NOLA 2009 – Happy 2 Year Anniversary

July 2, 2009 by  

As anyone who reads this blog knows, we were blessed with Jasmine in Januaury. For the last five -almost six! – months she has blessed us with her beautiful smile and generally inquisitive nature. On the flip side she has also blessed us with lots of sleepless nights, hours spent trying to decipher baby babble, and roughly 150 poopy diapers.

Due to the latter more than the former, we decided that for our two year wedding anniversary in June we’d take a domestic vacation to relax (and perhaps get to sleep in past 6:30am). We did some research for a place that balanced our love for food with a few slow paced things to do. In fact, here’s our basic vacation formula: vacation = lotsa eating + _____ things to do. The only variable is the adjective there (many, exciting, relaxing, intense, unusual…so on).

We chose New Orleans since neither of us had ever been and we had heard – and eventually confirmed – good things. After doing lots of restaurant/bar research (seriously, lots meaning many hours), we came up with a jam packed list of eateries and events for a mere 3 days. I’m proud to say that even without a car we succeeded in doing most everything on our list.

In between all of the eating, which was the real purpose of this trip, we did do some non-food related things. We visited Oak Alley Plantation, a beautiful estate outside of New Orleans. We also took a bus tour of the city, which allowed us to see both the historical beauty of the city and the tragic effects of Katrina. Without trying to sound like a salesman, New Orleans is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen so if you are looking for a weekend trip and love food, I can’t think of a place that would be more appreciative of your tourism.

So without further ado, our trip! :)

Friday

Our JetBlue flight was at 7am so when got to the airport around 6am, I went off to get us some DD coffee and explore the new terminal while Jason did some work.
Jason checking work emails
I discovered the obvious: the new terminal is very cool! There are numerous food options, comfy sitting areas, and telecommunication stations.


We arrived at around 9:30 am local time and while waiting for a cab, we began to melt. It really seemed like the temperature range was between 95 and 100 degrees morning, noon, and night the entire time we were in Louisiana. When the cab finally arrived we asked our cabbie to take us to New Orleans. The highlight of the half hour ride into the city wasn’t the marshes or swamps, it was seeing where the Bucs will (attempt to) triumph this season:
Superdome

We checked into our hotel in the French Quarter around 11 am and quickly headed over to our first scheduled food stop, coincidentally but conveniently located across the street.

I read about the Friday lunch experience at Galatoire’s on Chowhound and told Jason about it. Originally, I wasn’t sold on going since the traditional French style of food isn’t really my favorite, but Jason insisted. When visiting other places he truly lives by the “when in Rome” theory so when in New Orleans, one must do the Friday Lunch. It was a unique experience and the food was wonderful (can you say butter?) so it made for a perfect first meal in New Orleans.
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Galatiore’s does not take reservations – no matter who you are – so we had to wait in line, in the smoldering heat, for about 15 minutes before they let us in. Once they opened, the maitre d’ began writing down the guest names and their personal waiter. When he asked us if we had a regular waiter, we knew we weren’t in New York anymore :)

After giving our name and party size (2 of course!) we were directed to go to the bar upstairs then head back downstairs at 11:30 to be seated. We got up there and felt like we were at a 19th century cocktail party and Jason forgot his seersucker.
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We were fairly dressed up for lunch but still felt out of place amongst the suits and dresses (the women could have gone straight from lunch to the Derby and as for the men, well, I had never seen so many khakis matched with navy blue blazers). To be honest, I felt like we were going to be banished if we ordered the wrong drink or didn’t follow proper etiquette :) We managed and hubby ordered a sazerac while I got a French 75.
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Once we were seated downstairs we ordered the fried eggplant and souffled potatoes appetizer to start, which came with powdered sugar and béarnaise sauce. I was wary of putting powdered sugar on fried eggplant but it was SO good. And I don’t think fried potatoes could ever be bad :)
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For mains, I requested the oysters Rockefeller with the traditional pureed spinach topping. It was delicious and super filling. Jason settled on the shrimp dish because he’s unfortunately allergic to all other shellfish. While it was good, it was not particularly memorable. I’d 100% recommend this place for a traditional Friday Lunch but I’d stick to their specialties. The service was splendid, the food was above average, and the crowd was fun. This was also our first encounter with the excellent New Orleans bread…

After Galatoire’s we strolled down to the Mississippi River to catch the bus for our city tour. We were originally going to do a bike tour around the city but after realizing how hot it was and how full we were, we decided against it :) I think the biking would have been fun but for a quick weekend trip, this turned out to be a good way to acquaint ourselves with the entire city.

Walking back to our hotel from the river, we stopped by Napoleon House to try their muffuletta. From our research it seemed that there were polarized opinions on whether Napoleon House or Central Grocery (more on their’s later) is the best in New Orleans.
Napoleon House
We opted to sit in their refreshingly fanned courtyard despite the sweltering heat and ordered two Pimm’s cups as suggested by W, half a muffuletta, and a cup of jambalaya.
Napoleon House Muffuletta
Their muffuletta is served warm as opposed to Central Grocery’s room temp version. Personally, I liked the muffuletta at Napoleon House better. The olive salad had other veggies in it, like celery, and the flavors of those vegetables came through so it wasn’t all olive flavor.


After Napoleon House, we headed back to the hotel and took a nap. Yes, a nap. All parents of new babies will understand when I say that it was luxurious. A couple of hours later, we caught a cab and headed out to Franky and Johnny’s located about a 10 minute drive outside of the French Quarter.
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It’s an uber-casual (think local bar in a small town where everyone knows each other’s name) restaurant that’s very popular with the locals and Tulane crowd. It was almost the end of crawfish season but they had some that day, thankfully. Though usually indecisive, I ordered 99 lbs as soon as we sat down out of fear that I’d be told somebody else just got the last order. Okay not really 99 lbs, but our waitress delivered a huge tray of spicy whole crawfish. FYI that tray was no match for me — I proceeded to eat in its entirety (plastic tray excluded).
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It was the first time I’d ever eaten fresh crawfish and it was AWESOME. I can’t wait until crawfish season next year. I already found an annual crawfish boil in NYC that I will be attending with 100% certainty. We ordered the fried pepper rings and boudin balls to share and Jason chose what turned out to be the best fried shrimp we’ve ever had. Everything exceeded our expectations.
After dinner we headed back to the French Quarter and went to Arnaud’s French 75 which is a classic cigar bar attached to the famous Arnaud’s restaurant. We were served by Chris Hannah, who is a great bartender and did a great job taking care of us. Jason enjoyed a drink that Chris named the The Moviegoer after the novel and I ordered the bar’s namesake, a French 75.
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On our walk home, we were surrounded by throngs of people stumbling down the closed-to-cars Bourbon Street. Keep in mind this was a random Friday night, and not Mardis Gras.

So ends our first day in New Orleans.

Saturday

The next morning, we woke up early and headed over to Cafe du Monde on Decatur to try their famous beignets. We were greeted by a ridiculously long line, immediately switched gears and headed to Cafe Beignet across the street, which was originally scheduled for the following morning.
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There are multiple Cafe Beignets in the French Quarter so I can’t speak as to the atmosphere of the others but the one on Decatur is very low key. They offer all kinds of sandwiches and traditional New Orleans fare but we stuck to the simple stuff and ordered one small cafe au lait and an order of beignets to share. The cafe au lait was prepared right away but was disappointing because it was way too milky. The beignets were just the opposite: they took time and were delcious upon arrival. After patiently waiting for 10 minutes we became a little antsy and thought maybe they had forgotten about us. Once panic subsided and rationale returned, we realized that each order was made fresh in the order they were placed. When the lady in the back came out with our little tray of beignets though, our patience was duly rewarded.
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Oh my were they delicious. Piping hot; super crispy on the outside; airy/fluffy on the inside. I thought it would be just like a donut but it was something else altogether. Jason said it tasted like a gourmet elephant ear (funnel cake) at the carnival but I’ve never had one of those so I can’t say. The dough itself isn’t sweet so the powdered sugar becomes it’s best friend. They are extremely messy though, which is why we don’t have many action shots of us eating them. Why can’t there be a place like this in the city?? If there was a best food of the weekend contest, these would be serious contender.

After dusting the powdered sugar from our beignets off of our clothes, we headed towards the country’s oldest city market, the French Market for a stroll. We were a bit disappointed since the food sales was a clear after thought to the chintzy flea market stuff sold there.
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The best part of our trip to the market was a huge decorated hearse that has all sorts of pop culture paraphernalia glued to it. Jason wasn’t as fascinated as was I but either way, it did fit into the whole voodoo vibe of the French Quarter.
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On the way to our bus tour of Oak Alley Plantation, we stopped by La Divina Gelateria for what was the most disappointing experience of the whole weekend. I got a cup of half earl grey with biscuit and half mint julep gelatos. Both had very little flavor and an odd consistency, almost like that of creamed ice. It was melting because it was hot outside and wasn’t delicious enough for me to eat quickly; hence, it got thrown away.
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As mentioned in the Friday section, we stopped by Central Grocery to pick up half a muffuletta for our hour and a half bus ride to Oak Alley.
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The store is nothing more than an Italian deli with tables in the back. The muffuletta we ordered was a slight turnoff because it was pre-packaged but considering their high turnover, we had faith in it’s freshness. As opposed to Jason, I typically prefer cold sandwiches over hot ones so I surprised myself by liking Napoleon House’s muffelata better. The olive salad at Central Grocery was very strongly flavored and basically over-powered all of the meat and cheese. In fact, I could barely taste the meat and cheese over the flavor of salty olives.
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Don’t get me wrong: I love olives and Central Grocery’s muffuletta was an excellent sandwich but the next time I want my muffuletta fix in New Orleans, I’m heading to Napoleon House for sure.

**Comment from Jason: Okay, I get what Jacquie’s saying but I disagree completely. You see, what I love most is finding myself enjoying something I didn’t think I would. The warm muffelata was akin to a pressed sandwich and I enjoyed it throughly, as expected. As for the CG muffelata, I am not a huge fan of olives and it was doused with them, but I LOVED that sandwich. I didn’t think it was too olive-y and I did taste the meat and cheese. Heck, I even thought the cold bread was impressive (who actually likes cold bread more than warm bread?) So in the end they were both good but I tip my hat to CG because it did more than surpassed expecations — it made me like a cold version of sandwich better than a warm one. To be fair, NH did have the Pimm’s Cup though and better atmosphere.**

After listening to our bus driver (who we respectfully agreed sounded like Champ Kind) for 90 minutes on the way to Oak Valley, we pulled up in front of one of the most magnificent estates I’ve ever seen. Here are some pictures of our time at the beautifully serene and historical Oak Alley Plantation.
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After we got back to the French Quarter, we stopped by the Gumbo Shop on the advice of our friends L and C who are quite familiar with New Orleans. There was an outside courtyard like Napoleon House and though it seemed touristy, the food was delicious nonetheless. We both started with fiery Cajun Bloody Marys — much more fiery than at others places we’ve had Bloody Marys. For that reason, and because they came with pickled string beans versus the standard celery stalk, it was one of the best we’ve had.
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Also upon the advice of L and C, we ordered the creamy boudin accompanied by their spicy Creole mustard.
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Of course we sampled their namesake and while the gumbo was tasty, I’d suggest that they rename themselves the Boudin Shop :)
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We walked around the French Quarter some more and picked up some pralines for my coworkers at Leah’s Praline’s and we stopped by Pat O’Brien’s to get a hurricane from the bar that invented it. Jason was appalled by what we found there and he even has a secret (guilty) love for all things touristy (Bubba Gumps, Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, etc). He likened the Hurricane to a glass of thick Red Kool-Aid with a splash of alcohol. We had them pour it into a plastic to-go cup so we could secretly throw it out when we left. It seems that public drinking is allowed and even encouraged as witnessed by signs like these hanging from many bar signs and windows.
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For dinner, we caught a cab to the Warehouse District for our nice meal out at Cochon.
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James Beard Award winner Chef Donald Link does a great job of showcasing the “snout to tail” philosophy of the creature that southerner’s love so much – the pig. In the words of the Barefoot Contessa, “How bad could that be?”

We loved everything about our meal from the friendly service to the couple next to us who we chatted with for almost half of our meal. The sad feelings that surface when I think about our meal there are only because I know it will be a while before we’ll get to go back.
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A beet salad that came with bite size pieces of paneed pork cheeks. I have never eaten pork this soft before.
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An heirloom cherry tomato salad that was over a fresh corn fritter.
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Their signature cochon dish served atop braised cabbage and turnip with cracklins on top. When all the parts of this dish were eaten in a single mouthful, I realized that there was nothing that could’ve improved this dish.
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Roasted local redfish was cooked nicely though it was fishy when eaten with the skin. When eaten without the skin and with the pickled vegetable served with it, it was wonderful.
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We also got a side of their braised greens on the advice of the couple next to us and we’re glad we did. While we expected the greens to be bitter, they surprised us by having a naturally sweet flavor.
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After dinner we headed over to the Snug Harbor Jazz Club for our first time at a jazz club. The “Piano Prince of New Orleans”, Davell Crawford was playing there for one night only and I’m so glad that Jason suggested we go. Davell and the band that played with him were absolutely amazing. He lives in New York now (you can read more about his story of displacement from Katrina here) and I can’t wait until he plays at a location closer to us than New Orleans. The pictures are very blurry because it was dark and flash wouldn’t have been appropriate but you get the idea.

The show ended around midnight and went to Cafe du Monde since we figured it wouldn’t be as busy at that hour. We were right about it being quieter but that also may be the reason why our beignets were not that good.
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We sat down, ordered, and had our beignets and cafe au lait in front of us in about two minutes flat. I’m sure that in the morning and afternoon, the beignets that are made are sold at about the same pace as they come out. Not so at midnight and I’m fairly certain our beignets had been sitting in the back for a while. They were not crispy at all and were dense and chewy.
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Cafe Beignet wins in the beignet contest hands down though I will give the cafe au lait to Cafe du Monde. Next time I’ll try Cafe du Monde at a reasonable hour to give it a fair shot.

So ends our second day in New Orleans.

Sunday

Our flight on Monday morning was very early so I knew Sunday would be the last day we would be able to eat anything in New Orleans other than airport food. We got up bright and early – much to Jason’s chagrin since we had many cocktails on Saturday night – and headed to brunch at EAT.
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I read about EAT through the New Orleans Chowhound board and it seemed to be very popular with locals and visitors alike. Jason and I shared the fried green tomatoes appetizer which was excellent and served with a remoulade sauce. I could’ve had two more orders for my breakfast alone.
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I ordered the shrimp and grits upon the recommendation of tons of posters and though the sauce and the grits together were REALLY good, what little shrimp that the dish had (maybe 3?) were clearly frozen and had an odd texture. I was surprised and disappointed by that but like I said, the dish was still good since it was mostly sauce/grits anyway.
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Jason got the grillades and poached egg over biscuits for the novelty of it and was disappointed that it was basically a salty beef stew. He liked it but in his hungover state, would’ve preferred more standard breakfast fare like an omelet and bacon. I actually loved his dish and abandoned my own for his after hearing he didn’t like it. I wish I had gotten the grillades over grits!
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After EAT, we went back to the hotel to set a game plan for the rest of the day. I really wanted to go to Parkway Bakery and Tavern because I heard the po boys there were the best but after beating my desire for Parkway into Jason’s skull for a week, I finally realized that it was out of the way from the other areas we wanted to hit up. It would’ve taken us a good hour or two to get there and back by streetcar so perhaps for our next trip, and oh, there will be a next trip. :)

We chose instead to ride the historic St. Charles Streetcar and then walk around Magazine Street. On the way to Canal Street where we’d catch the first stop on the streetcar, we popped into Felix’s so I could try their freshly shucked oysters. Since it was only me eating, I asked if I could get one oyster to try instead of a half dozen order. The shucker was very nice and obliged free of charge, but of course I tipped him for his kind service.
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I thought the oyster there was just okay. Very plump but taste wise, it was a little fishy and left a not-so-pleasant aftertaste in my mouth. It’s not fair to judge though since I only had one and it could’ve been a fluke.

After Felix’s, we went across the street so I could compare the oyster I just had to the ones at it’s rival, Acme.
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The atmosphere wasn’t as conducive to ordering just one oyster so I sat down at the bar and ordered half a dozen. The oysters weren’t as plump as the one I had at Felix but they had a better flavor here, which I partly attribute to the spicy cocktail sauce!
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After I had my 7 oysters, we caught the streetcar and rode it until we got to 8th Street, rang the bell, hopped off, and walked due south towards Magazine Street. It wasn’t a far walk but it was hot out and right smack in the middle of the day with the sun beating down on us. Once on Magazine we made a beeline to Sucre for rest and sugar.
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We ordered two pieces of chocolate, iced coffee, and some pistachio gelato to help us cool off.
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All were super delicious and I picked up a box of chocolates for my sister. It was hard to decide which ones to get!
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The space was very open/fresh/modern and a bit out of place relative to its antique-selling neighbors.

Before catching the Magazine Street bus back to Canal, we walked a 1/2 mile to Parasol’s for a roast beef po boy and a fried oyster po boy to take back to the hotel with us. We weren’t hungry thanks to the abundance of dessert in our bellies so even though we knew they would be better fresh, eating them later was a sacrifice that had to be made. Parasol’s was on the corner of two residential blocks and was, from what I can remember, the only dining establishment in the vicinity. How often is a a restaurant/bar situated in a neighborhood and not off a main road? I find it difficult to believe that anybody going there are stumbling upon it by accident.
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After getting back to our hotel about an hour later, we took our sandwiches out expecting them to be soggy and cold but they were still warm and nearly in their original shape.

This is my fried oyster po boy, which was alright, but suffered from too much breading on the oysters.
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This is Jason’s roast beef po boy, which was better than mine but didn’t have enough roast beef on it in my opinion.
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They were both improved upon with a few shakes of hot sauce though neither blew my mind. I really wish I had gotten to try Parkway (or even a fresh one) but at least I have it to look forward to for next time :)

For dinner that night, we went to Emeril’s NOLA in the French Quarter. We had a fantastic experience at the Emeril’s in Orlando so we thought we’d give him another chance to impress on his hometurf. He did.
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The ambiance is great and I loved the decor with the brick walls.
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Our waiter, John, was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We started with the stuffed chicken wings, which judging by the tables around us is something most people start with. They tasted like an authentic Vietnamese spring roll with a wrapper of chicken wing instead of spring roll skin. For entrees, I got the smoked duck and Jason the rib eye. The portions were LARGE, which had we known beforehand, we would’ve just selected two appetizers and one entrée. We couldn’t finish our meal but also couldn’t get it to go since we were leaving the next morning. It was such a shame. We ended with their popular banana cake dessert, which was refreshing and light but nothing too special. I didn’t get any pictures here because while NOLA isn’t super fancy, it just didn’t seem appropriate.

After dinner, Jason said he had a place in mind for drinks and took me to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.
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The bar is decorated like a carousel and it actually spins. I told you he likes touristy stuff. Unfortunately, there were no available seats at the bar so we just sat at a side table that didn’t spin. It’s a nice space but very “old school.”
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Not really our style but we could appreciate the appeal/charm.

We tried for one more round of beignets the morning we left at the Cafe Beignet across the street from our hotel but they opened too late and we had to go. I could talk about our breakfast at the airport but I’d rather leave this entry on a positive note :) Thus that concludes our eating and drinking adventures in the Big Easy.

In the end, we left with a newfound love for the city, the people, and most importantly to us, the food. Their food is unabashedly spicy unlike the food up here that would rather be bland than en fuego. No matter what the place we ate at, they served breads and rolls that were delicious and so much more than afterthoughts. I would compare the bread to a place like Italy or Tahiti — no matter where you go it’s like they specialize in crusty, fluffy, bread awesomeness.

Here are some random pictures we took throughout our trip. This is by far my favorite one — we walked into a random bodega type store and Jason spotted this on a rack. I 100% swear up and down that we didn’t move them around in any way. We just found them this way:
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Is that a sign that if we have a boy one day we should name him Jacob??

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