5 days of good chow
Well, we just returned from NOLA and I have to say I had a delightful time eating my way around the Quarter and the CBD.
Since this was our first visit to the crescent city, we had decided that we would try to eat locally, and try not to eat anything we would normally make/get at home.
After a long and exhausting day of travel, our first order of business Saturday night took us to the Quarter. We didn't want to venture far from our hotel, and since the Bon Ton Cafe isn't open on weekends, we decided to see what we could find. Well, we happened upon the Gumbo Shop and had their New Orleans Combo (as we called it) of a bowl of gumbo (I had seafood, my companion had the chicken and andouille) Crawfish Etouffee, a side and dessert. With a name like the Gumbo Shop, I was expecting to be knocked over by the gumbo. And I was. Their Seafood Gumbo is of the thick variety, very flavorful and became the barometer for every seafood gumbo I had throughout my trip. The only part of our meal we weren't too happy about was the garlic mashed potatoes chosen as a side (it was nothing to write home about, pun intended) but the creamed spinach was great, Our desserts of the bread pudding with whiskey sauce and the Praline Sundae were both very good. this was also the place that my companion discovered Turbo Dog beer (they had it on draught) and so the love affair with the dark brew began.
Later that night, at our hotel (Le Pavillon) we partook in the nightly Peanut Butter and Jelly gathering they give each evening from 10-11pm. While I didn't eat the sandwiches (not my thing) they did have some of the best homemade hot chocolate I have ever had. We made it a point to at least stop by the lobby each evening to get a cup before turning in for bed, or heading back out for some late night fun..
The next night we had dinner at G.W. Fins. This was a spectacular meal. While waiting for our table, I had my very first Mojito and found my new favorite drink. Sadly, it would be the last Mojito I would have in NOLA because of a shortage all over town on fresh mint. ??? Anyway, our entrees were spectacular. I also found a new love while dining at G.W. Fins: Tasso Ham. Honestly, I do not know how the wait staff keeps from popping little morsels of the stuff into their mouth each time they visit the kitchen. I had the trout (very good) and my companion had the grouper (spectacular). I had the Mushroom risotto for a side (Yeah, I know, I can make that at home, but it looked good.) and as delicious as it was, I couldn't manage to finish it. I was stuffed!
Part of that problem may very well be because I took it upon myself to try out every seafood gumbo I could get my hands on so I was never ravenous when it came to dinner. Oh well, it was worth it.
The following night we headed out to Coops Place on Decatur to try out their fare. I had the Gumbo along with Shrimp Creole and my companion had the Pasta with tasso cream sauce with shrimp. We left quite happy, although too full for dessert (yet again) so when we walked by Cafe Du Monde for the third time in two days, we weren't tempted.
The last night of our journey brought us to the French Market Restaurant and Bar on Decatur because about the only thing left on my list that I really wanted to indulge upon was some boiled crawfish. Of course, the open window with the steam form the boiling crawfish had been calling out to me each time I had walked by the place so it was about time. After trying out their gumbo (at this point I must have sampled 6 or 8 gumbos) we dug into the steaming pile of crawfish set before us. After giving a brief tutorial to my companion about how to eat a crawfish (twist, suck pinch, suck) we were munching away happily. This time we DID have room for dessert and we had to taste the bourbon pecan pie. It was a wonderful end to our meal! Not too sweet, good bourbon flavor with a really nice robust flavor from the pecans. Whoever made it (I'm sure it wasn't in-house) did a fine job.
Some other places we visited were Central Grocery for a Muffalatta (even if it did have swiss on it, it was good. Mother's (Great Shrimp and Catfish Po Boys - Saw David Rosengarten there as we were leaving!) We finally made it to Cafe Du Monde (loved the beignets, and the Cafe Au Lait was surprisingly good, and the Hot Chocolate was pretty decent too.) About the Pralines... I had tasted every praline I could get my hands on in the FQ and Southern Candy Makers made the ones I liked best. Good flavor, not just sugary sweet. I highly recommend them.
Unfortunately, since I was in NOLA attending a conference, I did have to eat some "conference food" for a few of my meals. But with that said, the seafood gumbo prepared at Le Pavillon was actually my #2 pick of favorite seafood gumbos.
Before we left town, I had to pick up some Andouille and some Tasso Ham (and my companion, some Turbo Dog) to smuggle back home in our suitcase. That and all of the Tabasco products we bought at the teeniest, tiniest A&P I had ever been in pushed the envelope for weight with regard to my checked baggage. Can you blame me? We don't get nearly half of the Tabasco products I saw back home!
We had a fantastic time and can't wait to return. On our next visit, we hope to venture more into the Garden District and also try out some other places like Mr. B's Bistro, Palace Cafe, The Bon Ton Cafe and maybe the "high end" meal of the trip will be Restaurant August.
I want to thank everyone who has posted comments about their feastings in NOLA. While I mainly lurk on the boards, it was by reading so many comments that helped us to pick out some of the places to stop at, and avoid the places that aren't so hot. I'm already looking forward to trying my hand at making gumbo (thanks to my new Gumbo padel and Gumbo Shop cookbook) so I'll let you know how it goes.
I'm glad that you enjoyed G W Fins. Shortly after they opened, I got the rec. from a Florida wino-foodie, who had ties to NO and had just returned from a meeting. She raved about Fins. It had opened long after I left NO, so I had no knowledge of it.
As we were heading to NO in a month, or so, I took her suggestion and made reservations. I had been a little put-off by the name, as it sounded more like a chain of seafood restaurants, that should be based in Dallas. Regardlesss, I called and was greeted by a very informative hostess. We talked of their wines-by-the-glass selections (a point that my friend had made), and I was told that Thursday evenings were their "wine-tasting" events. I made the reservations for both the event, and then dinner.
Made our way down from the Parish and entered a lovely restaurant. The wine-tasting was at the bar, and the bartender started us off with a flight of four Chardonnays (it was Chardonnay night). All were great and each was unique. We talked and had a bunch of questions about the wines answered (correctly, I might add). During the tasting, little appetizers kept coming from the kitchen - maybe six in all. Their deep-fried flounder-fingers were the best flounder I had eaten in 20 years! I *knew* what I was having for my entree! Finally, it was time to be seated, so I asked for the bill. "It's all no charge, if you're dining with us," was the reply. Heck, we had just had 8 half-glasses of premium Chard. No Le Montrachets, but still $30-50/btl. retail wine, plus all the appetizer courses!! I tipped the barstaff, what I thought this would/should have cost and proceeded to the table.
Well, the flounder-fingers were only done during the wine-tasting, and were no longer available (I would have gotten another order, had I known). By now, we were not quite as hungry, as we'd hoped to be, so we only did the entrees, which were excellent Gulf seafood - mine the shrimp, moist, cooked perfectly, and almost too generous in the portion. My wife did the Mississippi Gulf Stone Crab. Now, I grew up in MS, and I had caught one stone crab in my youth, but did not know that they were something that could be harvested. These were better, by far, than any that we've had from Joe's in FL.
We only explored their by-the-glass selections (IIRC ~60!), as we'd been sipping Chard all evening. Their wine prices looked very fair, and the selections were great
Alas, the wine-tastings are no more, but we've been back on most trips to NO, including a wine dinner with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. Unfortunately, the kitchen paired their lovely Gulf seafood with Joel's single-vineyard Zinfandels (he only had one Chard in the portfolio then), and I'd have loved to have some red meat. Still, taken by themselves, the food and the wines were excellent - just not together.
Service has always been great, whether dining early on a weeknight, on a busy weekend after 8:30, or at an event. From the reservation phone to the sommelier, to the servers and bus-staff - all very professional and efficient.
It's not the best dining in NO, nor the most innovative, nor the spot with the most tradition, however, taking it all into consideration, a great value, with wonderful food and one of the better wine lists in the City. Too many fine restaurants in NO have wine lists that jump from Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve to La Tashe at $1200/btl. with almost nothing in between, especially something really interesting. We will definitely be back on most trips down.
Thanks for the review,
Great report! I need to make plans to return to New Orleans soon.
Your mention of seeing David Rosengarten made me think it was a name I should know. I google him and have to say I am impressed with what I found on his website. Is the subscription to his newsletter worth the annual dues? I signed up for his free e-mail reports.
I hear ya. I have been talking about my trip to everyone who would listen. I keep telling people, "Yes, they still need LOTS of help rebuilding. Yes, it's just fine to go and visit."
I've been saying, why not take a trip for a week, join your local church/civic orgs Katrina Rebuilding effort, and get a weeks worth of good chow in the process! Everybody wins!