Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Orleans: recap

So, I promised to report on the food that Husband J and I sampled in New Orleans--here goes. Fair warning, I don't take pictures of meals. I really don't have anything against anyone who does this, since I've drooled over my share of El Bulli and French Laundry picture blog entries, but I have never been able to bring myself to take pictures of a meal before I dig in. So, I'm interspersing this post with random pictures from around the city.

On Thursday (1/28) we arrived after a series of airline mishaps. I immediately ran to a work function, while Husband J did some preliminary exploration around the city.

Jackson Square, with a view of Saint Louis Cathedral. This was part of my Schattenjäger tour of New Orleans, and if you get the reference, you are as nerdy as me.

While wandering around, Husband J tried the sandwiches at Mother's, a cafeteria style eatery specializing in po'boys and debris. For those of you who (like me) have no idea what debris is, it's basically chopped meat in gravy, sort of like creamed chipped beef (aka "shit on a shingle") but in a creole, spicy brown sauce instead of white, creamy, bland sauce. Husband J ordered a Debris sandwich (half size), which consisted of debris made from roast beef, mustard, and pickled cabbage on house-made French bread. Husband J reports that the sandwich was tasty, but messy, as the bread soaked up most of the sauce. "I had to eat most of it with my fork," he says.

After I got back from my work function, I was ravenous, having had nothing to eat for 12 hours. We took a stop by the Carousel bar (which looks like a carousel, and rotates) in the Hotel Monteleone, where we were staying, for a negroni (for me) and a sazarac (for him). This began Husband J's "sazarac tour of New Orleans," a quest to find the best sazarac in the city. (Sazaracs consist of rye, sugar and bitters, and are served in a glass rinsed with absinthe.) Let me tell you, sitting in a rotating bar is a fun novelty, unless you're on your first drink of the day, having not eaten in twelve hours. The entire hotel looked like a carousel to me after we finished our cocktails!

Finally I was able to satiate my hunger at K-Paul's, Paul Prudhomme's restaurant. The place was described to me as "very deep fried," which I hoped was a compliment. We started with cocktails (sazaracs) and ordered a house salad and fried green tomatoes to start. The salad came with green onion dressing, which was a creamy wonder. I wanted a straw so I could DRINK that dressing, for reals. The tomatoes came in a lovely spicy sauce with shrimp, and to top it all off we had a varied bread basket with jalapeno bread, molasses and corn muffins, and butter bread, all with creamy butter to spread on them. I would have been happy just making a meal of these, but our entrees had yet to arrive.

I went for the "pan fried rabbit" with jambalaya, and Husband J ordered a veal dish with shrimp, lobster, and a pernod sauce. When ordering the pan fried rabbit, I thought to avoid the deep-friedness of the place, but no dice, it came in a thick crust of fried goodness. It was lovely and tender, and the jambalaya was deliciously spicy. Husband J's veal was a bit blander, and he conceded that I "won" the dinner battle. However, his entree came with mashed potatoes that were essentially whipped butter with some potatoes added in. Delicious, but so, so filling. We couldn't handle dessert, and left feeling a little sick.

A random, beautifully decorated house that we walked past in our travels around the city.

The next morning we slept in, then embarked on an exploration of the French Quarter. We started out having beignets and cafe au laits at Cafe du Monde (touristy I know, but no less than five people told us we couldn't miss that particular pleasure). The beignets (basically a hunk of deep fried dough) were light, fluffy, and covered in a mountain of powdered sugar, and we loved them. We wandered for several hours, finding some lovely antiques (Husband J found a pair of tiki glasses dating from Walt Disney World's first tiki bar) and decided it was time for lunch, which meant a muffuletta at Central Grocery. A muffuletta, for those who don't know (like me, before I ate one), is a sandwich on round bread, with olive salad (comprised of pickled olive, cauliflower and carrot), capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler and provalone. We split a half-muffuletta, which was more than enough for the two of us, on a bench in Jackson Square.

Later, it was time for dinner, so we went to Couchon for a meal of salad and small plates (we were still feeling the indulgent dinner at K-Paul's). We ordered a cucumber-herb salad, pig cheek cakes, ribs, and rabbit livers on toast. All were wonderful, particularly for me the rabbit livers, which were deep fried and set on a biscuit-like toast with red pepper jelly. Husband J liked the ribs best, decked out as they were with spicy sauce and pickled watermelon. We abandoned decorum and gnawed the bones in our hands. We also shared a dessert of meyer lemon sherbet with a pig-shaped cookie, and several moonshine-based cocktails.

Our last day was a day to wander the Garden District. We looked through many antique shops and little boutiques, but the highlight was lunch at Commander's Palace, one of the most famous and best-reviewed restaurants in New Orleans. The restaurant was founded in 1880, and includes Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse among its alumni-chefs. We ate from the brunch menu, which was inclusive--a set price includes appetizer, entree, and dessert, though the price depends on which entree is ordered. I decided on the soup of the day, a spicy, shrimp, lobster and sausage cajun soup, with eggs "louis armstrong," basically eggs benedict on fried sweet potato cakes, and the bread pudding souffle. Husband J ate the turtle soup (a signature dish, served with sherry like crab soup in Maryland), beef in sazarac sauce with bacon mashed potatoes, and creole cheesecake. The meal was much better than we thought, considering what a "grand dame" the restaurant is. The pacing of the meal was the best we'd encountered, and the care that went into both the cooking and the service was exemplary. This was probably the best meal we had in New Orleans, and we enjoyed every bite.

A view of Lafayette Cemetery, in the Garden District

One last word--we had heard of the excess and wildness of Bourbon Street, but weren't prepared to experience it in person. On our last night, we decided to go see Jonathan Richman, who was playing at a club near our hotel. We started out about an hour before the show, intending to grab a drink beforehand, only to experience the full wilds of New Orleans. First, we ran across a poor girl, who was walking down the street barefoot, asking all passers by how she could get to bourbon street (which was a block to her left--it was also about 30 degrees and windy). I tried to direct her, but she wasn't listening. Next, as we tried to make our way to the club, a RANDOM PARADE broke out, right between us and the venue. After much running up and down side streets, we had to dash through the parade to make it to the venue. Finally, as we bought tickets and made our way into the club, a woman who had been weaving and spinning nearby projectile vomited into the club windows, and fell, smacking her head into the plate glass--narrowly missing my fashionable yellow coat. The Jonathan Richman show was exquisite if a little short, and a fab time was had by all.

And what about Husband J's sazarac tour--who makes the best sazaracs in New Orleans? He says it's Carousel Bar, because the drinks are so nicely balanced--not too much rye, not too much sugar.

Lessons learned: They are not exaggerating when they talk about how wild New Orleans is. But the food is awesome.

Best Phrases said to us: From a buggy driver trying to ramp up business: "C'mon, you're not that cool, get in the buggy! From a hustler outside the Hustler Club: "Nothin' says love like a lap dance--get your lady a lap dance today!" (Needless to say, we did not get a lap dance.)

Next week: Another huge snowstorm has hit the region, leaving me without the ability to shop for ingredients. I'll try again next week!

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