What We Ate On Our New Orleans Vacation

August 10, 2006

It really was work for me, O Best Beloveds, but Caroline, Jean and Brigid helped shoulder the burden, as Stunt Stomachs and Designated Drinkers, and I couldn’t have done the following without them. Pure food porn, in list form, don’t feel you have to read all or even a word of it, though every bit is true, I think.

Day One: Caroline and I jumped off the plane, dumped our stuff at the house, and headed right out to meet Ti at Delachaise, where we were unexpectedly and joyfully joined by Poppy. The latter was already well lubricated thanks to an afternoon spent at Tales of the Cocktail, so the others hastened to catch up with her. (I never worry about this, since even stone cold sober, I’m always the drunkest person in the room.) Suffice to say, there was a lot of wine and a great deal of merriment. Chef Chris proceeded to feed us more or less the entire menu–Ti lost count at 75 courses, beginning with spicy egpplant tapanade topped with slivers of anchovy, muhammara (roasted red pepper puree with pomegranate molasses) and moving on to the house specialty, local Chef Pete’s Pate of the NIght (lamb with cranberries, I think, chunky and hearty,) pomme frites fried in duck fat, so good one swears never to eat fries any way ever again. There was the “Oeufs en Meurette,” poached egg with chantrells and bacon, in a rich wine intensive veal reduction sauce that totally made the dish, plus some celeriac (I think) for an extra fillip. There was chilled watermelon soup with lump crabmeat and fresh avocado, and it was like summer in a cup. I wish I had some right now. Grouper was cooked in a way to blend Vietnamese and Creole, baking it in a special paper from the former’s methods, topped with a crawfish and tasso mousse. Soft Spanish roasted veggies. Coconut shrimp surrounding a mound of black rice with a mango sauce. A five portion cheese plate which we said we couldn’t eat, but we had to, because at least one strong dry cheese was an unpastuerized “Pleasant Ridge reserve cheese,” and another was a Northern California creamy goat. Blackberry and Pinot Noir creme brulee (a new combination for us as you can guess), plus chocolate stuffed French toast finished us off, and I mean that almost literally; when I’m at the end of a chemo week, since I haven’t eaten much for the previous days, I sort of ease myself back into eating on Sunday. This Sunday, I forgot about all that, and I ate like I do when I’m in New Orleans. At meal’s end, I drank some badly needed water, only to find I had no room for it. I was full to my nostrils. “No room for water,” mused Caroline, similarly overextended. “That’s a t shirt.” We regretted nothing. Caroline thinks this may be the standout meal of the trip.

Day Two: fried shrimp po boy’s and a plate of red beans and rice, and smokey sausage, because it was Monday in New Orleans, at Frankie and Johnny’s with Craig. Ice cream at Creole Creamery: red velvet cake for me, and tiramisu and chocolate amaretto cheesecake for Caroline. Then it was off to Jill and Charles’ to meet up with the teens and get fed SOME MORE. Many a middle eastern mezza–their terrific homemade hummus, a plate of creamy feta topped with sprinkles of sumac, chicken livers fried in lemon and olive oil, and more, before a tomato, pepper and cuke salad with an herby lemony dressing, their special roasted chicken, and some hearty, drippy lasagna from a place that does take out that I needed to review. And then the gals and I fulfilled a long standing commitment, and deep-fried some candy bars, discovering that about an hour chilling in the freezer is enough, and that a pancake type batter works better than puff pastry as a covering. Flushed with success, I decided to follow through on the NOLA edict of battering and deep-frying everything that was nailed down, and into the pot went Charles’ brownies, some Dutch banana candy and some more I’ve mercifully forgotten, with varying levels of success. By the end, Caroline was begging for mercy, but only for that night. She never, ever flagged throughout this trip, which is why she is so excellent.

Day Three: But this was work, really it was, and Caroline and I headed into Cajun country, where she had her first boudin, authoritatively spicy, at Poche’s, plus some too cold cracklins. Dinner was at Prejean’s: seafood stuffed mushrooms (think gooey crabcake filling) which we finished off despite feeling we didn’t want something that heavy to start. What were we thinking? Caroline had their crawfish enchiladas and despaired of ever being satisfied by an ordinary version ever again. I had boiled shrimp and a side of remoulade on a bunch of spinach. Shut up. We then had the worst dessert in the history of sweets; it was billed as “strawberry shortcake, with fresh Louisiana strawberries.” It was two slices of Sara Lee pound cake, covered in a viscous jelly like goo, gleaming of Red Dye #3, and it had never even been in the same zip code as a strawberry. Ghastly. We sent it back and were deeply sad.

Day Four; French toast and bacon at our guesthouse and we managed to stop ourselves from eating all of it. Good thing; an egg casserole at the next review stop was still in our future. We didn’t get around to eating again until much later, a tasso (chunks of smokey, falling apart pork in Jack Miller’s distinct onion BBQ sauce) sandwich, and then a heavenly large homemade brownie, topped with local ice cream at Back in Time in Opelousas. A mere two hours later and we had dinner with Marc and Ann at the Steamboat Warehouse; I had the grilled shrimp, which made me happy until I had a bite of Ann’s divine pan seared catfish topped with crawfish in a creamy sauce. And Caroline’s catfish stuffed with crab. And Marc’s scallops. Oh, my. Well, I was trying to slow down–what was I thinking? Must not make that mistake again. I do not.

Day Five: Aware of upcoming evening debauchery, we only ate two pieces each of the homemade quiche at our B&B. And we split a remarkably good roasted turkey sandwich on pita at the Magnolia Cafe in St. Francisville. All this was because, after we picked up Jean and Brigid at the airport, and added in Rob and Helene, we went on a progressive dinner, commencing at Bourbon Seafood House, where the drinkers had fresh blueberry mojitos, orange cosmos and Abita, and all of us had raw oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller, oysters bienville and oysters fonseca. Debates still rage over the best in this bunch, but it’s my email so I’m voting for Rockefeller. And there crab fingers with bordelaise sauce, and deviled stuffed crab, and boiled shrimp with remoulade and another dipping sauce and roasted calamari and three kinds of marinated seafood salads. But it was all small portions, so we walked over to Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, and we had Creole tomatoes topped with bleu cheese, a gorgeous crab cake that was mostly crab, more fried splendid oysters, and split a 14 oz. ribeye which was the best steak on the table, we thought, until we tried the 16 oz cast iron seared strip, and even that might have been topped by the house filet topped with creamed spinach and flash fried oysters and bearnaise sauce. Poor prime rib; you were good, but you were overshadowed. I mean, this was meat and it was tender and juicy and cooked to the right combo of pink and gray and seasoned to give it a kerwallop but not so much as to lose the true flavor. Poor Helene, our token fishetarian; her grilled red fish, topped with lemon beurre blanc sauce was excellent, she happily finished every bite, but she still loves the taste of the meat she won’t eat and the smell was driving her crazy. We would have saluted her resolve, but we were too busy with Creole creamcheese cake (“Oh,” Brigid said, “I see what you mean about how this isn’t ordinary cheesecake,” and I would have answered, but Helene and I were too busy finishing it), and an cafe-chocolate mousse in a tall glass, and bananas foster bread pudding and a coconut cake that won the hearts of most at the table. Because Caroline carries a photo of the white chocolate bread pudding from Palace Cafe in her wallet and her heart, two portions were sent over for her, along with a number of frozen bourbon milk punches from the Seafood house. We waddled home, sated and happy. Welcome, Brigid and Jean!

Day Six: Lunch was at Pascal Manale’s, where the chef impressed and dismayed us by admitted that the shrimp he had for their famous BBQ shrimp (cooked in a buttery, garlicky, spicy sauce) had too thin shells and so were cooking too soft and peeling into mush. Poppy, Jean and I switched, on his recommendation, to the already peeled BBQ shrimp po boy’s and were not sorry, and he sent us a plate, gratis, of the regular shrimp so we could see what he meant. He was right. I ate them all anyway. Caroline and Brigid split excellent shrimp creole, and Brigid decided she was on a remoulade tour of New Orleans, and had shrimp in same for her appetizer. I can’t remember what Lauren had, because I was too busy dunking bread into every sauce I found.
Afternoon aperitifs included Swizzle Sticks, sidecars, daiquiris (for Jean and Brigid), fresh squeezed lemonade and a virgin Swizzle for me, and some of the above plus a Corpse Reviver #2 for Caroline at the Swizzle Stick Lounge, and Ti, afraid we would go hungry, sent over cups of Commander’s Palace turtle soup, a taste Jean has recalled with pleasure for five years, and declared exactly the same (which is a good thing!) as always.
Craig joined us at Muriel’s for dinner, where the shrimp and goat cheese crepes were the stand out appetizer, though we stripped a charcuterie plate with duck confit rillettes, andouille and much mustard and chutney. The seared duck breast in port reduction had us pounding the table. Craig’s double cut pork chop would be the best piece of meat our weekend saw after those steaks, thanks to the sugar cane apple glaze, but Caroline’s wood grilled tuna was not far behind in the swoon-inducing. Whomever had the wood grilled redfish with garlic and herbs also choose well. I can’t remember what I had and what Jean had–weird, I’m looking at the menu and everything–but I must have been drunk with food. THere was nothing bad on our table, believe me.

Day Seven: We had a progressive lunch, trying to determine if the one pound wood fired burgers at Port O’ Call (complete with huge and overstuffed baked potato) were still the best burgers in the Quarter, or has upstart Stanley, with its half pound cheeseburger, liberally dressed with the usual accouterments, taken over? Brigid and I vote for the latter, since we like goop and we liked the flavor, but Caroline felt the naked brawniness of Port O’ Call still wins. We also liked Stanley’s corn meal crusted oyster po boy; it’s a piquant variation on a familiar local fave.
For dinner that night, Jill joined us at Arnaud’s for Jean’s birthday and to let the wait staff spoil us, which they surely did. We started with charbroiled oysters, the new food craze in town,and justly, since they are smokey and garlicky and buttery and lovely. I wish I had had a dozen of my own. Fresh lump crabmeat ravignotte (barely held together with the lightest of sauces, a dish I had dreamed of since last August when it seemed possible all NOLA food would be lost) came on top fried green tomatoes, and I batted my eyelashes (well, what there is of them) until I got both more lump crabmeat, and more Creole tomatoes. And also some extra fried green tomatoes. Brigid continued the remoulade tour and decided Arnaud’s won. She had pan fried sweetbreads, thin and crispy and not gamy. Jean had fresh gulf fish topped with crabmeat, and Caroline had another fish dish I’ve forgotten but is probably the pompano. Jill had a splendid filet au poivre, again seared to tender and juicy perfection with a good hit of pepper. I had lovely shrimp creole. Bananas foster flamed tableside, and dishes of fresh (yes, FRESH!) strawberries in a wine sauce over ice cream finished us off, though not literally, and helped Caroline and I purge that terrible shortcake memory. All in all, a lavish feast that stands alongside Delachaise, for different reasons, as the stand out meal. Everything was classic New Orleans Creole, and perfectly prepared.

Day Eight: We started at Bywater BBQ, with a plate of falling apart pork ribs and no knife required brisket, plus chunky mac n’ cheese and mayo-laiden cole slaw. As good as this was (dry rubbed and smoked properly, but the spicy red sauce probably dulled some of the effect of the meat)( Jean’s pulled pork sandwich was the best bbq on the table. Caroline’s cheese grits caused more table ruckus, and Brigid’s egg dish plus hearty biscuits proved it’s not solely about the bbq there. A big piece of homemade chocolate cake with peanut butter icing capped a serendipitous choice.
If Jill and Charles say “come over for dinner,” you do. Because really, there is no better eating to be had in any restaurant in town. More homemade hummus, and feta salad, and creole tomato salad, but the piece de resistance was fresh trout, caught out in the Gulf by Charles and lightly sauteed by Jill in Italian bread crumbs with Cajun seasoning, and then topped with an olive oil, lemon and caper sauce. “WHY can’t I get my fish to taste like this?” despaired Brigid, while the rest of us ate.

Day Nine: An impromptu choice landed us at Mother’s, where the Ferdi (house made ham, roast beef, and “debris”–the shreds of beef that fall off into the au jus as they carve the roast) and the shrimp po boys are as good as ever. One more jaunt to Cafe Du Monde (we had one earlier in the trip) and they were crispy and sweet. We got some muffulottas from Nor Joe’s for the flight home, so we could make everyone jealous on our plane, and good timing on the way to the airport meant we could grab a slice of chocolate doborge and a slice of wedding cake from Martin’s Wine Cellar, so that we wouldn’t go lacking for sweets. And then Caroline and I got upgraded to First Class, because they liked the cut of our jib. We sent fresh chocolate chip cookies back to Jean to console her.

Day Ten: I went to chemo and we all went into sugar, fat and salt withdrawal. Ummmm…how sweet it is.

It was for work, I swear,