with Cajun guys missing most of their teeth”? A young lady standing in front of me turned and said, “You know, I was thinking exactly the same thing”!
After disembarking from the boat at 4:30, we headed to Irene’s for dinner. This is a restaurant that was recommended to us by our hotel the first time we visited New Orleans six years ago, but we had never yet been. It is by far the best Italian restaurant in which we have ever dined, and we have been to many in St. Louis which is known for its Italian restaurants. Italian is probably our favorite over-all cuisine. We arrived around 5:00, but their signage said they open at 5:30, so we ducked into a bar called Mr. B next door to use the restroom, have a drink, and cool off. Sidebar: Hubby had a couple of funny things said to him in the men’s restroom. First was “Is this where all the d-cks hang out”? His reply: “That’s what I heard”. Another guy said “I bet my d-ck is cleaner than this restroom”. Hubby’s reply: “I’m sure that it is”. No doubt these guys pegged him as a tourist and thought they would shock or offend him, but little did they know, it takes a lot more than that to ruffle my husband. He came out of the restroom chuckling and shaking his head. It makes me laugh even now thinking about it. We moved on next door to Irene’s at 5:30, and somehow, I remembered if you show up earlier, they actually open before 5:30. They were already over halfway full. We were seated in the second dining room and ordered a glass each of the pinot grigio (myself) and chardonnay (DH). He also had his ubiquitous Hendrick’s martini.
I had heard that Irene’s served a complimentary bruschetta appetizer, and here it came, topped with seasonal tomatoes, mozzarella, and garlic. Yum. I had the special salad of the night, which was a melon prosciutto, so refreshing. DH had the Caesar. For mains, I chose the fried softshell crab, and Hubs had their fish special of the evening (can’t remember what that was). As for dessert, we were both too full, but hubby did have espresso. Service and food were both outstandingly superb. We could not recommend Irene’s Cuisine highly enough.
Last full day of our trip was Saturday 5/23 (boo). We ate brunch at Eat at the corner of Dumaine and Dauphine. Again, we had been hearing great things about Eat for many years, and it is all well-deserved. I may even go so far as to say it was a better brunch than Café Atchafalaya, and that’s hard to beat. We started with their justly lauded fried chicken livers with pepper jelly, which were delicious as promised. Hubs had the fried oysters Napoleon, which was kind of like an oysters Benedict. I had one of their specials that day, the most scrumptious waffle dish I’ve ever tasted: a waffle with lime curd, paired with grits, eggs and bacon. Bacon was crispy as I ordered it, the grits were the creamiest grits I’d ever tasted, and the lime curd with the waffle was as close as a person could get to eating a piece of key lime pie for breakfast. Damn, it was good. Drinks were coffee and water since we didn’t feel like purchasing any adult beverages to take in with us.
After brunch, I decided to take the rest of the day off and stay in the air-conditioned suite and sleep since the heat of the week had really exhausted me. Hubby took off and made a tour of many watering holes in the Quarter for a last hoorah before our trip home on Sunday morning. He checked in with me after a few hours to say he was going to Matassa’s Market for a muffuletta for us to eat in the room that evening, which was fine with me. It was not the best muffuletta in the world, but it was freshly made and convenient. We ate the rest of it in the morning before we left for the airport. Perhaps next time we’ll try the Quartermaster Deli (Nellie Deli) or Verti Marte.
If you have hung in this far to finish my trip report, I thank you for your steadfastness. My husband told me it was his best-ever trip to New Orleans, and I asked “What about our four previous visits? What were they…chopped liver?” We both concluded that going to New Orleans just gets better with each successive visit because there’s always something new to see and do, and new restaurants to enjoy. Till we and the Crescent City meet again…which we hope will be about nine months.