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Dining Around New Orleans [Long]

I believe that I need to establish a rule: do not dine on my first night in New Orleans. For the third time, I experienced a less than great meal. Now, it’s tough, with airline travel being what it is today, and also factoring in flying Southwest Airlines, where there is no Red Carpet Club, it seems logical that a meal upon arrival, in a city like New Orleans would be a no-brainer. Well, it did not turn out that way.

See:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/433877
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/523095
for references on earlier “first night” dining episodes.

We were headed back to NOLA with MIL, and her nurse, for the wedding of her grandson, my nephew. As this was her first grandchild to get married, it was a big event. As the flight was running late (the Disney Land/Disney World Express on SW, that is non-stop from PHX to MSY), we knew we’d be dining late, by EDT. I was cashing in some of my Hilton points with a couple of rooms at the Riverside. Most of the events were at the Hotel St. Pierre, and most of the party was staying there, but our study told us that an 88 year old lady in a wheelchair would just not be happy in a restored property, like the St. Pierre. The Hilton offered us some proximity to the FQ, plus a full handicap room with an adjoining suite. Besides, I had over 1.5M points and would not be using any in Hawai`i in December. Gotta’ use those suckas for something, right?

Besides the accommodations, the Hilton Riverside also had Drago’s in the lobby. Since they do not take reservations, we hoped to just walk in and dine.

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  1. Drago’s, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, http://www.dragosrestaurant.com/ (Hilton New Orleans Riverside, Two Poydras St., NOLA, 504-561-0500.

    I had never dined at either Drago’s location, and did not even recall this one, when we last stayed at the Hilton. I do not know the chronological history of Drago’s. It occupies much of the lower-front area of the lobby. I’m not sure if the bar in the lobby is part of the restaurant, but do not think so, as there is a bar area within the restaurant. The space is very large and well-lit. There are banquette tables along most of the walls, with many 4-tops (some grouped into pairs) throughout the restaurant. I would imagine that it can seat 200 people easily, but could be off on that guess. It has a nice casual vibe. Sorta’ like an upscale seafood restaurant in New Orleans. What a surprise – it is. The weeknight hours are: 11:00AM until 10:00PM. We arrived at approximately 9:00PM. The restaurant only had a half-dozen tables occupied – not a good sign to my CH senses, but it was a weeknight in early Autumn, though there was a football game the next night and a Saint’s game on Sunday. The hotel seemed busy with a convention, but the restaurant was almost empty. The space may have fooled me, but we felt all by ourselves, in the middle of the main dining area.

    The first thing that I noticed was that there were maybe two-dozen members of the waitstaff on the floor, plus two bartenders. I also picked up that three of the waitstaff had headsets and were dressed a bit differently, than the others. I would hazard a guess that these were group leaders, or Secret Service operatives. Our waiter arrived, introduced himself and presented our party of four with menus. He took our water order and offered cocktails. Well, MIL does not drink anything but ice tea and Barq’s rootbeer, and wife and I are avowed winos, so I asked of the wine list. It was on the menu. MIL’s nurse drinks wine (good thing for THIS trip), so I ordered two Markham Chards for her, and my wife, and a glass of the Markham Sauvignon Blanc for myself. In a flash, our server was back with bad news. The Markham SB was gone, and he offered the Kim Crawford SB as a replacement. Now, I enjoy New Zealand SB’s, especially from Marlborough, but really like a domestic SB with seafood. I find that the NZ versions are great by themselves, but their heavy grapefruit and “hay” aspects do not go that well with food. I prefer something with more “lemon” and some fruit forward. I opted for another glass of the Markham Chardonnay.

    Our server suggested the signature, Charbroiled Oysters. I ordered a small plate of these, as I had read so many great reviews of various “charbroiled oysters” on this board. Our party pondered the rest of the menu, and the wines, an ice tea and wine and Charbroiled Oysters arrived.

    We had six oysters served on the half-shell. Or, should I say “oyster parts?” The preparation was breading, oyster parts and some garnish placed on heated half-shells. I could not find one whole oyster in the batch. There were tiny strips of oysters in the breading base. What was there was tasty with nice garlic hints, but mostly the breading bed, with tiny slivers of oyster parts. I thought that this was some sort of a bad joke, but was assured that this was how Drago’s did their “famous” Charbroiled Oysters. OK, for about US$1.75 each, it wasn’t a big deal, just a touch of a letdown. I should have picked up on the hints of things to come.

    Orders were placed, as we picked around the oysters. Since my wife cannot do bi-valves of any sort, there were more than enough for the three of us. Still, one was left, as no one really wanted any more of this dish.

    We did one BBQ Drumfish, two Shrimp Platters and one Catfish Platter, with a few cups of Mama Ruth’s Seafood Gumbo. As I was ready for a second Chardonnay, I asked for another Markham. It came with the gumbos, and our server was gone in a flash. He had to be the quickest server on the planet – gone before the plates had come to rest.

    My second glass of Markham was horribly flawed. Now, I have encountered many flaws in wine, but this one was a rarity. When restaurants run their wine glasses through the dishwasher, liberal doses of sanitizer are used. These are designed to be washed away in the rinse cycles and usually are. Not in this case. I thought I was smelling Janitor In A Drum! I waited for our server to appear, but he did not. There were still about 20 other servers in the dining area, and I waited patiently. OK, he was gone, so I flagged down one of the other servers, who were occupied in conversation with all of the other servers. This was something that they seemed to enjoy doing, as there were few diners left. I quietly explained the problem and handed over the glass. This server flagged down one of the folk with the headsets, who came over for me to explain it all over again. I do not think that she understood, or maybe just did not believe me, but did disappear with the offending glass.

    Bam, our entrées hit, along with my replacement Chardonnay. The plates were still spinning, and our server had disappeared again. This replacement wine had the same problem. Either there was a problem with the sanitizer, or they tried to pawn off the same bad glass of wine on me.

    I waited, but our server was AOL. I flagged down one of the “headset folk,” and explained once more, what the problem was. She took it around the room and talked to maybe a dozen different servers. After making the rounds with my glass, she disappeared too. Finally, I walked to the bar and explained the problem to one of the bartenders. He brought over the other bartender, and I explained it all over again. The second bartender disappeared and did not return. I still did not have my second glass of wine and my entrée was getting cold. I went back to my chair and started in on my Shrimp Platter. During this time, I caught sight of my server, but he was in deep conversation with a patron, or at least someone, who had come in from the Poydras St. entrance. He was not in “hailing distance,” and I could not catch his attention. In a second, he was gone from sight again. About then, another “headset person” came by with yet another glass of wine. She asked what I had not liked about the first few glasses, and I explained the problem. She offered me this glass, but it was also badly tainted. Probably the same, original bad glass, that was just being passed around. I asked her to taste the wine, but she refused. I took this glass directly to the first bartender and asked him to taste the wine. He also declined. I told the story once more, and demanded in a rather loud voice that they get me a clean glass with the Markham Chardonnay. I instructed him to let me smell the glass, before he poured anything. He did, and all was finally OK.

    I won’t comment on my now cold Shrimp Platter, or the soggy fries, but will only offer comments from the other diners. The shrimp were tiny and horribly overcooked. The fries were apparently soggy, when served. They were then hot, but it was from a heat lamp. The fries were obviously frozen, pre-prepared generic fries, not unlike any fast-food outlet. The Catfish Platter suffered from some of the same problems – overcooked with soggy fries. The BBQ Drumfish was very fishy and the odor was obvious around the table. Even the garlic could not overcome this.

    Going back, the Gumbo was bland and even a healthy dose of Tabasco could not resurrect it. The roux seemed to be uncooked flour and lacked any character. I would also suspect that the shrimp in it were from India, because of their size and the distinct impression that they had been long frozen.

    Considering all of the times that we have dined across the Gulf South on little more than Seafood Gumbo and Fried Shrimp, I have to say that these examples were some of the worst – wine service not withstanding.

    Our server materialized at the end of this part of the meal and asked if we wanted desserts. We all declined. The bill with a less than normal tip was US$198.00 for four with four b-t-g Chardonnays. This was a very bad start to our trip and I cannot think of anything to recommend this Drago’s location. I have no idea how this experience might translate to either dining early, or at another location.

    I can comment that the stemware, disregarding the sanitizer issue, was even poor by any restaurant’s standards – small bowls, thick rims and little more than “jelly jars.” This is often a big problem with restaurants, especially in my beloved Deep South.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      believe this is a license agreement situation with this location of Drago's. I only go to the original location in Metairie for raw and char-grilled. not a fan of their menu otherwise.

      1. re: edible complex

        Bill, chargrilled should be whole oysters topped with butter/garlic/parm., no breading. I agree with edible as to Metairie location and menu.

        1. re: JazzyB

          That was pretty much what I had expected. These seemed to have been minced and mixed with breadcrumbs, garlic and butter/oil. If there was a whole oyster in the six, I did not see it, and did not taste it. I suppose that there could have been MAJOR shrinkage, but I cannot image that much. No, my observation told me "minced." Now, I do have to admit that I have not had this dish, at Drago's, or elsewhere. However, judging from the photographs in their ads the oysters do look whole, and rather fill the void in the shell. Now, I understand that the art director probably picked perfect shells, and then perfect oysters for the photos, but the dish did not appear as depicted. I do not hold restaurants to match their ads, because I know what goes into shooting food. Still, some semblance should be expected. If there was, I flat missed it.

          Thanks for the clarification, both of you,

          Hunt

    2. Messina’s Cajun Creole Cookery, Riverwalk Marketplace, Bon Fete Food Court - Level C, 1 Poydras St, http://www.riverwalkmarketplace.com/h...

      Breakfast was in the Executive Tower of the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and our group went out shopping in the Riverwalk Marketplace, just across the RR and streetcar tracks, along the waterfront. After several hours, we decided to try the food court for a late lunch and chose Messina’s Cajun Creole Cookery.

      As this was “food court” dining, we kept it simple: a couple of fried shrimp po-boys, some red beans and rice and a few cups of gumbo. All was washed down with Barq’s Root Beer.

      The sandwiches were good, but nothing special. The same could be said for the gumbo too. The red beans and rice lacked much spirit, but there was Tabasco sauce to get it jump started a bit. For food court fare, it was better than most, that I have experienced, but did not come up to New Orleans standards for anything. At about US$60 for four, it was not a bad deal, but I worry a bit that other tourists might think that this is as good as it gets in New Orleans. That would be a shame. However, I would never think of measuring a city’s cuisine on anything purchased at a food court.

      Had we not had MIL in the wheelchair and an event in the FQ that evening, I think we’d have been better off going to Felix’s for more representative food. Still, a decent value and nothing to complain about, all things considered.

      1. Crescent City Brewhouse, 527 Decatur St, phone: 504-522-3901, http://www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com/

        This was the location chosen for the rehearsal dinner. I had never been there, but have enjoyed many “brew pubs” around the country and seek out pubs of all sorts, when in the UK. Luckily for us, they had an elevator to the second floor, where the dinner was being held, as I do not think we could have gotten MIL up the stairs in the wheelchair. We had the entire upper floor and the balcony overlooking Decatur St. There were two bartenders and about eight servers for our group of maybe 70.

        Our menu was set with prix fix selections.

        I started out with a couple of glasses of their house Chardonnay, Just Chardonnay. I did not get the full details, but it was stated that it was French. Now, I realize that I was in a brewpub, but wife is not much of a beer drinker, and I’m more of a wino. Just Chardonnay was not a good choice, IMO, and I quickly moved on to their beers. I started with the Weiss Beer, a wheat, which was light and more refreshing than the Chardonnay. Next, came the Red Stallion. It was both more flavorful and fuller in body, though lighter, than I expected. With my entrée, I moved on to the Black Forest, which was full-bodied and very flavorful, without too much bitterness. This was the best of the lot and I stayed with it through dessert.

        The food consisted of a “chicken-something,” a “tuna-something” and a “beef-something.” We chose one of the ahi and the beef and passed sections back and forth. Hm-m-m, I think they are much better with “pub-grub,” as nothing on either plate did anything really positive for us. Do not misunderstand. Nothing was bad, but nothing really sang to us either. This was more like “banquet food,” that one is likely to encounter at a business meeting at some resort in another city, than New Orleans. It was better than Drago’s, but that is not setting the bar very high.

        The venue is nice and the ladies tending bar upstairs knew the brews pretty well. The balcony overlooking Decatur St was very nice, and with the weather, we enjoyed the family and the brews most of all. I’d give them another try, going for a tasting of the beers and maybe a burger.

        1. The Coffee Pot Restaurant

          I had been having breakfasts at The Coffee Pot Restaurant, 714 Saint Peter ST, New Orleans, LA, 504-524-3500, since it was Maxie’s Original Coffee Pot. As I stated in the last review of TCP, “the name had changed, but the charm was still there.”

          We were batting 0.000, and the ladies were off doing something for the wedding. As is my usual routine, I headed to The Coffee Pot for breakfast.

          When I arrived at The Coffee Pot, I noticed that the inside area was almost empty. I really enjoy sitting at one of the two-tops by the windows, overlooking Saint Peter St, or in the courtyard. While I could have had one of my two-tops at the window, I chose my “usual” al fresco spot, right at the opening of the courtyard. Yes, it’s a four-top, but there was no crowd - yet.

          Since I’d just been in March, I didn’t need to even look at the menu. The hostess, a wonderfully charming lady, who’s been there, almost as long as I have been going there, came by with the menu and a cup of coffee. We talked a bit, and she refreshed my memory on when/why the name “Maxie’s” disappeared. Seems that he sold out and went back to NYC, where things did not go very well. The restaurant in NOLA has survived with only a name change.

          This trip, there was none of the strangeness that I had encountered before. All went perfectly, as I had remembered it. The crowds were starting to arrive and most of them seemed to be UGA fans. There were a few renditions of “Who let the dogs out?” by the waitstaff. Hey, coming into “enemy territory,” and getting something like this shows the hospitality of NOLA.

          The Pain Perdu was as good as my March visit. “It was two large slices of a baguette (a long, thin loaf of French Bread, that belies its name – stick, or wand), that had been flattened and fried in butter with an egg batter. It was perfectly moist with the batter and the butter, but too oily, as can happen sometimes. There was a light dusting of powdered sugar on the slices. It was served with maple syrup (I think the real stuff, or a great imitation of it) and my order of bacon, done perfectly – crisp, as ordered. I also think that the OJ was fresh-squeezed.” I quoted my previous review, so those who are not familiar with this dish will know what I’m talking about. Again, all was very good.

          This time, all was right with my world and I was glad to start reversing my batting average.

          Since we cannot get MIL into Camilla Grill, in her wheelchair, it will be another trip, before we get to go back. In the meantime, I still think that The Coffee Pot is a great little breakfast place, especially if one is in the FQ.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I am beyond suprised we have never actually met. It seems we hang out in all of the same places.

          2. Crabby Jack’s, 428 Jefferson Hwy, Jefferson, LA, phone: 504-833-2722 (CRAB), no Web site found.

            I’d been reading about Crabby Jack’s for over a year. Last trip, we did locate it, but did not have the time to get by. This time would be different. We started out on River Road, and my wife, who was driving almost hit it perfectly. We were only one block off, when we got to Jefferson Hwy. Now, she did have a bit of an edge, as she’d worked at Ochsner Foundation Hospital for eleven years, so I am actually surprised that she missed by that one block.

            I do not recall what else might have been in this location, but the site is well-used. The parking lot could stand a bit of refurbishment, and some of the patrons a lesson in parking, but it was full and that was a good sign. We entered and were struck my how “quirky,” kitschy” yet “homey,” Crabby Jack’s is. The entire back wall, over the counter is filled with the menu, and I mean FILLED. We did not bother to get into the line, as it was going to take a while to read all the info and make some decisions. Obviously, everyone who entered after us knew that menu, because they already knew exactly what they were going to order and all of the extras and options. We continued to read and try and make up our minds. Now, I can read and decipher Chef Mavro’s 11-course tasting menu and you can order anything from any of the other tasting menus, plus there are two levels of wine pairings to go with each dish! This was almost more than I could comprehend, but we managed to put together an order for a small catfish po-boy, a small oyster po-boy and a small shrimp po-boy, plus a side of gumbo and red beans and rice, plus our drinks. Some of the plates looked good, but we were dining fairly early that evening. I kept feeling that there was something that I was also supposed to be ordering, but could not remember what the CH’s had said was a “must-do.”

            At Crabby Jack’s, you enter, find the end of the line, approach the right-end of the counter and place your order. You then go to the cooler, or dispenser, and get your drink and try to find a seat. We’d staked out an empty spot and placed MIL in the wheelchair there. We immediately ordered, got the drinks and grabbed the two seats near her. Then, one of us went to get any utensils and such, so as to not loose the seats. Some groups seemed to have this down to a science, with everyone in the party grabbing chairs and one person doing all of the ordering. In a few minutes, our order was called up and I started carrying it to the table. I was SO-O very glad that we’d gone with the “small” po-boys. They were huge!

            As we had the necessary condiments, including Tabasco, on the table, we started in.

            The gumbo is duck & andouille, not seafood, which we all prefer. It was good, though the roux was a bit bland. The sausage added little sparks of flavor, but none of us was really enthusiastic. It wasn’t bad, just left us wanting. The red beans and rice were really similar. I guess that my wife’s recipes have spoiled me horribly, even when she has to have the ingredients shipped in.

            We started in on the various po-boys and I actually had to remove some of my shrimp, just to be able to grab the danged thing. I have never seen this many shrimp on a po-boy, small or large. The bread was good and the shrimp were very good. They were a tad small (though there were certainly a lot of them) and just a bit tougher, than I would have loved. Still, they got “very good” marks. The same for the catfish and the oysters. Not the best of either, but still very good. It was then that I saw what I was supposed to order - the sweet potato chips. A young Ochsner employee next to me had gotten them and the lightbulb went off in my head. I quickly got back into line, and placed an order. While I labored on my po-boy, they came up. Well, I love all sorts of things “sweet potato.” Back many years, my wife was Miss Sweet Potato. I try fries, chips, purées, whatever. These just did not do anything for me. They were thin sliced sweet potatoes, but were just too greasy to really enjoy – a Tagamet® moment for sure. Maybe I got the end of a batch, or maybe I was being punished for not having placed the order with the po-boys, but I think these had been sitting around a bit too long.

            We finally gave up on the sandwiches and packaged them up for M-I-L to have later that evening, as we were going on a date. Actually, there was enough for both her and her nurse to dine well. So very much food. One couple seated next to us had gotten almost the same thing and had eaten every bit. They then ordered a mixed seafood plate and had finished that. When we left, they were debating what to order next. I did not want to think about it. M-I-L allowed that even cold, the po-boys were wonderful and her nurse enjoyed some as well.

            I think that I now have the drill down, on ordering, plus I believe that I know the location on the menu wall for what I am likely to want. I also know that one does not need many sides, even with a small po-boy. It was a good, though not great meal in a fun, funky spot. I can see why they were so filled. Maybe I need to train for my next visit!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              it used to be Lousiana Seafood Exchange, home of the seafoodaletta...imagine fried oysters, fish, and shrimp on that big round of muff bread, with an extra heaping of seafood spilling all around the edges.
              the po boy to get at Crabby Jack's is either the braised duck or the paneed rabbit or both!

              if you are in that hood again, stay on River Rd. and go to Rivershack. weekday lunch specials are cooked by a chef formerly of Rene's Bistro. otherwise, you can't go wrong with their fried seafood plate and their sweet fries with special sauce.

              1. re: edible complex

                EC,

                Thank you for that clarification.

                I recall seeing Rivershack. Did not know of its legacy. Nephew did pastry-chef work with Rene and sang its praises. Never managed to get there though. I'll make a stop on down River Road next trip, just to experience it.

                Appreciated,

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  http://www.therivershacktavern.com/
                  Chef Mike landed there after Katrina. I swear if he does that thai bouillabaisse again, I'm bringing containers and hoarding it.
                  go early, the specials sell out fast...or phone in the order and charge it to hold it til you get there.

              2. re: Bill Hunt

                I agree with E.C...the po boy's to get are the duck and the rabbit.