Our NOLA Trip
Posted 02 April 2010 - 07:46 PM
March 19 - Richmond to NOLA
Our gustatory journey got off to an inauspicious start with dinner at the Applebee's at the Richmond airport ! We had decent salads and excriable clam chowder. How can a restaurant have soup that is worse than Campbell's? Arrived at our hotel in the French Quarter - The Place d'Armes. Nice room. Charming hotel with a beautiful private couryard w/ pool and balconies. Our daughter had sent us a bottle of Champagne!
Straight out to the Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait:
It was a soft, nice evening and perfect for people watching. The beignets were hot and sweet and mounded with powdered sugar and just the perfect bedtime snack. It's open 24 hours a day and I threatened to come down for a snack every time I woke up!
March 20 - Mostly French Quarter
Started off with very blah croissants in the lovely courtyard of the Place d'Armes:
Seriously - not as good as a grocery store. But the day got much better and we never bothered with these inferior breadstuffs again! Plan for the day was a walking tour of the French Quarter, Galatoire for lunch and Besh's Luke for dinner. Our walking tour was just the one that was in what we started calling the "Big Book" - Frommer's New Orleans 2010. We had a lovely (and exhausting) wander around the French Quarter and were astounded by the beauty of so much of it. Our walk was interrupted by lunch at Galatoire and 2nd lunch at the Central Grocery. New Orleans is probably the most beautiful city that I've ever seen. The buildings are just so perfect with French and Spanish influences and that gorgeous patina that only time and just the right amount of loving neglect can supply. It's beauty is in it's historical streets and buildings and it's people. At one point, I said to Mr. Kim that I remembered after Katrina many people saying that it wasn't worth all the money and effort to restore and rebuild. At the time, I wondered if they were right. But being in New Orleans, you realize that YES, it is worth it. The history and the spirit of the people deserve that respect. New Orleanians are friendly and knowledgeable about their city and seemingly eager to share it with visitors. They are still over the moon about the Saints winning the Super Bowl - every house and shop and restaurant has New Orleans Saints signs and flags!
First Lunch at Galatoire - It's a beautiful place - light filled with dark green wallpaper. Very southern and classic. Seersucker suits and ladies in hat would not be out of place. They keep a rack of jackets for gentlemen who are eating upstairs and have forgotten their own. We ate the kind of food that is deceptively simple - impeccably fresh and perfectly prepared. New Orleans surely does deserve it's reputation as a food lovers heaven! I told my mother that growing up on the Eastern shore, I thought I'd tasted the best seafood, but the stuff we had in Louisiana beat everything. At lunch, we started with cocktails. We don't often, with lunch, but it seemed appropriate! I got a Sazerac:
I am not usually a consumer of things that actually TASTE of liquor (I like all the fruity stuff and vodka drinks), but I kind of liked it - probably only because I was in New Orleans, sitting in a restaurant I've been dreaming of for years! We just ordered a bunch of stuff that folks here had recommended and 'fell to'. We had the puffy souffle potatoes with bearnaise:
These were amazing - they look like golden wedges of potatoes. What you don't realize until you bite into them it that they are completely hollow, with a crisp crust of almost potato chip-like shatteriness. The man at the next table, who seemed like a knowledgeable native, was explaining them to his guests and said that they are made by slicing EXTREMELY thin (a mandoline, I guess) and soaking in ice water, then frying in hot fat. I want to try this. We also had the oysters Rockefeller and shrimp remoulade. I can already see that I am going to be repeating myself in my NOLA report. I have gotten to our first sitdown restaurant meal and already run out of superlatives. The oysters were phenomenal - fresh and sweet and the topping herby and not at all gloppy or overpowering, like some I've had
Even Mr. Kim (who does NOT care for oysters, except in my oyster stuffing at Christmas) loved them and ate them with relish. The sauce on the shrimp was great - spicy without too much heat, but what was really the best part was the shrimp - so sweet and plump and juicy and cooked exactly the right amount of time
They had that perfect little POP of an expertly timed crustacean! Then it was on the the Godchaux salad a wonderful mix of iceberg lettuce, crab, boiled shrimp, egg, anchovies in a creole mustard vinaigrette. Again - the crab and shrimp were just SO fresh and sweet and perfectly cooked:
I could eat this salad for lunch every day for the rest of my life. Our final plate was the Sauteed Poisson (drum) Meuniere Amandine with crabmeat:
Beautifully prepared fish with more of that crab on top. We had no dessert since we were full and knew that 2nd lunch at Central Grocery awaited us. Our waiter was the venerable Dorris - a reserved, but friendly elderly gentleman who might have worked there forever. We ate a LOT at Galatoire - but nothing was heavy or greasy or overly rich (besides the natural richness of the oysters and crabmeat), so we didn't feel ill or sleepy or dopey.
We walked some more, going into shops and enjoying the buildings and cobbly streets and taking a bizillion pictures. Every minute I found a picture to capture - sometimes it was just a doorway or window or a peek into a sliver of a courtyard garden. The places that we saw included:
Kitchen Witch - a culinary used book store. Fabulous place. I could have wandered around there for hours, not to mention spent hundreds of dollars. They even had a good selection of the little cookbooks that used to come with new appliances - wonderful retro illustrations and recipes! And the resident black lab was a sweetie. I'd love a store like this to be near me, but I'm sure that Mr. Kim and our budget appreciate the distance!
The French Market - tacky, tacky, tacky. Souveniers, t-shirts, geegaws, etc. Food stands with no fragrance.
Lucullus Antiques - culinary antiques. Beautiful items - china, silver, amazing and mysterious serving pieces. Some more prosaic (and interesting to me) kitchen items in a back room. It led into yet another beautiful, cool, quiet courtyard in soothing pale green. I got one of my favorite pictures of the trip there.
Leah's Candy - pralines and candies. Addicting pecan brittle. We have a guilty secret. We find pralines a little meh. Maybe we just haven't had REALLY good ones. It's not like we hate them. They're....fine. Every praline I've ever tasted tastes just slightly stale. I think it might be the texture that is so unexpected in a candy - not crunchy and shattery, not gooey and soft - just...dully breakable. The other candies and brittles were very good and we went back there Tuesday morning to get goodies to take home. The turtles were especially nice.
Second lunch - Muffulettas at Central Grocery
Folks sometimes seem a little jaded about the Central Grocery. I've heard that it isn't what it was (the foodie's lament when THEIR places get popular - serious chowhounds like to think that they have the inside scoop and that if something becomes universally loved it must have slipped in some way), that there are better places to get a muffuletta, yadda, yadda, yadda. This all may be true. As I said to someone when we went to NY, we are just country mice and what you, as a native, might be bored with, we still love. Mr. Kim really wanted to go since it was THE place that he remembered from his business trip here years ago and I wanted to go because I still remember the olive salad that he brought back. And maybe familiarity breeds contempt, but we loved it:
The olive salad is the dominant flavor, but not the only one. The meats are good and strong, but not greasy and the provelone was aged just right. Sharpish, but still with a slight creaminess. The bread is perfect - not too soft and not too tough. The best thing about the bread, though, is the thickness. I wish that all subs were served on bread like that. Most sub rolls are too thick and too tough for me. I end up taking off the top bun and what fun is that? Subs are American, two fisted hunks of meat and cheese - not some tame Northern European open-faced pinky out thing. Or else the bread is so tough that the force of having to bite through pushes the meat and cheese out the other end. That did NOT happen with this sandwich. All I lost were a few olive chunks and those are sure easier to pick up than 1/2 lb. of cold cuts! We also had some Zapps on the side - I'm not a huge fan of kettle-style chips, but these are pretty good - the only brand that doesn't taste overwhelmingly greasy to me.
We had our anniversary dinner at John Besh's Luke. It's a lovely space - it feels European somehow (I know, I've never been to Europe, but still) - high ceilings, newspaper racks, pressed tin ceiling, those old fashioned ceiling fans that run from a central pulley, dark wood, window shutters, big French signs on the walls. Cool, laid-back atmosphere. The food was really wonderful. Some folks had wondered if it was 'special' enough for an anniversary dinner, but it was just right for us. Casual sophistication. Yeah, that's us . Seriously though, Luke IS the kind of restaurant that we like a LOT. Approachable, uncomplicated, but really, really good food. Relaxed vibe (I hate that word and never use it in conversation, but can't think of another word and I've already used 'atmosphere'). Friendly, attentive service, but not TOO attentive. We never felt rushed. Our server said "Happy Anniversary", but didn't make a BIG DEAL (we do NOT like BIG DEALS made). On with the food. Mr. Kim's cocktail was a sazerac (I tasted it and it seemed much stronger than the one at Galatoire and I didn't care for it as much - see, the magic is already fading) and mine a St. Charles Streecar (St. Germain - which is elderflower liqueur - pear vodka and Champagne - very tasty). We started with the Rillette of Berkshire Pork w/ savory marmalade, cornichons, watermelon rind pickle, whole grain mustard and grilled country bread:
This was absolutely delicious. The pork was smoky and rich and the accompaniments were perfect. I don't understand how something that is basically pork and pork fat can be that silky and smooth and NOT greasy tasting. It just melts away on your tongue, leaving just a porky, smoky flavor behind. Heavenly. Next was the Crabmeat Maison salad w/ fresh herbs, local greens and country bread croutons (which were indistinguishable from the grilled country bread that came with the rillette) - fabulous, fresh, sweet crab:
My main course was Jumbo Louisiana Shrimp 'en cocotte' w/ McEwen & Sons cream white corn grits and Poche's andouille:
This was a great dish - but a little too spicy for me. Mr. Kim's main was the Vanilla Scented Duck w/ local red cabbage, mayhaw and Pomme sardalaise:
This was the best dish of the night. The fall apart tender duck was moist and fragrant (though not decernably vanilla) with crisp skin. For dessert Mr. Kim had vanilla ice cream profiteroles w/ vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce:
Very good, but a bit tame, I thought. My dessert was vanilla cake w/ strawberries and whipped cream:
Amazing cake - moist and dense with a crisp, almost cooky-like crumb and a super tight crumb.
We intended to end the evening with music on Frenchmen's Street, but were so wore out and foot sore and FULL that we just went back to the hotel room and sacked out. Like the old farts that we are, we were asleep by 11!
Sunday, March 21 - "The Day of the Dead"I started jokingly calling this day on the itenerary "The Day of the Dead" because the plan was to visit (among other things) 3 cemeteries today. We got to 2 of them. It was a bitterly cold day - the newspaper said a high of 55, but with the wind it felt MUCH colder. It was 76 in Richmond today! We had breakfast at Stanley, just down from our hotel on Jackson Square. It seems that some form of Eggs Benedict is THE NOLA breakfast, which is fine by me. I had Eggs Stella (lots of Stella references in this town) - which was just regular Eggs Benedict with Creole hollandaise and a big, fat gorgeous soft shell crab on the side:
Again, superlative crab. The breading was a mite heavy for me - almost tempura-style. I prefer just a dusting of cornmeal or flour and pan sauteed softshells and I think this must have been deep fried. But the crab was crazy good. Mr. Kim had the corned beef hash with poached eggs and toasted French bread:
Very good corned beef. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked - fully cooked whites and gently flowing yolks:
After breakfast, we walked out to Canal Street and caught the streetcar up to the Greenwood and Cypress Grove cemeteries. We walked around the cemeteries then over to City Park where we did Storyland (we love that kind of thing) and the Botanical Gardens (concentrating on the wonderful Train Garden). We walked through the park (it is freaking HUGE) down the Bayou St. John through Mid City. Wonderful big and little houses. Little side streets beckoned and made me wish for a bike or a car, or better feet, at least. It was getting colder and colder and unbelievably windy by the time we reached the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Great little place that looks very much a neighborhood joint. And it smells fantastic. We grabbed a table on the enclosed patio area and Mr. Kim went to order. We ordered WAY too much food, as I knew we would. We (ok, I) have a tendency to do that anyway, but we had specific recommendations that we needed to check out! Through a failure of communication (on my part - I think my ears were still frozen) we ended up with BOTH chili cheese fries and gravy cheese fries. Mr. Kim got the Surf 'n Turf Po'boy - fall-apart tender beef, fried shrimp and loads of gravy:
Wierd, right? Beef and shrimp? Sounds like some kind of erzatz Chinese combo. But it works really well! I can't say why, it just does. Maybe its the beef gravy, which would go with the proverbial shoe. Amazing stuff. The beef is more like a pot roast and really flavorful. The sandwich fell apart before he could get it unwrapped . This was basically a stew sandwich. No matter - it was fantastic: gloppy, gooey, salty goodness. I got the 'Peacemaker' Po'boy - fried oysters and shrimp:
I've had better oysters, but that's quibbling - these were still very good and the combo was perfect. Mr. Kim ended up being glad that we got the chili cheese fries because the gravy on the others was basically what was on his sandwich. The chili was actually pretty good:
But the fries and gravy was awesome:
I probably ate more of these than anything else.
We walked back to Canal Street and caught the streetcar back to the Quarter. Went back to the hotel for a little rest. The plan was to go to Acme for chargrilled oysters, but we just didn't feel like more rich food. We napped a little and wandered around Bourbon Street ending up, by total chance at Maison Bourbon - a jazz bar - and listened to a couple of sets by Jamil Sharif and his jazz band. A couple of drinks, pretty good music and an authentic feeling bar. We could listen to the music in the bar, but still hear the folks on the street and some other music coming from nearby places. We shared a gigantic and really good Lucky Dog from one of the ubiquitous street vendors (oddly, the only street vendors that we noticed in NOLA except for the artists and palm readers at Jackson Square:
Dessert was a return visit to the Cafe du Monde where we shared an order of beignets. I had some really good, rich hot chocolate (it was still really cold). We were serenaded by a busker with a nice, mellow voice. Just a perfect NOLA night.
Monday, March 22 - Mostly Garden District
We caught the St. Charles streetcar out to the Camellia Grill for breakfast. What a cheap treat that ride is! It's like a bus tour - St. Charles is a beautiful street. A broad avenue lined with bead-festooned trees and gracious homes, not to mention Loyola New Orleans, Audubon Park and shops and restaurants. At $1.25 per ride, this is a great deal (yesterday's ride up Canal was not as scenic). The Camellia Grill is a bustling place. All counter seating with smart talking countermen dressed in white and black like waiters in a fine restaurant. Our waiter was named "Sleepy" and he was a BLUR! We shared a wonderful, crisp pecan waffle - big chunks of roasted pecans that actually tasted of pecans instead of just being some anonymous crunchy bits, like most I've had in the past:
It would have been even better with real butter instead of the pitcher of erzatz they bring you. But I'm really just being picky here - this was a seriously good waffle. Mr. Kim had a HUGE sausage and jalepeno omelet and thick, creamy grits:
The omelet was amazing - browned on the outside and high and fluffy on the inside. They cooked it on a griddle and roll it. The eggs are whizzed up with a milkshake machine in a steel cup and poured out on the griddle. I had 2 over-medium, link sausage (really good) and great hash browns
I was hoping to have a Sno-Ball this trip, but we are apparently out of season for everyone's favorite Hansens. So when I read somewhere that there was one just blocks from the Camellia on Oak St., I was very excited. We walked up and found the shop, but it was closed up tight with no hours sign in the window (a feature missing from MANY NOLA businesses). Disgruntled and grumbling, we caught the streetcar again back to the start of the Garden District walking tour. The first stop was "The Rink" on Prytania St. containing the Garden District Book Store and a potty. I was happy again. Did the "Big Book's" Garden District walking tour, veering off to see the amazing St. Mary's Assumption and St. Alphonsus churches - these almost European class churches are worth a detour.
From here we walked back up to Magazine Street - a shopping area that goes through the Garden District. We were tired and thirsty, so we stopped in at Juan's Flying Burrito for a drink. We decided we were a little nommy, so we ordered chips and (very good) housemade salsa and a couple of beef tacos:
Someone at Mr. Kim's office that used to live in NOLA said that we had stumbled on the best taco place in NOLA. We thought they were good, but not THAT good. We finished our Garden District walking tour and then looped back down to Magazine Street and wandered around some. We went to Sucre, an amazing candy/dessert/gelato shop. We got some lovely chocolates and macarons to take home:
(Jessica is obsessed with macarons - I've directed her to the thread here and we may have a mother/daughter macaron project) and I tasted some fantastic gelato. We stopped in at La Davinia Gelateria for a cup of Thai gelato - lime, coconut and Pandan leaf:
It was good, but not as good as the one I'd tasted at Sucre.
I really planned this day badly. The place that I wanted to go for breakfast - Elizabeth's (famous for praline bacon) - doesn't open on Mondays. And we should have done Magazine Street early and then done the walking tour of the Garden District after lunch because so many of the places we would have liked to go into were closed or closing up. But it was fun to window shop. Walked back up to St. Charles and took the streetcar back to Canal and walked to the hotel.
We had a little bit of a rest and then taxied to Cochon for dinner. Let me start by saying that before even walking into the place it had a bit of a black mark against it. I had it as dinner for Monday night on our itenerary, but Mr. Kim thought that he might have made the reservation for Sunday. And the THOUGHT that it was for 8pm, but wasn't absolutely positive. So we called numerous times and got nothing but voicemail - we left two messages requesting a call back to confirm, but never got a call. They need to hire a couple of these unemployed folks at minimum wage and have them answer phones or at least return calls. So we were on the edge of pissed. Not to mention how the raves about this place at eGullet had set them up. They needed to wow us. Reader, they did. EVERY SINGLE THING was delicious. We started with cocktails (our usual unsweet tea with extra lemon kinda fell by the wayside in NOLA). Mr. Kim had George T. Stagg bourbon and ginger and I had a Marchac Sunrise - Dos Lunas silver tequila, marcerated strawberries and ginger beer - VERY refreshing:
We started with fried rabbit livers w/pepper jelly and toasts:
deep fried boudin balls w/ whole grain mustard and pickled peppers:
a Boucherie plate w/ assorted meats, pickles and pork rillette:
(must figure out how to make this stuff - between Mr. Kim's new smoking skills and eGullet and Cookskorner, I know I can do it). I was sad that they didn't have the fried pork ears on the menu anymore. Everyone at eGullet made them sound so good. It was all just crazy crazy good. Mr. Kim liked the boudin balls best of all and I could have eaten those livers for hours. For his main course, Mr. Kim had the Louisiana Cochon w/ turnips, cabbage & cracklins:
Basically a pork 'cake' (as in crab cake) of tender, smoky gorgeous pulled pork w/ tender cabbage, turnips and apple chunks and a curly pigtail of cracklins on top - heavenly good. I had the oyster BLT with the bacon being house made:
Oh My Goodness. This was fantastic. I eschewed most of the (very good) bread so I could eat more oyters and bacon. Even the tomatoes were good. For dessert we had the Ponchatoula strawberry shortcake:
(I just realized that I had a strawberry dessert at Luke, too - I must be ready for spring). The strawberries were fine - from Florida, I guess. But the shortcake was perfect. Exactly what shortcake biscuits should be. Tender, flaky and crispy edges. They had almost a glazed effect. I'd love to know how these were done. I said that Cochon needed to wow us. They certainly did - but not in any over-the-top, showy way. This food was MILES better than any food we can get in Richmond - but it is completely approachable and comfortable. It's affordable, too. We ordered much more food than we would normaally order in a restaurant at home, including 2 cocktails and dessert and the bill including a 20%+ tip was $145. If we had access to a place like Cochon all the time, I'd guess that a normal meal would be somewhere around $50 - easily within range of a bi-weekly visit. <sigh> After dinner we walked back to our hotel and packed and crashed.
Tuesday, March 23 Last Day
Our flight was at 5:53 pm, so we had to be at the airport at 4pm. My lack of attention to details meant that I kind of messed things up today. It was supposed to be pastries from Croissant D'Or eaten on the levee beside the Mississippi. Then either the Presbytere (Mardi Gras museum) or the Ferry to Algiers Point and maybe Mardi Gras world, if there was time. Then a cab to Willie Mae's for chicken, back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and then another cab to the airport at 3:30. The other Willie Mae's option was to take all our luggage (one BIG bag and 3 smaller ones) into the restaurant and then we'd have to arrive at the airport WAY too early. It was just much too complicated and awkward for a plate of chicken - no matter how heavenly. We decided that we'd plan better next time and just do fried chicken at "Coop's", recommended by the fellow at the hotel. So, this figured out, we showered, dressed, said goodbye to our room, checked our luggage with the front desk and set off. Croissant D'Or is closed on Tuesdays. Ok, how random is THAT? So is the Parkway. The Botanical Gardens are closed on Mondays. So is Elizabeth's - which IS open for breakfast today - at 11AM ! Sheesh. So we wandered around a bit. And ended up back at Stanley for a good, but EXCEEDINGLY long in coming meal. Mike had a very good Rueben and onion rings:
and I had the classic - scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, bacon and potatoes:
Wandered around after breakfast doing last minute shopping - pralines for the office, candy to take home, the Mardi Gras museum at the Presbytere and St. Louis cathedral.
After the museum, we went to Coop's for lunch. Its a little divey place just down from Jackson Square. Mr. Kim had his first Abita - Purple Haze and liked it just fine:
The fried chicken description sounded spicy, so I opted for the 'Bayou Appetizer' - shrimp, crab claws, oysters and crawfish:
Not very good. Everything was deep fried and over-battered and overcooked. The crab claws were hilarious - just the little wiggly part of the claw, pulled off, battered and deep fried. You couldn't even taste the miniscule dab of crabmeat. Mr. Kim got the fried chicken, which was NOT too spicy, after all and actually very good:
It came with rabbit and sausage jambalaya and slaw. All pretty good.
By then it was about time to go back to the hotel and pick up our luggage. One last time to sit in the quiet courtyard and listen to the fountain, take a few final pictures and say goodbye to New Orleans. We had an amazing time and found yet another place to remember and love and come back to.
For the full report, check my blog - it's not up yet, but I should be able to finish it in a few days
Posted 02 April 2010 - 08:07 PM
My blog: Fun Playing With Food
Posted 02 April 2010 - 08:31 PM
I've always wanted to visit NOLA. *sigh* one day...
I'm gonna go bake something…
Posted 02 April 2010 - 10:54 PM
Ohhhhh, NOLA. Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco, I left mine in N'Awlins. If I could only handle the weather (do NOT do heat and humidity, thankyouverymuch), I would live there in an instant. Even before Manhattan, this is my favorite place in the US, and I long for the day I can go back.
I never had a bad meal when I was there, and I never met a native who wasn't friendly, and open, and welcoming, and gracious.
Good job on capturing the essence and spirit of that magical, enveloping city.
"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley
Pierogi's eG Foodblog
My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"
Posted 03 April 2010 - 04:31 PM
learn, learn, learn...
Cheers & Chocolates
Posted 05 April 2010 - 09:34 AM
Of course, now I am hungry like you wouldn't believe....so, well done!
“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”
Posted 05 April 2010 - 12:35 PM
We find pralines a little meh. Maybe we just haven't had REALLY good ones. It's not like we hate them. They're....fine. Every praline I've ever tasted tastes just slightly stale.
I tasted every praline I could find in New Orleans, and agreed with you re the 'meh', but I thought it was an absence of richness. When we stumbled upon the Southern Candymaker, the richness was found - they make buttery rich pralines, not just painfully sweet ones. They were the only ones worth eating in the entire city IMO, and at that time.
Galatoires - Yes! As you say!
Posted 05 April 2010 - 03:25 PM
Posted 06 April 2010 - 08:13 AM
So glad you had a great time!! And your comment that, yes, New Orleans does deserve to be restored, made my eyes well up a bit.
Posted 06 April 2010 - 12:27 PM
Posted 06 April 2010 - 02:20 PM
Posted 06 April 2010 - 04:05 PM
Posted 06 April 2010 - 04:48 PM
Kim, thank you for that fantastic report. I've been looking forward to it since you started planning your trip and looked at people in the Qtr thinking, "That could be her now."
So glad you had a great time!! And your comment that, yes, New Orleans does deserve to be restored, made my eyes well up a bit.
Why didn't you tell me BEFORE we went, girl? We would have LOVED meeting up with some NOLA folks! It was an anniversary trip, but (as you can see) it wasn't ALL champagne and smooching! I never like to ask, because some people feel funny about it, but I love meeting up with my online friends. If you ever come to VA or DC, let me know!
Posted 07 April 2010 - 07:04 AM
I'm already looking forward to your next trip!