Restaurants & Bars 4

Trip report!

Whats_For_Dinner | Jun 2, 2011 10:54 AM

Returned Monday from a wonderful weekend in New Orleans (well, after 30 unscheduled hours stranded at O'Hare...but that's a story all its own) and I just thought I'd report back with my experiences!

Arrived early Thursday evening as it began to rain; checked into hotel and walked down Decatur to Coop's for some jambalaya and so on. Bartender was friendly and cheerful despite being busy; had my first, second and third of many, many Abitas; and tried the "taste plate" -- gumbo, fried chicken, red beans & rice, rabbit/andouille jambalaya, and shrimp creole. I was really hoping for awesome jambalaya, as I'd heard good things, but honestly, it didn't wow me... rice was mushy, and I thought it lacked flavour overall. Gumbo and shrimp were okay; the red beans & rice and chicken won the day -- great beans, and the chicken was obviously freshly dropped, crisp, juicy.
Overall, the experience was worth it -- good people-watching, and I got into some interesting conversations.

After a few more at Checkpoint Charlie's (what can I say, I love dives) and a walk around the FQ, I was in need of some grease and sugar to soak up all those beers, so stopped in to Cafe du Monde. Had heard from friends that the quality wasn't all it was cracked up to be -- and maybe that's true when they're slammed during "normal" eating hours -- but at 1:30 am, there were only five or six tables occupied, and my beignets arrived light, crisp, not greasy or doughy, and generally excellent. Two thumbs up.

In the morning, took a walk down to Rouses in the FQ and stopped for more beignets on the way -- all in the interest of science, of course... comparisons must be made, and all that. Cafe Beignet was packed, and I found the beignets doughier, oilier, and less sugary -- overall, not up to the standard set by CDM the night before. However, given that it was busy at the time, I can imagine that when they're not slammed they probably produce a similarly good product.

Barely digested those before my lunch reso at August, which I was really anticipating... and it did not disappoint.
Housemade bread and local butter was outstanding; bouche (eggshell, fish fumet custard, truffle sabayon) was good, prix-fixe was hands down the best value I've ever seen. Started with an excellent pork terrine with a selection of housemade condiments, served with a stack of thick, buttery, rich toasted brioche. Sinful. Main was the crispy lamb belly -- tender, great flavour, perched atop a little mound of great braised greens and a few delicious malfatti made with Creole cream cheese -- soft, light, a little tangy, absolutely delicious.
Dessert brought a couple of peanut butter "croquants" with one of the best ice creams I've ever had -- a "buttered popcorn" ice cream that captured the flavour so perfectly it was hard to believe. Mignardises after; a quick trip into the kitchen to thank the chef and staff; and done, for less than $50. Great experience.

Took the afternoon to digest that by walking all the way down Magazine (amazing basil-coconut gelato at Sucre, and good pralines at Tee-Eva's) to the park and back up St. Charles, by which time I was ready to collapse from the heat, and was anything but hungry. Couple hours in the AC at the hotel rectified that, then off to Emeril's.

They treated me like a QUEEN, I'll just start off with that. On OpenTable I'd mentioned that I was sort of
celebrating recent graduation from culinary school, in hopes that it would help me snag seating at the food bar overlooking the kitchen. It did, and then some...
First of all, the open kitchen is great. The grill guy did an amazing job of keeping the diners entertained, talking and chatting in between pickups, which is something I doubt I could do. He was great to talk to about the restaurant, the business, the city, everything.
I ordered one of the features to start: sweetbreads with porcini, roasted beets and shoestring potatoes, which arrived in a timely manner along with a SECOND app feature, courtesy of the kitchen (!): soft, melty burrata with a boquerone atop some crisp toasted baguette. Both were excellent; I love sweetbreads, and these were well-executed (though the beets were a non-sequitur, I thought, but they were fine in and of themselves.) Burrata was amazingly decadent.
For my main, I had the sorghum-smoked duck, "dirty" Israeli couscous, truffle pate -- quite good. The duck was cooked to my liking, though I could imagine that some people might find it a little under, but I like it that way. Overall, good.
For dessert, I didn't indulge my peanut butter obsession (the peanut butter pie) but instead ordered the bread pudding... and what should arrive but a long plate bearing my bread pudding plus ANOTHER comped item, a massive, towering slice of banana cream pie. Good God. I should mention that I'm not generally a fan of bananas, but this was as good as I've had -- I finished the whole thing (quite a feat considering it was several inches high and almost as wide) and the bread pudding as well, which was good but almost too sweet, though that's what bread pudding is anyway. Incredibly decadent, and I finished every crumb.
Service was attentive and friendly.
All around, I had a really great time and was very comfortable as a solo diner -- the food was not on the same level as August (nor was it trying to be) but they do what they are trying to do very well.

The next morning, I hit the farmers' market on Magazine, meaning to get something healthy... Got a pint of blueberries (good) and almost got a container of fresh goat yogurt to go with them, whcih would have been perfect, but instead I scarfed down a gloriously unhealthy gooey-butter-cake-type bar from the guy with the pastry stand in the corner. Amazing.

Lunch at Johnny's: crawfish po-boy, which was good; they were busy, so everything was obviously flying out of the fryer pretty quickly. Crisp, not greasy, huge sandwich. I was worried that I might not have time to digest it before Cochon 555 that evening... luckily, by 6:30 I was just starting to be hungry again (By this point in the trip, I was already reaching my saturation point of heavy food... which says a lot, as I'm a pretty big eater when I allow myself to be!)

Cochon 555 itself was amazing -- did anyone else go? I won't go into detail because I could wax poetic for hours -- but the five chefs' offerings were almost all excellent, the butchery competition was truly great to watch, and the roast suckling pig was a spectacular cap to the night... to say nothing of the open bar, enormous cheese table, and oysters...
I was so full by the end of this that it was almost physically painful... but it was so very worth it. Waddled back to the hotel, where I sat down and immediately passed out into a dead sleep, food-coma style, for two hours; woke up and back out to the bars!

Sunday morning was an early one, and I'd heard good things about Luke, which happened to be in my hotel, so I ordered room service -- shrimp and grits, which were excellent. Shrimp were huge, sweet and perfectly cooked with a little andouille, perched on a mound of creamy grits that I wanted to never end. Great with a Pimm's and champagne to start my trip home, which, as I mentioned, ended up taking four times as long as it should have, but... that's air travel, right? Sigh.

Oh, I did pick up pralines from four different places, for comparison's sake, and I liked "Laura's" the best; Southern Candymakers' had a different texture but were tasty; Tee-Eva's tasted more caramely, but were good; and Leah's weren't nutty enough.

Places I wish I'd had time/money/stomach space to try:
Coquette
Stella
Mr. B's BBQ shrimp and gumbo ya-ya
Cochon Butcher for snacks
Felix's for oysters
Green Goddess
Hansen's for snoballs
Camellia Grill for pecan pie
Central Grocery's muffuletta
Liuzza's or another local flavour/good gumbo type place

Thanks to everyone for their recs -- it was an amazing time in an amazing city!

[ETA: Oh, should mention that I brought home some andouille, boudin and tasso from Cochon Butcher -- somehow managed to keep it cold in a cooler bag, begging ice off the airport bartenders, for my "stopover" at O'Hare -- and when I got it home, not only was it still cold but very tasty, my favourite being the boudin; full of flavour and with a bit of a spicy kick at the end -- delicious.]

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Restaurant August
301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

Coop's Place
1109 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Emeril's Restaurant
800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130

Johnny's Po-Boys
511 Saint Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Luke Restaurant
333 St Charles, New Orleans, LA 70130

Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130

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