I lived in New Orleans for years, but hadn't been back since 2005. My girlfriend had been twice, but we'd never been together. So New Orleans was a natural choice for a trip, and after talking about it for several years, we finally managed it. It was a thrill for me to see which things have changed and which haven't, and to talk to the mix of transplants and natives we met.
We stayed at the Royal Sonesta, and wound up sticking to the Quarter for the week - partly because we just didn't run out of things to do there, partly because the rain interfered with the plans we'd had to go walk around my old neighborhood in Gentilly.
Monday - Coop's, Cane and Table, CdM
What a weird thing to see a line at Coop's! A mix of twentysomethings in groups and couples in their fifties or sixties. I was a semi-regular at Coops in the 90s and early 00s - never had a lot of money while I lived in New Orleans, but Coops and the Clover Grill were the two places in the Quarter where I ate pretty frequently. Judging from the framed Offbeat article from 2003 on the wall, I'm guessing their popularity took off the same year I moved. Not much seems to have changed, except that appetizers I remember as having been perpetually written on the blackboard now actually appear on the menu.
Despite the crowd, we had excellent service. I had the taste plate out of indecision - as did everyone at the table of six next to us - and everything was basically as I remembered it; if anything, the jambalaya and gumbo are even better than I remembered. Caitlin had the pasta opelousas and loved it.
While in line at Coops we realized that Cane and Table, one of the new cocktail places I had heard of while researching our trip, is literally right next door. We walked around Jackson Square first to walk our meal off and then headed in to C&T for after-dinner drinks.
We had a lot of good cocktails in New Orleans, but Cane and Table's remained the best. I don't remember the name of the first drink I had, because it wasn't on the menu - I said I needed something very bitter because I'd just had a huge meal, and the bartender started to make me something with Cynar and Fernet before realizing they were out of Cynar and substituting another amaro. It was excellent, in any case, and followed by Absent Stars - a citrus punch with several kinds of bitters, winding up like a complex, cocktail version of grapefruit - and the Smoak and Plank, a mezcal and cherry bounce combo that was probably the best mezcal drink I've had. Absent Stars is up there with the four or five best "non-classic" cocktails (I'm never going to come out and say something's better than a Negroni or a Death in the Gulf Stream) I've had.
Wish we'd had the appetite to eat at C&T, but we had to save room for beignets, of course. The prices have gone up, naturally, but the frozen cafe au lait is new to me, and I am a fan. As with all our CdM stops, we got our coffees and beignets to go and ate them up along the river. I had chronic insomnia during my last few years in New Orleans, and once or twice a week wound up in the Quarter at two or three in the morning, eating beignets and smoking by the side of the river. Gave up cigarettes a decade ago, but the river's just as nice.
Tuesday - Kingfish, Sucre, Nola
Kingfish and Sucre were just up the street from our hotel and we'd noted them the night before, so that was our lunch and dessert on Tuesday. At Kingfish I had an excellent fried crawfish tail sandwich that was the day's special, while Caitlin got the BBQ shrimp on a cornbread pirogue. But the highlight, food-wise, was the hoppin john salad appetizer - black-eyed peas, dressed greens, and the best fried green tomatoes I've had in a restaurant. (We also got the mixed cracklins appetizer, and although it was satisfying in a way, it either needs to accompany beer instead of cocktails, or would benefit from a dipping sauce.)
Cocktails at Kingfish were less unusual than at C&T - I'm trying to phrase that in a way that is simply descriptive, without saying that one approach is better than the other - but excellently made, including a Campari mojito and an absinthe suisesse for yours truly, and a Pimms Cup for Caitlin.
Sucre was on my radar partly because of Eater's coverage of their upstairs salon, though we didn't end up checking that out (only so much time in a trip). But the desserts were ridiculously good: Caitlin had the All Things Nola verrine, which was almost too rich, and I had a nectar gelato milkshake. I wasn't positive we'd get snowballs while we were in town - I remember the one at the Riverwalk shops as not being very good, and didn't yet realize there's a stand at the French Market - so the nectar milkshake was my way of making sure I tasted nectar SOMEthing while I was here.
Caitlin went back to Sucre later to pick up gifts for people and a box of chocolates for us, the two of which we've had have been excellent.
We had a late dinner at Nola, and I don't know how much the hour played into the fact that it was overall mediocre. My garlic-crusted drum was excellent, though also very expensive for what seemed to be simply a good piece of fish prepared the same way my mother used to make pork chops. Caitlin's fried chicken -- three breasts and grits -- was bland and too big a portion to work through. Our chicken leg confit appetizer was too salty by far, and a single leg has always struck me as a weird choice of appetizer, leaving both of you picking on the bone -- not something I can blame on Nola, though, given how often I see duck leg confit as an appetizer.
I had never had a bad meal at Nola, but looking back I'm not sure I ever had one that blew me away, either - we ended up there largely because of the late hour and proximity.
Wednesday - Eat New Orleans, Arnauds
I don't remember what brought us to Eat New Orleans for lunch. I hadn't heard anything about it, and thanks to its name, didn't have much luck googling reviews on my phone. It had popped up on Caitlin's phone in response to "best fried green tomatoes in the French Quarter," and I admit to being skeptical at first - I've had so many mediocre meals in the Quarter that I wanted to take advantage of the review research I'd done, and Eat hadn't been on my radar, so it was an unknown quantity.
It wound up being the real find of the trip. The crawfish boulettes we had as an appetizer were delicious, as was my cochon with mustard greens. Caitlin had the trio - a cup of gumbo, a cup of white beans, and a stuffed pepper. This is perfect comfort food for us, and the gumbo was excellent. (If I regret anything about the trip, it's not ordering gumbo more often.) The fried green tomatoes were available as an appetizer, but also came as the side with my cochon - and were excellent as Google said.
I can't emphasize enough how much I loved Eat. We'll definitely go back on the next trip.
Shopping throughout the day, including the French Market, where I discovered there is now a snowball stand, and they don't suck. Caitlin had nectar, I had wedding cake. Look, this may be a terrible snowball stand by local standards, for all I know - it was my first snowball since 2003, since my last two trips to the city were out of season. But the texture seemed right to me and the taste was glorious.
For dinner we had Arnauds, which had always been my favorite of the old-line Creole restaurants (though I've never been to Galatoire's). We started with souffle potatoes (obviously amazing) and oysters on the half shell (huge and mild), and I had a bowl of turtle soup, which may not be quite as good as Commander's but is still excellent. Our entrees were the stuffed mirliton and the crab cakes, and the crab cakes are the only thing I could think to complain about - they were great, but just so small for the price.
I think the highlight was the cafe brulot - other tables turned to watch, and asked us about it afterward. Orange and coffee has been a favorite flavor combination of mine since I was a little kid, and this is like the platonic ideal of that. Obviously watching the preparation is a large part of the enjoyment too.
Thursday - R'evolution
Thursday we ended up at R'evolution for lunch, and it was stunning. The roasted oysters were almost too rich given what we had for entrees - the crab grilled cheese especially (not only one of the best things I had on this trip, but in my top ten New Orleans restaurant meals of all time). Caitlin's artichoke mirliton gratin was likewise very rich, but balanced out by her crab ravigote, which was one of the most perfectly balanced seafood dishes I've had a bite of. Had I ordered the ravigote instead of the grilled cheese, I'd still be raving about this place - they must have a magic touch with crab.
Thursday night we - especially I, a work-at-home writer unaccustomed to walking so much! - were wiped out and had an early morning flight, so stuck with room service. This weekend we're still recovering from all the food, still talking about our favorite highlights.