Well, I didn't really have a chance to document much of my NOLA trip while I was there because I was way too busy eating. Eating, drinking, walking and sleeping was pretty much what I did for 4 days. It was fantastic. I arrived Friday late afternoon and after getting settled at the hotel and changing out of my jeans so I could stop sweating, the BF and I headed over to WINO (Wine Institute of New Orleans) for a snack. We loaded up a debit card and sampled a bunch of different wines and ordered a few tapas. The place was super cute and laid back. We ordered hummus, bruschetta, melon and prosciutto and tapenade. They were out of tapenade, so we got an olive assortment instead. Everything was yummy and super reasonable...the whole food bill was under $25. Of course we spent double that on the vino, but it was worth it. We ended up having a late dinner at Rambla, the restaurant at our hotel, and then having drinks at the bar there while waiting for our partners in crime to arrive (of course their flight in was delayed and they didn't arrive until about 1 am). I was really impressed by Rambla. They have a nice wine selection that is heavy on Spanish wines, and very reasonably priced. I love me some tapas, so I was in heaven. My faves from what we ordered were the Rambla shrimp, which was to die for--the sauce was so good sopped up with bread, and the grilled octopus salad, which was pretty unexpected and amazing. It had olives, chickpeas, celery and a few other things mixed together with chargrilled octopus that was perfectly cooked and not remotely rubbery. We also had a 5 onion tortilla, which was pretty good, but had a little too much melted cheese on top for my liking, and a marisco dish with mussels, crawfish and shrimp that was average. After dinner, we hit up Loa for drinks while we waited and snagged a cupcake at the bar that was apparently leftover from a birthday party going on. There was a huge group of people together and all the girls were wearing fake moustaches. Go figure. I got a nice moist chocolate cupcake out of it and was tempted to take the 2nd one the bartender offered us, but better judgement ruled and we left before I stuffed myself silly.
After staying out til around 5am, we dragged ourselves out of bed around noon and headed over to Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. Just as good as I remembered. Fried dough covered in powdered sugar is just tasty, and you can smell the goodness as soon as you get within 10 yards of Cafe du Monde. After a bit of shopping and getting soaked in a rainstorm, we decided we would go straight to lunch and picked up a muffuletta from Central Grocery. We got a whole one to split between the 4 of us, and that was the perfect amount. I'm a recent convert to olive consumption, but even Keith, my cousin-in-law, who doesn't like olives thought the olive salad made the sandwich awesome. Luckily, my BF is becoming less vegetarian with every trip we take, so he too enjoyed the ham and salami-laden monster sandwich. After we finished scarfing that down in the park and headed over to Acme so the BF could get his oyster fix. There was actually a line outside, but it went pretty quickly and we were seated at the bar in no time. The boys each got a dozen giant oysters and we ordered one of my cousin Michelle's favorite things--cheese fries with brown gravy, which is called boo fries at Acme. I had never heard of this and it sounded pretty damn gross, but my cousin insisted it's the best and what she craves after a night of drinking. Apparently it's an east coast thing, but I'm from NJ--home of the diner--and have never heard of it. Well, Keith quickly learned he does not like raw oysters...I'm sure Michelle describing them as big boogers didn't help. The BF was undeterred and slurped his down, dousing them in the special horseradish sauce. I tried the fries and they were actually pretty good, but I wasn't convinced of their awesomeness. Apparently it's better with mozzarella, but down in NOLA they use cheddar. Oh well, I was still stuffed from the muffuletta so it's better that the boo fries were resistible. Dinner Saturday night was at Nola, one of Emeril's restaurants. We were there last year and I still think about the crab cakes with eggplant puree and feta. So good. I've read a lot of mixed reviews about Nola, but we really enjoyed it last year...we even discovered a new favorite wine, Kangarilla Shiraz, which we buy regularly now. This year we had another great experience. The service was great and the food was fantastic. We found another great shiraz that we are going to be on the lookout for now as well, Kilkanoon Shiraz I believe (we heart shiraz). A few minutes after we sat down, they brought us a each a piece of warm jalapeno cornbread. Nothing better than warm bread. Well, maybe warm jalapeno cornbread. We got 2 crab cakes...one for me and one for the table--everyone wanted to try since I had raved about it. The BF got baked oysters as an appetizer...as if he needed MORE oysters. The crab cake was just as good as I remembered. You wouldn't think the eggplant, olives and feta would go with a crab cake, but it works so well. For my entree, I got the swordfish special, which came with buttermilk chive mashed potatoes and haricot verts. The BF got shrimp and grits, which I of course had to taste. Very good. My fish was good...my only minor complaint was that the chargrilled taste was slightly overpowering. I was so full after a couple bites anyway, but I forced myself to keep eating because it was good. I managed to save some room for dessert and was really looking forward to the special dessert that had been on the menu--a Mississippi mud cake with 'ooey gooey' warm chocolate cake and ice cream. I had my heart set on that, so I was bummed when our server said they were out of it. Bollocks. Plan B. Bittersweet chocolate torte with brandied apricots and chocolate ganache. Not bad. I'm not a huge fan of fruit anywhere near my dessert, but the apricots were within the layer cake and just added some texture. The cake was nice and moist and while it wasn't my favorite, it satisfied my chocolate craving.
Sunday we headed over to EAT for brunch. The BF had a tournament at 2pm, so we got there around noon and put our name in. There were already a few groups of people waiting outside in the drizzles and I was thankful I borrowed a giant umbrella from the hotel. The BF went down the block to get a bloody mary at Cafe Lafitte in Exile since EAT is byob. Awesome recommendation by Chowhounders...it had more garnish on it than I have ever seen and only cost $5. We waited for what seemed like eternity, but was actually close to an hour. It looked like there was only 2 waitresses for the whole place and the host disappeared after taking our name. We were starting to get really antsy when we knew it was our turn next to be seated and saw the people at our 4-top pay their bill and leave...only to have the table sit there uncleared for a while. Finally it was cleared, but no one came to get us. We were starving and impatient by this point, so we went inside to wait right in the doorway, hopefully reminding the host that we were waiting for that empty table...right there...in front of us...so close. A few minutes later, the waitress finally came over and seated us...then walked away. No menus, place settings, nothing. They seated another table right next to us and gave them menus immediately. Not cool. Michelle's inner-New Yorker came out and she got up and got menus for us. The waitress must have noticed, because she came over and took our drink orders immediately. She was super nice too. I love that about the South...she didn't get all offended and act pissy because we were slightly rude. We were just so frustrated at that point. And hungry. Once she took our orders, our food came out pretty quickly and everything was amazing. So worth the wait. I had my first fried green tomatoes with remoulade. Oh. My. God. Their remoulade is spectacular. I wanted to drink the little bowl of it. I wish they bottled it and sold it. I had a spinach and artichoke omelet with grits and a biscuit. The biscuit was huge, soft and fluffy. The moistest, best biscuit I have ever had. The omelet was done to perfection. Everyone was thrilled with their meals and our previous annoyance over waiting disappeared. We had a 9PM dinner reservation for Dante's Kitchen, so around 5PM we decided to have cocktails and a quick snack at Rambla. We ordered the Rambla shrimp again--they were that good--a cheese plate, patatas bravas, and a ceviche special. Again, everything was excellent and it was a perfect snack for the 4 of us. We attempted to take the streetcar to Dante's Kitchen, but it doesn't seem to come every 15 minutes like it says it does online. We ended up hailing a cab and lucked out with a chatty cabbie who pointed out some sites along the way. The restaurant is a cute little cottage and the owner greeted and sat us. Our waitress was really helpful and nice. We ordered the same bottle of wine we had the previous night and liked so much and the boys ordered cocktails as well. I don't like margaritas, but I have to admit the BF's blood orange margarita wasn't bad at all. I got a beet salad with arugula and pecans as an appetizer and it was very nice and extremely fresh. The BF had bbq shrimp, which came in the BEST sauce. I just couldn't stop dipping the bread in it. Oh, and speaking of bread, they brought out piping-hot spoonbread for the table that was really interesting. It was kind of like cornbread with a little molasses and melty butter on top. You just can't go wrong with hot bread. I was stuck between an amberjack dish and roasted chicken and asked the waitress her opinion. She told me the chicken was a staff favorite, so I picked that. Thank god I did, because that was one of the best chicken dishes I have ever had. It rates up there with my favorite chicken in the world at N9ne Steakhouse. It had a maple bbq glaze and was soooooo moist. There was extra sauce for dipping on the plate and a potato bacon cake. Keith got the chicken too and was equally impressed. The BF, who never eats chicken and says he doesn't like it, tried mine and said he wished he had ordered it. Best thing on the menu, hands down. I would go to New Orleans just to go to Dante's Kitchen and order that chicken. I'd get the bbq shrimp appetizer too. For dessert we got a strawberry shortcake and the chocolate spice cake. I basically ate the whole chocolate spice cake...it had a nice crackly top and the spice wasn't overpowering. I'm not a big fan of strawberry shortcake (the whole fruit thing), but everyone else was raving about it so I gave it a try. Pretty damn good. Homemade whipped cream and a nice shortcake biscuit thing. I could do without the strawberries, but I guess they were pretty good too. I would definitely recommend Dante's Kitchen to anyone...it was one of the best meals I've had. Ever. And I have had a lot of great meals.
Monday we hit Croissant d'or for coffee and croissants. They make a nice latte there. For lunch we ended up at Stanley. The service was good and my omelet sandwich was pretty tasty, although a little heavy on the velveeta-ish cheese. Good comfort food menu. I really wanted to try EAT for dinner, but they are unfortunately closed on Mondays. Instead, we went to Rio Mar. Seafood and tapas...and open on Monday. Perfect. We had a drink at the bar first and the bartender was really nice and made a couple suggestions of what to order. The rest of our party was running super late and the kitchen was getting ready to close, so the BF and I just ordered for everyone and had the waiter help us make choices. The staff there was super friendly and helpful. We got the ceviche sampler and crawfish croquettas to start. The ceviche sampler was excellent and had 4 generous portions of different ceviches. The croqettas were pretty damn good too. For mains, we had a yellowfin wrapped in prosciutto, a shrimp dish that the bartender recommended, 5 hour roast pork and a pan-roasted black drum. The pork was by far the best thing we had. Good thing our friends were running late, because we probably never would have ordered it if we hadn't let the waiter decide on 2 things for us! The yellowfin, which was my choice, was actually my least favorite. It was a bit fishy and I wasn't a big fan. Couldn't get enough of the pork and the plantains that came with it though. I would definitely go back to Rio Mar.
For our last meal on Tuesday we went to EAT. Lunch wasn't quite as revelatory as brunch, but it was still pretty damn good. I actually had an omelet again, this time with ham and goat cheese. For lunch, it comes with a mixed green salad and grilled french bread. I wish it came with another biscuit! The BF got the trio with gumbo, red beans and shrimp with butterbeans. I tried his and it was very good, but very heavy as well. I was happy with my not-so-light, but fluffy omelet. We stopped by Central Grocery to get a muffuletta for the trip home. Brilliant plan. We ended up waiting until we got all the way home to eat it, but it totally held up and was just as yummy as I remembered.
All in all, we had amazing food and I'm certain I came home a couple pounds heavier. Totally worth it. Many thanks for all the recommendations of my fellow CHs...the rest of my group was grateful for all the research I did as well :-)
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