Four great meals in one visit
Just got back from New Orleans. I was there for business, so several of my nights were taken. Plus, I didn't have a lot of time to travel far beyond the Quarter, so I chose restaurants that were close. After reading many posts on this message board and others, and restaurant reviews ad nauseum, I settled on the following:
NOLA for a party of eight on our first night. I knew we'd all be pretty tired after our travels, and we had a couple of teenagers in the group, so I wanted someplace fun for them (somewhere they could tell their friends about - Hey, I went to Emeril's place) and someplace not too fancy. I must say, we did enjoy the food and the atmosphere. Although I give one warning - our reservation was for 6:00, and only six members of our party were on time, so the staff would not seat us until they all arrived. We ended up being a party of nine - no problem, they just set another place at the table and there was plenty of room. The place was funky in design (take an elevator to the second floor), and the waitstaff was very accommodating, if a little over the top. They explained everything on the menu to everyone's satisfaction, taking the time to repeat some items because not everyone heard things the first time. Presentation of the food was very dramatic. Five servers would swarm the table and place all of the dishes down at the same time. We had a variety of foods that night, including a tasty gumbo, some hot jalapeno cornbread, miniature crabcakes for appetizer, and an excellent salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cherries and smoky cheddar (I don't remember what the dressing was). Several of my companions had salmon and were not disappointed; the two teenagers (girls both) had the "cowboy steak" - a very large ribeye, I believe; and I enjoyed a thick-cut grilled porkchop which was cooked to perfection (just slightly pink inside). We shared one dessert among several of the women - a banana pudding cake of some sort with dried banana chips in it. I only had one bite of it, but it was good. Considering my "tourist trap" expectations, I really did enjoy NOLA.
The next night was reserved for a romantic evening with my husband. I chose Bella Luna, since it is hyped as the most romantic spot in N.O. It, too, did not disappoint. We had a table by the window, overlooking the river and the moon. The menu was very diverse, not to be described by any particular style or ethnicity. For starters we had a lobster crepe sort of dish, crab-stuffed shrimp which were deep-fried and served with a jalapeno mango jelly (very yummy), a mixed tomato salad with yellow and red tomatoes, and gumbo. Yes, we had two starters each - we wanted to eat everything on the menu, so we made room! For entrees, we enjoyed osso buco and a thick-cut grilled veal chop. (Everywhere I went, I got a thick-cut grilled something. I'm five-two, 105 pounds. Everyone wondered where I was putting it all. I found out after I got home - I was carrying it "behind" me!) Both were delicious. We were very satisfied. I know we had dessert, but I don't remember what. We had only two disappointments. First, most of the other patrons were dressed very casually (jeans or shorts and golf shirts), which is a real gripe of mine in many restaurants. If you're going to such a nice place, dress up! Second, the port which I ordered to go with dessert (vintage - '83, maybe) was bad. It tasted like the bottle had been open for a very long time. But that was not enough to keep me from recommending the place. I would definitely return there.
Next day we were unexpectedly on our own for lunch, so we headed out to explore. We wanted to hit Mother's, but because it was so oppressively hot, we decided we didn't want to wait on the sidewalk the hour it would have taken just to get inside the place. So we settled on Remoulade, which is the cafe sister of Arnaud's. It was pretty busy inside, so we sat at the bar to eat. Good choice! We had a drink called Bayou Self, which tasted like a pina colada, but without the creamy stuff. And they were green in color, so that made it even more fun. Lunch was basic but good, jambalaya and crab cakes. After lunch we had an hour to kill, so we got a couple of Bayou Selfs to go and walked a bit.
Dinner that evening was a double-date, so I chose Bayona. Another good choice. But first we headed back for more Bayou Selfs - those drinks were good. I made every friend I ran into taste them. They would hesitate, take a sip, then look at me - Where did you get that? Then they'd run, not walk, over to Remoulade for a to-go cup. Dangerous!
Back to Bayona. The location was away from the crowds. The interior was relaxed but lively. The small rooms gave an intimate feel and kept the noise level down. The staff was very friendly and helpful without being overbearing. I don't remember the appetizers, but I do remember lots of sharing and lots of mmmms going around the table. Entrees were lamb loin, pork chop, tuna and rabbit - each prepared in a unique way, each tasty. I generally don't like lamb, but this was good. Too much talking going on at the table to remember exactly what was in each dish, but I distinctly remember as we shared our food around the table, nobody disliked anything. Skipped dessert because we had a party to attend - what a shame! But maybe we'll make it back soon, and leaving without dessert will not be an option!
The only disappointment was Mr. B's Bistro for lunch, another off-the-cuff decision. The waitstaff was less than helpful. I asked if a cup of gumbo and a salad would suffice for lunch, but the waiter hedged and wouldn't really offer advice. So I ordered the gumbo and an entree of shrimp and cappellini in an herb and garlic sauce. The gumbo was fine, but the entree was tasteless. I ate the shrimp but saw no point to eating the pasta. Plus, the bread was served in a bag, a whole loaf, and no knife in sight. For a casual lunch joint that would be fine, but it just didn't seem to fit with linen napkins and formally dressed waiters. Nothing to write home about.
Well, it's a long post but I so enjoyed my stay, I just had to write. Many of my choices were swayed by what I read in this message board, so I wanted to share my experiences to give someone else some guidance. New Orleans is filled with many, many great restaurants. I wish I could have visited them all. For instance, two on my wish list, Uglesich's and Brigtsen's, were closed when I visited. Plus they were outside of my geographical limitations for this trip. I really wrestled with my choices, but in the end, the advice of the folks who have been there - not paid critics or Zagat's - is what helped me make my choices and truly enjoy my trip. Thank you one and all!
I'm surprised that you found other diners wearing jeans at Bella Luna. When I worked there three years ago they used to turn people away at the door if they were wearing jeans or tennis shoes.
That bread-in-a-bag at Mr. B's is pretty unremarkable bread, too, although it works fine for sopping up the juices of barbecued shrimp.
re: Sarah C
And not just one or two in jeans - the vast majority were dressed that way (except for the private party in the side room - they were all dressed to kill). Only one or two of the men had slacks rather than jeans or shorts (never mind tie or jacket), and the women were dressed down, too. The one notable exception was a rather young couple (very early 20s) who came in their "best" clothes - very sweet - and gave rise to a nostalgia-filled conversation between my husband and me about our earliest dates when we were broke but still knew we wanted to experience the best. I guess some things don't change!
Thanks for the post. I agree with most of your comments - and I will definitely have to try a "Bayou Self" soon!
"Plus, the bread was served in a bag, a whole loaf, and no knife in sight. For a casual lunch joint that would be fine, but it just didn't seem to fit with linen napkins and formally dressed waiters."
However, this comment bothered me a bit - this is a traditional (creole?) way to serve bread in N.O. - big hot loaves, right out of the oven put directly on the table (often sans bag). No knife, no bread plate - just dig in. Pretty, it might not be, messy, it definitely is - but hey- it's New Orleans after all!
Also, other than the gumbo, the only great thing to order at Mr. B's is the bbq shrimp.
re: Brad K.
About the bread - don't get me wrong. I have no problem using my hands to break bread. It just felt so out of place in this restaurant - made me feel very awkward.
I considered the bbq shrimp, but again, when I saw they came in the shells... eating with my fingers just didn't fit in with the place. Probably in a more dressed-down atmosphere on the same day I would have enjoyed both the bread and the bbq shrimp.
This is precisely why I have learned to do my research before visiting another city - I have been disappointed too many times by last-minute choices. But I am learning to use the experiences of others to guide my choices and have been much more satisfied. Hurray for Chowhounds!