After arriving in town early Friday afternoon and checking into the Holiday Inn French Quarter, I headed straight to the Acme Oyster House. Waited in line for a spot at the bar, and promptly ordered a few oyster shooters and an oyster platter with a soft shelled crab. Overall, it was a nice, loud intro to a new town, but I thought the fried food had way too much breading. Not bad, but nothing that really set it apart. After lunch, I headed over to the Old Absinthe House, which would become a "home base" of sorts for myself and the group of 18 internet cigar friends that would be meeting in person for the first time in the six years we've all been friends. I really liked that bar, and especially the Pimm's Cup, which I was unfamiliar with to that point. Very refreshing in the unseasonably warm weather (I am NOT built for that kind of heat...WOW!). Even late at night, when Bourbon Street was awash with underage weekend warriors bouncing into each other like pinballs, the Absinthe House remained a relatively calm place to enjoy a drink with friends. That was honestly the only Bourbon Street bar where I spent any amount of time. I'm glad I SAW the famous main drag in all its weekend glory, but even at thirty three, I just felt way too old to grab a grain alcohol based daquiri from one of the many to-go bars and join in the fray. Later in the evening after everyone had arrived, we all hopped on the street car and headed to Cooter Brown's. Decent, affordable food and a beer list to be reckoned with. Got the Radiator's Special and cheese fries, which really hit the spot. Topped off the night with drinks around the carousel bar at the Monteleone.
On Saturday I got up and took a cab to Igor's on St. Charles to meet a friend of mine who moved down there last year. We hadn't seen each other in well over a year, so he and his girlfriend wanted to have lunch, show me around and do some serious pub crawling. I has SO many places on my to-do list, but decided pretty quickly that I could either be an itinerary nazi and try to fit everything in, or just go with the flow and see fewer places but enjoy them much more. NOLA seems like a go with the flow kind of town, so that's what I did. We headed to Casamento's for lunch, and I may just be a landlocked boy from KC, but I was very, very impressed. The raw oysters were unlike anything I've had before. Plump, juicy and seemed to melt in my mouth with a flavor that reminded me of a briny ocean breeze. If it gets better than that, I guarantee you I'm interested in hearing about it. Also had the oyster loaf, and appreciated the lighter breading on the oysters. Also love the fact that you get to mix your own cocktail sauce. My friends had the trout sandwich and fried crab claws, and liked them enough to mention that they'd definitely be back for lunch since they work not too far from there.
After lunch they drove me around just to show me more of the city, then we headed to the Marigny (sp?) neighborhood and walked to a few places on Frenchman Street, namely the Blue Nile and the Apple Barrel. That's a very cool neighborhood, and from there we went over and started down Decatur and stopped in places like The Hideout and The Abbey, which are really the kinds of bars where I could spend way too much time. After the whole Royal/Bourbon St. area, I wasn't so sure what to think about NOLA, but knew there had to be someplace in the general area that I would fall in love with. Frenchman and Decatur streets definitely tipped the scales in that direction. Overall, my favorite bar during the whole trip would have to be the Shim Sham Club. Wow. And the Sunday night Burlesque Revue was one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen. Hats off to the Shim Sham.
I made Saturday night reservations a couple of months ago for 16 of us at Arnaud's (Jazz Bistro). Didn't know much about the place, but it was close to our hotel and they have their own cigar bar. Overall, the group was ecstatic about dinner, and Bobby, the bartender in the cigar club couldn't have taken better care of us. I could see why people could have a problem with the food, considering all of the restaurant options that are available in the immediate area. I would have been more than happy to get that quality of food here in Kansas City, and while I can't say I got anything I didn't like, it definitely didn't wow me. The oysters Arnaud were a bit cold, and the small oysters didn't stand up against the heaps of filling. The trout with muniere sauce I got for my entrée was tasty, but the sauce was too thick. Some of the selections just had too much of a cafeteria/mass produced quality to them. Most importantly though for our large group though, the service was great and they really took good care of us. I appreciate a place that doesn't come across as "get 'em in, get 'em out" and try to hurry you through your meal to keep the bodies moving. It also struck me as odd that so much of the service and setting seemed pretty formal, yet they didn't have plates for your bread.
My "dumb tourist" moment of the trip was when I got up early with a couple of friends on Sunday and planned to meet at Brennan's at 8am with no reservations. Not only Sunday, but Mother's day. Needless to say, we went scrambling to find someplace else. The concierge called around and, if I can actually remember the name of the place, I think it was called Petunia's. They served huge crepes, which were pretty good. Got one with ratatouille, lump crab meat and shrimp. Met up with my local friend again in the afternoon, and by this time the late nights were catching up with me. I didn't want to do too much walking, so we went over to Deanie's for lunch. The décor didn't seem to match the area at all, it actually reminded me of a Cheesecake Factory, but the food was big, decent, and cheap. We split some boiled crawfish as well as catfish and oyster po-boys. It was perfect for a late lunch, the sandwiches were massive with steaming hot oysters and great mild catfish. The crawfish were nicely spiced, but just too miniature to fight with. The big lunch stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon and clear into the evening. After the Shim Sham Burlesque Revue, we were in the mood for something light before heading to some bars, so we stopped by the Red Fish Grill. I have to say I was pretty impressed with their BBQ oysters, and while the crawfish cakes were tasty, I dont understand why they were so expensive compared to the rest of the appetizers. They oysters were large and the way they were so lightly fried made them perfect. The sauce was almost a little too thick, but the flavor which tasted like a cross between buffalo sauce and BBQ made them pretty memorable.
Since I had to fly out early Monday afternoon, I was torn between hurrying back to Casamento's and having a leisure lunch across the street at Mr. B's. Opted for Mr. B's along with two friends that were also about to fly out. Loved the rich flavors in the Gumbo Ya Ya, and chose to have the fried softshell crab as an entrée. I haven't had them before this trip, so I don't have anything to compare them to, but I sure did love the one I had there. Very hot and fresh tasting. I could have eaten a lot more of the cornbread andouille stuffing that came along with it.
Sorry for the rambling, but my first trip to NOLA was definitely worth sharing. Overall, there were a lot of little things that made all the difference for me. The hospitality, a waiter noticing and fixing a wobbly table or offering to let you sit and chat before ordering, people bringing their dogs into bars, and of course...to-go cups! I can't wait to go back.