Trip report -- very very long
- Betsy Keller
I had a wonderful two and a half day stay in N.O. last week, thanks in large part to all of the many pieces of advice so generously provided by folks on this board. I really felt the spirit of the chowhounds guiding me through my sojourn. First let me state that I was there for a conference, so I wasn't able to spend every moment eating. But as you'll see, I came damn close given the annoying professional constraints.
I arrived Thursday afternoon and took a taxi straight from the airport to Uglesich's, arriving there at just about 2. There was a line of approximately 12 to 15 people, so I was optimistic about getting seated before too long. Uh-uh. That line moved about as slowly as the security line at the airport had. Well at least at U's they didn't make me remove my shoes, but it took 1 and 1/2 hours to get seated! This will astonish only the uninitiated, I guess. I had the fried oysters with blue cheese and the fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade. I would've loved to try more dishes, but since I was alone that didn't seem practical. I wish I could say the food changed my life, but I thought it was just good. I didn't expect the fried green tomatoes to be hard, as they were in spots, but then I've never had the dish before. The atmosphere was swell and I enjoyed chatting with the staff and fellow customers. A friendly group of tourists who had waited in line with me came up at the end of my meal and offered to give me a ride into the Quarter to my hotel, since they knew I was carless and with baggage. They were a hilarious group, and so my N.O. trip was starting off on a friendly and relaxed note.
I arrived at my hotel, the Monteleone, to find it quite lovely as many on this list had indicated. The lobby is splendid, and my room was one that had been very recently renovated and was clean, nicely decorated and comfortable. The beds were excellent.
That evening I met up with an old friend and she was fortunately willing to let me take the lead with regard to dinner venue. However we failed in our attempts to get seated at Galatoire's, Mandich's, or Mr. B's within a time frame we could handle. Therefore on her suggestion we wound up going to Indigo, about a $7 taxi ride out of the FQ. The ambiance was extremely pleasant, however the prices were a bit higher than what I'd have preferred. For an appetizer we shared a sampling of 3 soups, butternut squash and apple bisque, cream of cauliflower with crabmeat, and oysters rockefeller soup (with spinach). We thought that all 3 of these were exquisite. My entree was filet mignon with spinach, blue cheese, and mashed potatoes. ($28) The dish was very well executed, though more like rare than the med. rare I'd requested. My only disappointment was that I felt I could have encountered this dish anywhere in the New York or New Jersey area, where I hail from. There were almost no dishes on the menu that seemed to strongly reflect the local culinary traditions, but it wasn't one of my chowhound picks, so there you go! I was firmly resolved to stick to my eating syllabus more carefully for the rest of the trip.
Forgot to mention that before dinner at Indigo we'd had drinks at both the Monteleone's fun revolving carousel bar (a hoot--go) and also the Napoleon House, which was just as atmospheric as had been suggested by chowhounds. However a bit crowded and loud-- I think it would be more fun at off hours.
On Friday I had a lunch reservation at Bayona. I decided to stick to the much-ballyhooed smoked duck sandwich with cashew butter and pepper jelly, and I'm so glad I did. It was the best thing I ate on the trip, and one of the best things I've ever tasted. The duck was succulent and confit-like in consistency, and the marriage of flavors was exquisite. The toasted whole grain bread it was served on managed to be substantial and yet much less dense than most whole grain breads I've encountered. The sandwich seemed like a heck of a deal at $9, and if I hadn't felt compelled to have 2 glasses of wine and dessert it would have been a real steal. The dessert was a warm chocolate malt cake with ice cream and was very good. By this time I realized that I couldn't escape from the obnoxious college language and literature professors of my conference no matter where in town I went. There had a been a few of them at Uglesich's the day before yacking endlessly about impressive book contracts, and here at Bayona there was a very famous one who boasted loudly to her companion about how her son had decided he wanted to attend Harvard, and that another famous pal of hers who taught there "says she can probably get him in." I'm only sorry I recommended the duck sandwich to them.
That afternoon I hopped on the St.Charles streetcar and took the leisurely trip out to the end of the line and back. This was one of the non-gastronomical highlights of my short stay in New Orleans. If you go here, do this! The endless row of fascinating and impressive mansions on both sides of the street was even better than expressed by guidebooks. I'm only sorry I wasn't hungry when we passed the Camellia Grill, as I would have loved to stop for a bite. I was too stuffed full of Bayona's duck even to hop off to admire the interior and smell the omelets. But it sure looked fun from the outside. My timing for this streetcar ride was unexpectedly great, because as we headed back towards town, dusk was approaching, and so we saw the Christmas lights on and in houses coming on. I love going past beautiful houses that are lit up inside, and where you can catch a glimpse of nice décor inside.
That night I was dining with 3 friends. We weren't sure til the last minute who was coming along, so it was a real challenge to fit our last minute needs to a Chowhound selection. However we managed brilliantly with Mandich's, which was able to accommodate us with just a few hours advance notice. It was about a $7 cabride from the FQ. The place, as guidebooks and chowhounds had said, is minimal in terms of décor, yet reminds one of great unpretentious but clean and efficient neighborhood places everywhere. Our party shared an order of oysters bordelaise, consisting of fried oysters with a sort of garlicky butter sauce. Wonderful! Then I had the deluxe trout Mandich, fried, with crabmeat on top and hollandaise sauce. It was delicious. My companions all loved their dishes, which were stuffed shrimp, non-deluxe trout Mandich, and the crab extravaganza that included a softshell crab and some other crab concoction. For dessert we shared a chocolate mud pie (unremarkable; like chocolate pudding with whipped cream) and bread pudding (very good). We thought the prices were pretty good here, and the service was friendly and efficient. In effect, we felt as if we had come to a great local place and been treated as if we were welcomed regulars.
The next day was Saturday, my last day in town. I had to make hard choices about which spots to hit and which to miss. I tried to have beignets at a place on Royal St. near my hotel before going to the conference, but there was too long a line and so I waited until noontime to head down to the Café du Monde intent on scoring one of these grease pillows before leaving the city. I'd been hearing from everyone I spoke to that it was very hard to get served at C du M because of extraordinary crowds. And it certainly was crowded-"du monde" indeed!-with every seat occupied. So I waited about 10 minutes in the takeout line and walked off with the little devils to eat them on the fly. I wish I could've had the relaxed beignets and coffee experience, but with the crowds it was not too feasible. I thought they were very tasty, but somehow needed coffee and relaxation to fully appreciate. The density of tourists in this section of town was pretty unpleasant. Apparently there were 8,500 people in town for my conference, in addition to some pre-Sugar Bowl influx, and presumably some pre-New Years Eve revelers as well. I shuffled through the French Market, but didn't see much to marvel at. Then I sped over to Central Grocery to get a half Muffaletta (with Barq's root beer and Zapp's chips) to take back to the next segment of the conference. I had to wait in line about 20 minutes, but the atmosphere was aromatic and fun. Loved the sandwich; it was my first muffaletta ever.
That evening I wasn't free from the conference in time to go to Jacques-Imo's, one of the places I had been very eager to try. I wound up getting a last minute reservation at the food bar at NOLA at about 7:30. I wouldn't have gone here except that a friend of mine had had a fabulous lunch experience there on a trip last year. Since it was close to the Monteleone it seemed worth a shot, As I was being seated at the food bar, where you are looking directly into the kitchen area at cooks preparing food, another single diner was being escorted to the seat next to me. I figured we would feel obliged to have some chitchat, so I hoped he would be interesting. It turned out that he was a very likable academic from my home state with whom I had a delightful conversation through the whole dinner. I had the roasted duck, served with some sort of cornbread pudding stuff, green beans, and candies pecans. It sounded more complicated on the menu than it was on the plate. It was actually rather simple, but quite delicious and satisfying. For dessert I had a wonderful peanut butter pie with chocolate sauce.
That, unfortunately was all the food I had time or stomach for in New Orleans in 2.5 days. I had to leave for the airport the next morning at 6 a.m. I was really sorry to miss Mother's as well as Jacques-Imo's, but I had some great meals. Once again, I thank all the chowhounds whose advice contributed to a great trip!
I've had the same experience of trying to fit Chowhounding around a dreaded convention. It's not fun, especially when the city is so crowded. My advice to you would be to change professions, or at least conventions! New Orleans is so much more pleasant when it isn't overrun.
You did marvelously well under difficult circumstances.
There is NO line for tables at Cafe du Monde - it is a myth! People (i.e. tourists) make what appears to be a line outside the place - when they finally make their way to the front of this "line" they realize that there is no one up there seating people. The tables there are really just a free-for-all. When I go, I usually go directly around to near where the take-out line is (yes, that one is for real!) - and there are always tables free over way over there.
BTW- had the BBQ oysters (main dish) 2 weeks ago at Uggie's - it knocked my socks off! I agree with the tomamtoes - good, but it will never be a "great" dish.