New Orleans Trip Report II--The Quickening After deleting my first and last meals in this fine city (you don't need to hear about my spur-of-the-moment ideas, unless they end up as good ideas), I ended up with just one entire day's worth of meals to report about. Sorry I couldn't include more. This trip ended up mostly as an investigation of you-know-who's places, except that I didn't have time for Delmonico. Next time I intend to try it and also Mosca's. Cafe du Monde, Oakwood Mall, Gretna (killing time)-- (See "My Cafe du Monde Theory," elsewhere in "South & Southwest." Unnecessarily long.) The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel (breakfast) -- The hotel was more modern than I expected. Comfortable dark lobby with lots of light wood paneling. Courteous staff. Same decor up one flight in the Grill Room, with paintings of fox hunts, etc. on the walls, and windows overlooking green plantings for a little color. I'm here for breakfast because it would obviously be cheaper than dinner and I still get to check out everything else. The huge room was practically deserted. One thing I don't appreciate is having juice pushed on me for breakfast. No fewer than three hard-working staff members asked me if I wanted juice. No, dammit, when I want juice, I'll tell you, stop asking. To be fair, they were just trying to be thorough, but it's my pet peeve at breakfast. Anyhow, I had the "Eggs Windsor Court," which was a "Benedict"-style stack. The bread round wasn't an English muffin and wasn't sweet, filled with shitake mushrooms minced fine, also just enough black pepper. On the top, a small dab of caviar. Diced tomatoes around it on the plate. Excellent coffee. Friendly, efficient service. $25 for breakfast. More if you order juice. NOLA (lunch) -- The line at 11:30 AM was so long I thought it might be the line for K-Paul's around the corner. A dark, industrial space with visible heating ducts and a forbidding reservation desk with an even more forbidding reservation clerk. Right behind that, an elevator packed full of people being whisked upstairs to their privileged tables. Open kitchen with bar seating. No dress code. Can I sit at the kitchen bar? No, you can't, those places are reserved. Can I sit at the bar? Yes, sir, right this way. Friendly, even chatty, bartender. Entire staff (except for previously mentioned reservation troll) was friendly, joked with patrons and each other. Wine-by-the-glass list was on chalkboard behind me. You don't see very many "UB40" references on wine lists nowadays, but the chalkboard listed "Elzar's Red Red Wine" as their house plonk for the day. I had some sort of Gruner-Veltliner, slightly sweet, while reading the menu. My only regret, upon seeing the menu, was that I couldn't try everything. Elzar was beginning to win me over despite my misgivings. Me: "So what are the chances of seeing the big guy? Slim to none?" Brian the bartender: "None. He and his wife just had a baby." For a horrible minute there, I was going to suggest that the little tyke should be named Bam-Bam. Fortunately I kept my mouth shut on that one rather than get thrown out on my ass for insolence. Brian the bartender informed me about Tchoup-Chop, Elzar's new place in Orlando, and also warned me about two other new places, one in Atlanta, the other possibly in Houston. Elzar's fiendish encirclement of the globe continues. Switched over to 2000 Byron pinot noir for the duration. Very aromatic & plummy, slightly bitter and astringent. First course: cochon de lait. Basically pork gumbo. I may be asking for trouble. It turned out to be excellent, basically andouille sausage gumbo with a little pulled pork, very tender, presumably milk-fed (?) Breads were very good: a cheddar & green onion biscuit (could really taste the green onion), and jalapeno cornbread (not too crumbly with a bite that only kicks in after awhile). Second course: "grilled swordfish with Creole smothered white beans, garlic roasted eggplant, Louisiana crawfish creme fraiche & parsnip chips." The parsnip chips were really long shavings. Kind of stringy, kind of chewy, a little like eating paper made out of cornstalks, possibly not the best idea Elzar's ever had. On the plate to either side, two dark, smoky, and vaginal-looking eggplant slices. I liked it, and I hate eggplant. The swordfish itself was a dense block of solid fish, topped by very tiny crawfish, like the kind of shrimp you see making up 99-cent shrimp cocktails in Las Vegas. The block of fish was atop a hearty, tomato-flavored sauce thick with white beans. The fish was thick and did not flake readily, which was okay with me. Aside from the parsnip garnish on top, all was good. $50 for lunch, with two glasses of wine. Emeril's (dinner) -- You-know-who's flagship, down in the warehouse district. Jacket required, supposedly. Not too loud, considering the place was filled to capacity twenty minutes after it opened. Solid chairs (with soft cushions) went with the hardwood floor. Room is very "hip, cool, with-it, and today"--unlike the old-style New Orleans places (that's what Delmonico is for). It has been noted elsewhere that the kitchen bar has a proscenium arch over it, making the bar the focal point of the room and the kitchen the stage. What no one else has mentioned is that the panels composing the arch were each lit from within, and each panel contained a different grain, seed or spice--nice touch. The silverware in the place settings was upside down for some inexplicable reason, maybe just to be different. These are serious cooks who are not "bamming" anything, and as for the staff being "Emerilized" *cough*choke*, they just seemed to be good at their jobs. Very disconcerting and disorienting to glimpse a chef's balding head down the top of his toque--like staring down a chimney at a bird's nest. I was prepared to hate this place. I grumpily ordered a martini with a lot of finicky instructions, expecting them to screw it up so I could have an excuse to start complaining. They brought it just as I had ordered it, as if I were a regular who asked for one that way every time. Although the man next to me at the bar highly recommended his green salad with black-eyed peas, followed by rosemary-crusted rack of lamb with Cajun spice, I went for the full seven-course degustation menu with corresponding wines. Hubba hubba hubba. amuse bouche: two spoonfuls of tomato gazpacho, "to welcome you to the restaurant." Cold enough to be refreshing, with a lot of cilantro. The breads were out now: a sourdough baguette, a large slice of something like brioche, and a non-descript white roll. All three provided good background for the rest of the food, adding depth and personality without overshadowing the courses. appetizer: "seared and sliced bluefin tuna with heart of palm, cucumber cappellini, avocado, and an apple-celery coulis," accompanied by non-vintage Billecart salmon brut rose champagne. Two slices, a little smaller than a deck of cards, barely done around the edges and raw in the middle, just as advertised. Peppery around the edges, tender enough for sashimi. Draped over strands of cucumber "pasta." Hearts of palm were tiny slices, would've enjoyed more of those. All produce was very fresh, cold but without any ice crystals. By this time, all scepticism had faded and I was singing Elzar's praises. I could not reconcile the food I was eating with the lumpy schlmiel I'd seen on TV. You don't suppose the guy on TV's only a front for the real Elzar that they've got chained to a stove in a basement somewhere? fish: "sauteed skatewing with sesame-crusted jasmine rice cake and Asian vegetables in a coconut-lemongrass broth," accompanied by 2000 Tokay pinot gris herrenweg "cuvee reserve," Charles Schleret. Elzar does traditional Thai food. This is the kind of dish that probably gets served nightly at "Tchop-Chop," I just wasn't expecting it here. I like Thai food, and halfway through this dish I was absolutely dumbfounded with amazement. Slightly crunchy black sesame seeds, also green and red peppers, like a mild yellow curry. The whole thing was not overly spicy, very subtle. The Tokay pinot gris was an excellent accompaniment. I started to wish it had been even spicier, then realized that if it had been my taste buds would've been overwhelmed for the next course. I could've eaten an entire plate of this jasmine-scented Thai rice. fowl: "homemade boudin-stuffed quail with smoked onion-haricot vert salad, creamy rosemary polenta and crispy beet greens," accompanied by 1999 Crozer-Hermitage, Marc Sorrel. The leaf on top of everything was crisped to translucentcy and was delicious and crackling all by itself. The steak knives here are interesting little implements that look like unfolded switchblades. By this time I was nibbling every last morsel off the leg bones. The place was getting to me. Everything was good, every bite. Well, not everything: I ran across some skin or inedible membrane with this dish, just a bit. And I noticed that some of the glassware had little chips. My expectations were so high by this time that any imperfection glared. beast: "braised beef short rib with stuffed baby eggplant, grilled ramps, olive-whipped potato and sun-dried tomato-veal reduction," accompanied by 2000 Les Baux de Provence "Reserve du Mas," Mas de Gourgonnier. They brought a new switchblade for this, so that I wouldn't have to sully the flavor with that of the previous course. Just one short bone about the diameter of a nickel. Sort of like a Swiss steak, actually. Still don't know what "ramps" are. I apologize for the lack of detail, as I had abandoned the note taking at this point. Too busy eating. They asked me if I wanted port to accompany the next course; I said no. cheese: "brebis, sheep's milk from Pyrenees." This was a simple presentation with a tiny slab of cheese at 3 o'clock on the plate. At 12 o'clock was a slice of French bread, at 6 o'clock a few walnuts that looked as if they had been hand-selected one-by-one, and at 9 o'clock was a fan of small green apple slices. The bread and cheese went well together, also the cheese, walnuts and apple. dessert: "dark chocolate terrine with caramelized banana and anglaise." The banana slice had a crackly skin of hard caramel on top. It all went on top of the chocolate terrine, which was sort of like eating a slab of chocolate asphalt, and I mean that in a good way. The coffee was good. Then they brought a chocolate praline with nuts "in case you're not full." I couldn't see the room because I was facing toward the kitchen for the entire meal, but the mood was high and festive as I walked out. $65 without wine, $125 with wine, plus tip. Whew. One of the best dinners I have ever had. It must be great to live in New York City and have your pick of a different restaurant at that level of quality every night of the month. This was an experience, and anyone who bad-mouths Elzar's food will have to answer to me.