Tuesday, May 4, 2010


to miss New Orleans?

Eggs Benedict at Arnaud's
I’ve only just returned and my heart is already aching for the smell of the breeze coming off the muggy waterfront.  I hear the echo of a steam whistle shrieking forth over the Mississippi from the NATCHEZ Riverboat as it pulls away from the dock.  The sound pierces the thick afternoon air and I am awake, and far away from the city that has a stranglehold on my heart. 

The smiles of the people of New Orleans are welcoming and cordial – in spite of all she has endured, this city, like the South, is kind to travelers. Her manners and pleasantries comfort and sustain even the weariest among us. The streets of the Quarter are often alive with music, as talented performers line up every block or so to serenade those who stroll along Royal, or Decatur, of a warm sunny afternoon. Art hangs in abundance from the wrought iron fences that surround Jackson Square. Colored canvases and scuplture are everywhere. The smell of food is carried along on the heavy liquid air as it mingles with the scent of Beignets, Jambalaya, Muffalettas, Oysters, Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice and (one of my favorites), Barbequed Shrimp. The food is everywhere, oh man, the food.

Duck 5-Ways, Stella!
We’ve been lucky in our dining choices while visiting the Crescent City, taking recommendations from fellow travelers and locals alike. On our most recent trip, we began our adventures at Coop's on Decatur, having our traditional late night Fried Chicken and Jambalaya after debarking our plane.  Coops is a New Orleans tradition and if you can get the self-titled "Snarky Bartenders" to wait on you the food is delicious. 

Commander’s Palace was our next stop for lunch the following morning. By way of background, Commander’s is an historic New Orleans tradition of a restaurant, sitting smack in the heart of the Garden District, only a short two-block walk from a convenient stop on the St. Charles Streetcar line.  (If you are visiting the city, you must ride the streetcar system, it is beautiful.) The restaurant itself is a lovely old teal and white building, a welcoming apparition that might have been taken straight from a Tennessee Williams play set in the Old South.  Its decor is strongly reminiscent of the 1940s, with it’s rambling structure, wrought iron chairs and interior dining patio rimmed in sparkling white lights. After lunch we usually stroll through the old cemetery next door, another fascinating example of the city’s endless history.  Inside, the food is delicious, an inventive combination of old traditions and new techniques. The kitchen (which one must walk through to get to the back outdoor patio) has trained the likes of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Legasse. The lunch meal is appealing, but the Bread Pudding Souffle served here may be among the ten best dishes in the city. Fluffy, aromatic and light as air, it is set on the table, broken open and filled while you watch, with a bourbony cream sauce that is poured into its center by the white gloved hands of one of the solicitous and perfectly attentive wait staff. This dish is as good as Bread Pudding can get.

BBQ Shrimp, Tujague's
Another of our meals was spent at Tujague’s where we tasted the barbeque shrimp, as part of their table d'hote (another way to say prix fixe) menu. The night we were there it began with Shrimp Remoulade, then a delicious shrimp gumbo, followed by the House Specialty, a Beef Brisket with Creole Sauce. There were four entrees, I had the Barbequed Shrimp, which had a tangy worchestershire flavor, which I ordered at the recommendation of a bus driver we’d met on our first trip to the city. He recommended both this dish and the BBQ Shrimp at Deanie’s Seafood, which we had on exiting New Orleans three years ago. I think I prefer the buttery spice of Deanie’s, without the worchestershire, but both are good. Really a matter of preference, as the seafood is fresh, moist and abundant. We ended this meal with another version of bread pudding which we dined on all over the city.  It was a pudding-like texture but firm, yet easily sliced with only a fork, also smothered in whisky sauce. Very sweet. Good stuff.
Citrus Salad, w/orange cocktail, Stella!

While we were in the storied "Crescent City", we also sampled some of the finest upscale dining that is to be had in all of New Orleans. Among the best of these is Stella!  located along Chartres just before Ursulines, just inside the driveway to the Provincial Hotel. We happened to stay at the Provincial on our last visit to NOLA.  We found the hotel was haunted, but had no idea we were staying at a hotel that had as its onsite dining a restaurant of this calibre. We thought it was just the hotel café. Silly us.  When we returned, we learned of Stella! from a waiter here in Oakland (Pican) who had previously worked there. He said he felt that Stella! was now the best eats in the city. While the term “best” is thrown about loosely these days, Scott Boswell, the chef and owner of Stella, was just nominated for a James Beard award (best chef in the South). While he did not win, the meal we had there definitely convinced us that Stella! was indeed, a "contender."  We shared Duck Five Ways, and this mouth-watering Lobster dish.  We both had a palate cleanser of an amazing citrus salad with a tiny shot glass of nitro frozen orange.  Wow.  I can’t begin to pick a favorite dish there, but the texture and flavor of the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Petite Apple Walnut Spring Roll, Caramelized Banana, Toasted Brioche and Huckleberry Purée was out of this frigging world. Really, it was like good sex.

Foie 2-ways (Creme Brulee,
Confit w/Champagne reduction)
Restaurant Cuvee
Another stop on our tour was the Bon Ton Café which is on Magazine Street. Like Tujague’s and Commander's, Bon Ton is old New Orlean’s, it’s interior lined with red-checkered tables, it’s bar serving up Sazerac’s to order. We went to the Bon Ton in search of their famous Crab Meat au Gratin. Featured on the Food Channel’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate - Cheesey Goodness” it was billed as the perfect amalgam of crab meat and cheese. I found the dish to be even better than described by it’s proponent on the show. Creamy and hot, the cheese browned and golden, bubbling atop luscious thick chunks of Louisiana blue crab – every bite was perfection. So this place, definitely worth another visit!

BBQ Shrimp, House of Blues
Then there is Restaurant Cuvee. A jewel among Magazine Street’s many restaurants (seriously, it’s like a strip of great eats outside the Quarter just past Canal), Cuvee was the first upscale modern cuisine we tried when visiting last year. It had been recommended by a waiter who’d served us at Cut in Los Angeles, where he’d moved after being displaced by Katrina. He’d worked at Cuvee before being forced out of NOLA. It is difficult to decide which dish we liked best at Cuvee, but the foie there rivals Stella! without question. Rich, well prepared and imaginative, the foie creme brulee is among the dishes I dream about from year to year between visits to Nawlins.

Crabmeat au Gratin, Bon Ton
We ended our visit by breakfasting at Stanley on our way out of town. I could go on about so many other individual items we ate while there, but since that was New Orleans, and I am here in the Bay Area, it just doesn’t seem fair. However, if you are on your way to the Big Easy, drop me a note and I’ll be happy to fill you in. As always, if you can, check it out, and Bon Appetit!

Arnaud’s Jazz - fine local historical
813 Bienville Street
Bread Pudding Souffle, Commander's Palace
New Orleans, LA 70112-3191
(504) 523-0611

Bon Ton Cafe - fine local

401 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-2426
(504) 524-3386

Brigtsen’s Restaurant - upscale
723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA 70118-1013
(504) 861-7610

Café Du Monde - local historical
1039 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116-3309
(504) 587-0835

Cochon Restaurant - upscale
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA
(504) 588-2123

Commander’s Palace Restaurant - fine local historical
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130-5798
(504) 899-8221

Coop’s - casual local
1109 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116

Restaurant Cuvee - upscale
322 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-2425
(504) 587-9001

Deanie’s Seafood - casual local
841 Iberville Street
New Orleans, LA 70112-3131
(504) 581-1316

Napoleon House Bar & Cafe - currently serving the "best muffalata in town"
500 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-2110
(504) 524-9752

Stanley- casual upscale breakfast
Jackson Square
547 St Ann St
New Orleans, LA 70116

Stella!- upscale
1032 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70116-3202
(504) 587-0091

Tujague's - fine local historical
823 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-8676