Three weeks in New Orleans
With the one-year anniversary of Katrina just past, much has been made this week of the trauma and hardship. But if you spend three weeks in New Orleans, like I did this summer, there's a lot of good food to be had, especiall with the help of friends, locals, and Pableaux Johnson's restaurant guide. Here's a few mini-reviews from my first trip.
Corner tourist spot somewhere in the French Quarter.
Just after arriving from the airport, we wandered out into the
quarter for a late lunch/early dinner, and when the inevitable
afternoon downpour began we ducked into some mildly charming place serving insipid beans, plain rice, average sausage, and mediocre fish. Beware!
Though, Eat, a new restaurant in the French
Quarter, is only a block off Bourbon Street, the surroundings are
quiet and residential. The dining room is split across two
levels, with a semi-open partition walls dividing up the space
into smaller areas, so the restaurant feels small and inviting.
The design and fixtures are light and modern, a style almost
nonexistent elsewhere in the Quarter, and rare anywhere in New
The food is a mix of updated cajun/creole classics and more
modern cooking. Examples of the former include etouffee and
gumbo; examples of the latter are fig-blue cheese tart and pork
chop with caramelized onions. Quality varies. Fried fish tasted
fresh but had an armor-like breadcrumb coating. The pork chop is
v good but not as moist as I'd have liked. The house caesar that
accompanies all dinners is well-dressed and made with fresh
romaine, but the cheese is merely perfunctory and the single
tough crouton perched atop each salad is best discarded. Service
is v good.
Zydeque Cajun Barbecue
After balking at the half-hour wait at Acme Oyster Bar, a group
of us ended up at this Cajun-style barbecue place on the next
block. Like many places in New Orleans, it felt a little
underpopulated, but the effect was more exaggerated here,
like it was meant to be crowded.
Almost everyone in our group got the "Cajun Two-Step" combination
plate: two meats and two sides, served on large plastic tray that
serves as a plate. The pulled pork was described on the menu as
cochon au lait, but it seemed like it spent more time being
smoked than being braised in milk: all charred edges and smoky
flavor, to its benefit, but rather dry, to its detriment. It came
with a thick, uber-sweet Texas-style sauce that's decent if you
go for that kind of thing (personally I prefer vinegary,
Everyone ordered the same sides--cornbread and greens-- and
enjoyed them. In addition to the sides, you get two soft, white
supermarket-style dinner rolls.
The deep fryer was broken on the night four of us discovered
Praline Connection. This equipment failure eliminated roughly
half the menu, and somehow it feels wrong to evaluate this
restaurant under these circumstances. I don't think what I ate
was bad, but almost everyone had to pass on their first choice.
However, the bread pudding was excellent.
This west african restaurant was recommended by a French Quarter
shop owner. Start with the akara (black-eyed pea fritters served
with a dipping sauce). Try a dish with their coconut rice. Have
the ginger drink, but also consider buying a bottle of wine
across the street at Verti Mart (its BYOB). Fish dishes use
strong-flavored, bony fish, which generally works well with the
spices, but some in our party did not enjoy. The yogurt and fried
plantain dessert, as simple as it is, is incredible.
The salad special sounded good, but was made from old, pre-mixed
greens that had come straight from the bag: the sturdier greens
were unwashed and occasionally yellowed; the more delicate ones
had collapsed into black slime. I had to pick those out myself.
After that, I really wasn't paying much attention to the pizza,
but I do recall the crust was hard and greasy.
Petunia's serves only breakfast and lunch, Southern style.
Biscuits, grits, bacon, and eggs are consistently well-executed.
Portions are large; omelets are huge. Bananas Foster was
fantastic, and enough to feed four. Service is friendly. I
probably ate here more times than anywhere else in my three weeks
in New Orleans, and it's one of the only places I miss now that
I'm back in New York.
Liuzza's By the Tracks
Liuzza's has New Orleans food as cooked by Italians, which means
that the fried oyster po-boy comes with garlic butter instead of
mayonnaise (v tasty) and the gumbo resembles minestrone.
Most gumbo I encountered in New Orleans seems like a parody of
itself, gloppily thick and overly spicy. Liuzza's version, though
not traditional, is far better than those. It is not thickened
(or only barely so) and the soup base tastes like good broth.
Rather than having a mound of rice on the side, the gumbo
includes a little cooked rice in the soup, which gives it some
body. There's enough meat to give it flavor without being stew-like.
Eight dollars flat rate gets you a main course and two sides,
plus salad, jalapeno cornbread, dessert, and a drink. Main
courses offerings are a rotation of standard fare like fried
catfish, fried chicken, or shrimp etouffee. Get the catfish,
which is fried to order, and has a thin, super-crispy coating.
Sides include mashed potatoes, greens, beans and rice, etc.
Everything had the mark of being hand-made.
This Central City restaurant is half lunch joint, half job
training program for formerly incarcerated people, and thankfully
it appears the kitchen staff are actually being trained to
cook, not just to reheat Sysco products.
Sound Cafe was the only coffee place to consistently apply good
preparation practices: the baristas grind the beans to order for
espresso. One barista pulled the shot for my macchiato three
times to get a shot he was happy with. They use beans from a
roaster literally around the corner.
The gumbo is spicy and so thick it will stand your flimsy plastic
spoon on end. V tasty in an un-subtle kind of way.
Domilise's Po' Boys
A 'dressed' po' boy here does not mean the usual lettuce, tomato
and mayo. Instead, you get pickles and hot sauce (and no tomato)
and the result is a stunningly good sandwich.
If you start craving salad and fresh fruit, or if you are feeling
depressed that so much of New Orleans still feels empty, take a
trip to Whole Foods. It's huge, bright, pleasant, and the
lot's always full (be prepared to hunt for parking down the
block). Expensive, but where else can you go for produce?
A 'collection' of books (to use owner Felipe's own description)
that at first glance might appear to be leftovers from a garage
sale, but on closer inspection is a remarkable selection of
culinary titles. You won't find any Food Network chef titles, but
you can browse multiple translations of Brillat-Savarin (and get
opinions on their relative merits from Felipe), or peruse an
entire shelf filled with different editions of the Joy of
Cooking, dating back to the 30s. Of course, Southern, Creole, and
Cajun books are specialties.
Certainly there are many curiosities whose anthropological value
outweighs their epicurean value, but there's lots of practical
stuff for cooks, too. I found a slim but techincal baking book
from 1906 that contains more useful info than I've found in many
modern books, and a great regional Italian book from the 60s.
Hi dml, glad you got to Liuzza's BTT-- gumbo varies wildly, "traditional" is not necessarily thick. In my limited (i've only been here 8 years) experience, poultry/sausage gumbo can be pretty thick and dark, and seafood gumbo is often much thinner. There are, of course, many exceptions. Cafe Reconcile was a good pick, also.
Also, just so people know, cochon de lait is not cooked with milk (au lait), it is suckling pig-- so a pig still drinking milk. :)
(Petunia's)..."it's one of the only places I miss now that
I'm back in New York."
God, what I'd give to have three weeks in the Crescent City! From the places you went, Domilise's would be the only one on my list, just for their Po'Boy. I get a strong feeling that you didn't research or ask for any help from the hounds, otherwise you would have had some of the best food of your life.