Checking in after a visit in the waning days of Mardi Gras. Highlights included:
* appetizers at MiLa. Healthy pour for the drinks. Biscuits with deer sausage the best of three appetizers. Hush puppies with sour cream and caviar didn't really work -- sour cream overwhelmed the rest. Nice bartender.
* free red beans & rice at Vaughan's Lounge on Thursday. Absolutely delicious. Supposedly a full ham in the mix. I also enjoyed a smoked sausage po'boy from the market on same block as Vaughan's. Don't quite remember the name -- Jimmy's?
* Friday lunch at Commander's. The "creole luncheon" of short rib and mashed potatoes was unremarkable, and didn't seem very creole. (A bad choice, perhaps.) Accompanying salad was fine -- lettuce with bacon and some kind of buttermilk dressing. Strawberry shortcake was delicious and my friend seemed to like his bread pudding even more. Overall, though, I was nonplussed -- they must reserve this particular room for out-of-towners, the energy level just seemed low -- I'd rather get to Galatoire's at 10 am and just wait. Superb bloody marys, though -- spicy and they packed a punch.
* Anyone eat at the Race Course oyster bar? Looked like a wonderful asset, but we were stuffed.
* BBQ shrimp po'boy at Liuzza's by the Track as good as people say. Buttery, peppery. Save the bread that comes with your gumbo to mop up the extra sauce. Good gumbo, too -- the best to this point. (More on this later.)
* two late-night Lucky Dogs in the Quarter surprisingly tasty, but we *had* been drinking.
* a couple of beers with charbroiled oysters at Drago's (at Hilton riverside) were totally worth the visit. meaty and buttery with just a hint of cheese, just delicious. Very rich.
* chicken tenders at Lucy's bar on Tchoupitoulas deserve a call-out. Large, real (not processed) fresh-tasting breaded breast pieces, hot from the fryer. If these were not made fresh in-house, they have the best supplier of frozen stuff I've experienced in a long while.
* Herbsaint very good, fairly rich. Excellent service. We kind of had the dregs of the tables, I think. The front room, where we weren't, seemed livelier, and we were in an odd corner of the back. That said, nice sazerac to start. The gumbo in particular was more complex than at Liuzza's. The sausage in the gumbo especially stood out (which seems appropriate because that's what Donald Link does, I guess). A veal dish stuffed w/ ham and fontina was similarly flavored to what you might get at an Italian restaurant here in New York, but just expertly made, with delicious fresh-tasting pasta (again, rich with cheese). Companion's pork belly and carbonara-style appetizer also reportedly excellent. Cinnamon ice cream a relatively light dessert, although is it wrong for me to think that it's hard to beat Haagen Dazs vanilla? By now I've probably been to a dozen highly recommended restaurants in New Orleans, and this one is near the top of the list. [Non-food note: a good-looking staff, and we were quite taken with one of the hostesses in particular.]
* Finished trip with an unexpected brunch at Luke Sunday morning. Visitors take note: Luke is open from 7 am, seven days -- a nice option especially if you are staying in the CBD. Crab cakes benedict with ham -- rich! that was the theme for this trip even more than usual -- with excellent sauteed potatoes. My own pot of good french-press coffee. I don't think Luke gets the love it deserves on this board. This was my second visit and it's great food and great service, and the menu is a good balance between creole-influenced dishes and non-.
Thanks to all New Orleanians for their hospitality. Mardi Gras is something to see all right! See you at Jazzfest!