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Visiting New Orleans (long)

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Visiting New Orleans (long)

lintsao | May 22, 2006 01:39 PM

I spent last week visiting New Orleans, and have some comments for fellow tourists both chow and nonchow, so I hope it’s okay to put them in one post.

A little nonchow: Someone I danced with at the Sunday night fais do-do at Tipitina’s asked why I had come to New Orleans. I said, Music, food and dancing. The next day I thought about people back home who had asked the same thing. There were some questions like, Are you going to drink the water? And, Won’t you have to wear a mask for the mold? And, What are you going to do there? Well I just want to say I drank the water, breathed the air, and had a GREAT time. I saw great live music every single day, sometimes several times a day (Irma Thomas at the zoo, yeah!). I want to encourage others to visit New Orleans.

Now, chow. Thank you everyone for the information about the Creole tomatoes at the farmer’s market. I bought some from a vendor named Gallo, and let them ripen up on the hotel windowsill. I don’t know whether residents consider this a good year for the tomatoes, but for me it was a treat. Also bought two pints of amazing strawberries. While I was buying them someone asked the vendor if they were the old-fashioned kind. They said no, they’d had those earlier but not now. So I’m curious what the old-fashioned ones are because these were great – not too big and dense with juice and sweetness. Also bought some hot sauce from a vendor for a community garden project called God’s Vineyard. It’s got a taste of sweet pepper before the heat kicks in, and not overly salty. Nice.

At the Wednesday concert in Lafayette Park I got a cochon de lait po boy from the Palace Café stand which was excellent. Then they had Ponchatoula strawberry shortcake which is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Strawberry shortcake is so simple: strawberries, biscuit and whipped cream but when it’s perfect – the biscuit soaking up just the right amount of juice, strawberry flavor concentrated by maceration in some sugar and very rich, not-too-sweet cream – it’s divine. As I was standing there chowing a woman stopped in her tracks and said, "Isn't that GOOD? I had it last week." Indeed it was. I haven’t noticed any reference to Palace Café here and my guidebook didn’t say much except that it’s loud with overwrought décor, but the man dishing it out in the park had almost a cat-who-ate-the-canary smirk when he handed it over and said, “I made this. You’re going to like it.” He was right.

The number of posts here about Cochon made me curious about it, so we went to dinner there and loved it. The fried boudin balls with pickled peppers were wonderful, and the cochon de lait with turnips and cracklins was fantastic – the pork had an amazing depth of flavor and the combination of flavors in the dish was excellent. The only thing I found so-so was the pineapple upside-down cake. If pineapple upside-down cake is made in cast iron the pineapple will caramelize and the cake will be light and get a crunchy top. Instead it was made in a little individual portion dome shape like a fancy dessert which didn’t allow for the cast iron treatment so the effect was kind of bland. It’s a thin line to tread, making down home food fancy while keeping its character, and I found that on the whole Cochon does it extremely well. I wish I’d had more time to go back and try more of their dishes. It’s also more affordable than most upscale places, and I think an extremely good value.

Breakfast for tourists – always an issue when you don’t want that soggy roll at the hotel, so here are some recommendations. Royal Blend, 621 Royal Street, FQ. We loved this place for its lovely courtyard (and were lucky to have temperate weather for sitting outside) and no table service. We’d pick up the papers on the way over, get breakfast from the counter and since there were never more than a few other people there, we’d read for a couple of hours (reading the papers being a luxury reserved for vacation). They have a breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese and Canadian bacon on a biscuit which is very good, but if you don’t want to eat that much you can just get a biscuit and a very good cup of coffee. Le Croissant d’Or, 617 Ursulines, FQ. Really excellent croissants and pastries, although don’t let them warm up the croissants as they use a microwave. Courtyard with its own Manneken Pis who sometimes sports Mardi Gras beads. La Peniche, 1940 Dauphine St., Marigny. For this Yankee who looks forward to a breakfast with grits and a biscuit, it’s the place. I like it because it’s neighborhoody.

So visiting New Orleans was as rewarding as ever (and Rose Nicaud still has my favorite oatmeal cookies in the world). Those astounding flowers everywhere, and some of the Creole cottages are getting fresh coats of paint in those marvelous Caribbean colors. We did not relegate ourselves to the French Quarter by any means, and had no trouble getting around using City buses by day and cabs by night. For tourists, I recommend before you go printing out the bus schedules (handy link provided), and putting the number of a cab company into your cellphone. I had only United Cabs but you could easily get half a dozen. At the time of day I was calling cabs (9 PM and later) I never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a cab back from the Maple Leaf or Rock and Bowl.

There was no shortage of wonderful things to do, and I left as usual with a list of things I didn’t get to. For an afternoon cocktail (afternoon cocktails and naps, in whichever order you choose, being the other luxuries of vacation) take the bus to The Columns Hotel, or go to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop at 4 PM when it’s empty save for a couple of barflies and a couple of fellow tourists. For a beer go park yourself on a stool at Carrollton Station and listen to what people are talking about. New Orleanians have a lot to say right now, and besides all the wonderful music, food, and dancing I loved the little conversations with people everywhere. So if you’re out there and thinking about a trip to New Orleans, I say, Go!

Link: http://www.norta.com/routes.php

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