Well, my wife & I got back Saturday night from a three day trip to NO. Before I talk about our meals, I want to state up front that my perspective about dining entails my having worked in the restaurant business as a bus boy, dishwasher, waiter, bartender and cook. Although I don't work in the industry anymore, my experiences still affect what I see and taste.
My restaurant experience, however, doesn't make my opinions any more (or less) valid than any other customer.
We arrived in NO on Wednesday in the late morning,
so after dropping our stuff off at our Hotel, we headed to Liuzza's By The Track for Lunch. My wife & I both started with a cup of crawfish and corn chowder, which we both thought was quite good. A nice amount of crawfish and corn with just a touch of heat. My wife followed that up with a oyster po' boy, which she gave good marks, and I had their signature shrimp po' boy, which suffered from two problems: First, it was about 10,000 degrees Kelvin, so it took A LONG time to get to a tempertature that allowed me to eat the darn thing, which made the nice roll it was served in get soggy; secondly, it was made with way too much black pepper.
That's all you could taste, black pepper. I'm not a believer in spice-heat overpowering a dish. What's the point if you can't taste anything else? The service was friendly. A nice little neighborhood joint for lunch.
For dinner Wednesday night, we went to Herbsaint.
With the shrimp po' boy still camping out in my stomach, I started with a simple mixed green salad with dried figs and goat cheese. A pedestrian choice, but the greens were fresh and it was dressed correctly.
My wife had the gumbo, which was pretty good.
Neither my wife or I can remember what her entree was,
which isn't an indictment of it being forgetable, but of our bad memories! I had what I think was my best entree of the trip. I chose the pork belly with curried lentils. This was a well-thought out entree,
that combined contrasting textures and flavours that worked incredibly well together. The pork belly had a lot of meat to it, the lentils were just right, and the side of frisee with cucumbers and chocolate mint was freaking amazing. For dessert we had the chocolate beignets, brown sugar banana tart and chocolate sorbet.
My wife and I thought the banana tart was the best, and that the chocolate beignets were lack-luster.
The service was friendly and engaging. In fact, since there was a parade going on right outside the restaurant, they told us to feel free to leave our table as much as we wanted to go get some throws.
The only bad part about the meal was that my wife's glass of white wine had cork in it, which they promptly replaced.
Thursday morning while my wife got ready for her conference, I went to Elizabeth's for breakfast.
I arrived soon after they openned, so I was the only customer. The waiter poured me a cup of coffee, which was very dark, just the way I like it. But why was it only luke warm? I ordered three eggs sunny side up,
cheese grits, praline bacon, and a biscuit. Coffee refill #1 was also luke warm. The food came and just as advertised, the portions are large. Two of the eggs were done OVER medium, and the third was cooked so much that the yolk was actually hard. So much for my nice runny eggs. Normally I'd send 'em back, but I was hungry. The cheese grits were cheese grits, but the biscuit was good. Finally coffee refill #2 was hot.
I love breakfast, and I think breakfast cookery is a forgotten skill at a lot of places, as evidenced by my eggs cooked incorrectly. I mean, come on, I was the only customer, get my eggs right. My first experience with Elizabeth's didn't do much for me.
For lunch on Thursday, I made the pilgrimage to Ugelsich's. Much has been written about the merits or lack thereof about this NO institution, so I'll add my .02 cents. Thinking about it beforehand, I thought the experience might be something akin to going to Disneyworld. You know, something to survive, rather than enjoy. I was wrong. I got there about 10 minutes early so I was kind of just walking around the block.
Anthony himself opens the door and says to me, "It's too cold out there, why don't you come inside?".
Never uderestimate the power of kindness. For the next 45 minutes, I had a great lunch, where I was the only customer for the most part. I went with 3 apps, the fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and fried oysters with bleu cheese, all excellent. Would I wait 90 minutes to eat there? No, but then again, I don't wait 90 minutes to eat anywhere or do anything (I make ample use of fastpass at Disneyworld). The service was friendly, John was from PA as am I, so we hit it off and talked easily about PA, celebrities, NY and the price of shrimp. I think my experience was like what it must have been like 20 years ago before it became a destination.
For dinner Thursday night, we went to Bayonna.
I started light with the cream of garlic soup, which was prepared well. My wife started with their black bean cake and shrimp with coriander sauce. It was good, but at a restaurant like this, I think the shrimp should have been the U12 size, rather than than U16-20.
I then had the spinach salad with a poached egg, bacon and mustard vinaigrette. It was just ok. I think it would be much better if both the egg and dressing were hot. My wife went with the crispy quail salad with the bourbon/molasses dressing. It was an excellent salad and presented quite well. For entrees, I went with the loin of lamb with roasted potatoes, which was just ok.
The lamb was cooked to my request (medium rare), but the side of roasted potatoes, sguash and spinach seemed forced, and the quantity of potatoes was a bit skimpy.
My wife had the grouper with corn risotto, which was excellent, but a bit more risotto would have been nice.
I think my dessert was my best course. I opted for the El Ray chocolate mousse with dulce de leche, and again,
our collective memory for my wife's dessert is coming up blank, but the pastry chef at Bayonna deserves high marks. There were two downsides with Bayonna.
My glass of red had a lot of sediment in it, and the service was rather perfunctory, bordering on the staff wanting to turn the table.
For breakfast Friday morning I went to The Blue Plate.
I had the crawfish cakes with three eggs sunny side up
(which were cooked correctly) and home fries. It was an excellent breakfast. The crawfish cakes were smothered in a creole cream sauce with lots of crawfish. Service was friendly and the menu was more interesting than Elizabeth's. In fact, if I had to choose one over the other, I'd pick The Blue Plate for breakfast. The only downside about The Blue Plate is that their coffee is weak.
Dinner Friday night was a Magigny Brasserie. My wife and I both started with the chef's foi gras of the day, which was served on a slice of paine pardue with a blueberry demi. It was just ok. I live in the Hudson Valley, so I get great foi gras. I thought the foi gras was sliced too thin and I don't think it was seared "a la minute". We also shared some scallops wrapped in bacon, again just ok. For entrees, I went with the duck, which was good, and my wife had the fried soft shell, which was good, but it was over- seasoned. The service was perfunctory. I'm not expecting my server to entertain me, but at leat try to "read" us. My wife and I were saying interact with us, don't be a waitron.
I don't understand why waiters don't make more of an effort.
Saturday breakfast I had wanted to take my wife to The Blue Plate, but they didn't open until 10 and were serving a limited menu, so I decided to give Elizabeth's another chance. It was better this time.
I went with the redneck eggs benedict, which was fried green tomatoes and eggs benedict, while my wife had basically a pulled pork po' boy, which was good.
The coffee was even hot this time from the start,
but I'd still pick The Blue Plate for breakfast.
No new must-eat-at places, but in major U.S. cities,
that's a feat hard to come by. Now, I did find this little place in Sardinia this past September that has this awesome fresh tagliatelle with a wild boar ragout.