New Orleans Trip Report (LONG!!!) November 9-14, 2009
I don’t know how long this report will get, but wanted to pen a write-up of our fabulous trip to New Orleans a couple weeks ago. This was my third trip there (the last was 11 years ago though!), and my husband’s first. We stayed at the French Quarter Suites Hotel on the northeast corner of the Quarter on Rampart and we couldn’t recommend this place more: the accommodations and hospitality from Blake and Velda and staff was excellent. We had heard from someone who lived there 30 years ago that this area was dicey, but our antennae never did go up the whole time we were there, and Velda herself has lived only 2 blocks away since 1998, so no worries there, folks. Now on to the food!
We arrived on Monday around noon after an early grueling day of traveling (flight was supposed to leave at 6:00 a.m. and we didn’t get off the ground till 7:00), so we were particularly famished. I knew Port of Call was close to the FQ Suites, so after a glowing recommendation from Blake at the hotel and a caution not to get too carried away on the large portions of food since we had a 6:00 p.m. reservation at K-Paul’s that evening), we headed to POC. We took Blake’s recommendation and split a ½-lb. hamburger and baked potato, and added on one of their Schooner Salads as an “appetizer”. I would describe the Schooner Salad as a New Orleans version of a Chef Salad, complete with 2 kinds of shredded cheese, cubed ham, turkey, tomatoes, and a big dollop of olive salad. I don’t know why, but this food really hit the spot, we were so starved. Plus, we ordered two drinks: one Monsoon, and one Windjammer. We drank the Windjammer and as we were attempting to finish the HUGE Monsoon, hubby astutely said, “Those drinks are sneaky”. Needless to say, we took the rest of the Monsoon back to the hotel with us and stuck it in the fridge for sipping later!
Now on to K-Paul’s for dinner that night: we had appetizer of fried oysters in hot fanny sauce, and for entrees, hubby had the blackened flat-iron (flank?) steak and a side salad with dill vinaigrette dressing, and I had the blackened drum with mashed potatoes and veggies. The food was very rich and saucy and I wasn’t able to finish all of mine, but luckily hubby helped on that. He said his steak was fork tender, and indeed it was, surprising for a flank steak. Drinks were a Sazerac (husband’s new favorite drink), and a Beefeater martini with two olives. We took the bread pudding with hard sauce that came with his meal back to the suite with us and shared that. If we return to K-Paul’s again, I will try the blackened twin beef tenders with debris, and the turtle soup and jambalaya. Sorry we didn’t try those.
Tues. morn. we headed off on a 3-hr. tour (Gilligan’s Island theme song running through our heads) of New Orleans on a Louisiana Tours bus. Blake recommended doing this and it was well worth it. We went through most all areas of the city: CBD, Garden District, Uptown (Magazine), French Quarter, Esplanade Ridge, St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 (the city’s largest), Mid-town and City Park where we stopped for a snack/drinks break, and finally went through what’s remaining of the Lower Ninth Ward, which denotes a voting district. This area was not a rundown slum area before Katrina hit, just modest smaller homes filled with working-class folks. Now most of the homes are abandoned and deteriorating. It is very sad. We did see “Music Village”, the brightly-colored homes that were newly built by Habitat for Humanity with the help of Harry Connick, Jr., so there were some bright spots among the desolation. Hope it will all come back someday, although the guide said the floodwalls had not been “fixed”, only “repaired”.
Since we had dinner reservations at Brigtsen’s that night, I cautioned hubby we didn’t want to get too carried away at lunch since we were eating it late (2:00 p.m.), so we went to Johnny’s Po-boys in the Qtr. & split a roast beef poboy. It was delicious. I had a Dixie, he had an Abita of some kind. Then he went next door to a cigar shop and purchased a few cigars, while I ambled down to Napoleon House and waited for him there and had my first Pimm’s Cup. I talked to Maria Impastato, the daughter of the founder of Napoleon House, to ask her if her brother, Sal, remembered a friend of ours who had worked there in 1979 as a waiter. She reported back later that sure enough, he did. After hubby was done smoking his cigar outside and people-watching, he sauntered in and joined me while I had another Pimm’s Cup and ordered a Sazerac for him. He actually deemed it the best of all the Sazeracs he sampled on our trip. On our way back to the hotel to freshen up, we stopped at Matassa’s Market in the Quarter to pick up some Abita Jockamo IPA to stick in the fridge for later consumption.
Dinner that night, as I said, was at Brigtsen’s, and all I can say is, oh my god! That food was out-of-this world delicious, and as some people have noted on this board, the student (Frank Brigtsen) has surpassed his teacher (Paul Prudhomme). I had a glass of some bubbly (Gruet Brut), and DH had a glass of Petite Syrah. I started with the House Salad with grape tomatoes, feta, pecans, croutons, red onions and a cane vinegar dressing, and hubby had the Butternut Shrimp Bisque. For mains, we moved on to the Seafood Platter (his), and mine was the Blackened Tuna with smoked corn sauce, red bean salsa, and roasted red pepper sour cream. Yum! This was the best tuna I’ve ever had, bar none. Of course, I wanted to try dessert, so chose the Banana Bread Pudding with Custard Sauce. Another yum (I actually shared!). Hubby had coffee with his dessert (can’t remember if it had chicory or not, but he deemed it very, very good.) And the service was top-notch without being supercilious. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Top-drawer dining in a homey setting.
The next morning, hubby had a mission in mind to get drunk (what can I say – it’s New Orleans, and my turn was coming on Friday), so we headed into the Quarter and found our new favorite bar: Café Lafitte in Exile, right beside Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Apparently, it used to be a café, but now it holds the distinction of being NO’s oldest gay bar (Tennessee Williams was a frequent patron when he lived in the Quarter). I hate to say how many Bloody Maries we had that morning, but they were a breakfast in and of themselves with the yummy green olives and spicy pickled green beans. Thanks, Will (Willamena)! He is the greatest ambassador to New Orleans you could find. And another guy there, Paul, and I became fast buddies as we worked on the crossword puzzle in the morning Times-Picayune. We whiled away a few hours there before our 11:30 lunch reservations at Bayona.
At Bayona, we had for starters the Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream. Freakin’ fantastic! Then on to the wonderful cream of garlic soup (his), and I had the house salad. For lunch, I chose the long-waited-for smoked duck, cashew-peanut butter, and pepper jelly sandwich, and DH had the seared scallops. Wow! That sandwich was well worth the anticipation, and those scallops were huge, sweet, and flavorful. I had one of their signature drinks off their drinks menu (something with Lillet in it) and DH had a Beefeater martini with two olives, of course. We sat on the beautiful, relaxing courtyard by the soothing, burbling fountain. Pure, perfect gastronomic pleasure….
After Bayona, we headed to the Olde Absinthe House for more alcoholic pursuits, and there I had my first delving into the fabled absinthe drink. They had six varieties to choose from, and I went with one that is supposedly popular now in Europe. I like the whole ritual of watching it made and seeing the green liquor turn milky green when the water’s poured in, and believe it or not, I liked the slightly licorice flavor (really more like anise to me). It’s a real sipping kind of drink. We met a couple from Wisconsin who were also trying absinthe for the first time, so I had a sip or two of the ones they tried. Oh yeah, I had a Ramos Gin Fizz there before I got started on the absinthe. Hubby had another Sazerac (I think he sampled one of those almost everywhere we went), and probably some other drinks I’m not remembering. I’m doing good to remember what “I” had drink-wise! And it being Veteran’s Day, my husband bought a round of drinks for several Army soldiers who were in the bar that day. They all came over and shook his hand and thanked him.
Coop’s was our Wed. night dinner stop, and we absolutely loved it. Some people have said the waitstaff is surly, but we didn’t get that at all. They’re moving fast because they are busy, but they are thorough and polite, and that’s all we ask for. We loved the little gray bar cat hanging out among the bar patrons. My husband said that was the calmest cat he’d ever seen, considering how busy the place was. We each had a beer (Dixie and Abita again), and he had the fried oyster and shrimp dinner with fries, and I had the smoked duck quesadillas and a cup of rabbit-sausage jambalaya. I loved those smoked duck quesadillas! I’m still dreaming about those. We struck up a conversation with two pipefitters from Maine at the bar who told us they were working in New Orleans for a few weeks. We lamented their luck at being stuck in such a boring town with bad food and drinks… NOT! This was not their first time there and they were loving it, too!!
Thursday morning found us at the National WWII Museum. It was on my list to see, and it was also recommended by Will at Lafitte in Exile, who is also a member. We got there at 10:00 a.m. and spent the whole day till it closed at 5:00. We did the combo admission which included seeing the “Beyond All Boundaries” 45-minute film that Tom Hanks had been in town just the weekend before to inaugurate. The museum recently completed a $60 million expansion with the Victory Theatre next door. It’s 4-D and well worth it. DH commented on the special effects, and I said it reminded me of Disney or Epcot, but not in a bad sense, just that things seemed very real that weren’t, and that was the point: to show how the whole US was “fighting” the war, both soldier and civilian, and it truly was a united endeavor. It was all very bittersweet for me because my father just passed away in September ’09, and he was in the 9th Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. I finally found a reference to the 2nd Division near the end of the European Theater wing, which pictured the follow-up troops on D-1 and D-2. I wondered if Dad could have been somewhere in the photo of the troops snaking up the beach….BTW, John Besh has the restaurant inside the museum, but we unfortunately didn’t get to eat there.
After leaving WWII Museum, we were ready for dinner, so off we went to Casamento’s on Magazine. We had 2 dozen (!!!) raws, cup of oyster stew, cup of gumbo, one whole oyster loaf, a side of handcut fries and a couple Dixies. Hubby was cute because he said, “I want to order a dinner, too”, and I said, “I’m pretty sure we’ll have enough”, and he then plaintively stated, “I want to get enough to eat!” When the waitress arrived, I asked her if she thought we had ordered enough food, and she said, “Yes, but if you want more, you can always add on!” After we were done with the delicious oyster orgy, I asked DH if he had had enough to eat, and he sheepishly had to admit he did. BTW, these were the BIGGEST oysters we’ve ever seen. And don’t get us started on the Feds’ possible banning of raw oysters. Please, government, stop trying to save us from ourselves….
Next door around the corner was Ms. Mae’s and I had read this was a great dive bar with cheap drinks, and indeed it was. I had a Bloody Mary and DH had another beer of some kind (Abita, I think). Only time for one drink because a local drunk sitting next to DH at the bar kept spraying the side of DH’s cheek with potato chips as he talked (say it, don’t spray it). After spilling some of his drink on DH’s leg and missing his bus, we decided it was time to move on. Drunk followed us out and wanted to share our cab ride with us, but after walking away and ignoring him, he got the hint. Of course, hubby said it was my fault for engaging him in conversation in the first place, something I’m known to do, but then I wasn’t experiencing wet potato chips sprayed on the side of my face, either!!!!
Friday was our last day, alas, but we had a good one: breakfast at Clover Grill in the Quarter, then hopped across the street to Lafitte in Exile for more wonderful Bloody Mary eye-openers. Paul asked where we’d been the day before since he thought I’d be back to help with the crossword puzzle, but we told them we’d spent the day at WWII museum instead. Kind of a repeat of Wed. morning with several Bloody Maries consumed, then off to lunch again, this time at NOLA. A lot of folks dis NOLA on this board, but we thought it had wonderfully delicious food. We were seated upstairs. The BBQ shrimp for an appetizer was incredibly good (think the sauce must have had some cane syrup in it), and DH had the BBQ brisket with mac and cheese. They were out of the white beans that came with it, so he substituted for the bourbon mashed sweet potatoes. Yummy, oh so good. I had the cryingly creamy shrimp and grits. We both had some kind of wine with our meal, then I switched to a Rose’ which my husband made fun of, but I liked it, it was still good.
After NOLA, we rode the St. Charles streetcar out to the end of the line where it turned around at Claiborne, and rode it back. Then time for DH to look for some music at Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur (Dr. John and Rosie Ledet). While he was shopping, I was across the street at the Green Room indulging my newest proclivity: Absinthe, Lucid this time. Hubby came back and said, “Hey, I just ran into John Goodman at the Louisiana Music Factory and said hi”. I remembered he still lives in New Orleans. So that was cool for him (my husband, not Mr. Goodman – ha). Speaking of celebrities in NO, we found out Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie live on Gov. Nicholls in the FQ near the Marigny, but we didn’t stalk their house or anything. Maybe another time.
So from the Green Room walking east down Decatur, we decided we better eat some dinner. The Gumbo Shop fit the bill. Somehow after I consumed a drink called Planter’s Punch there (mostly rum and triple sec I figure), and then a glass of chardonnay, I went to the restroom, and after that, I was tipsy as a sailor! Don’t know how it hit me, but it did. I laughed and giggled all the way back to the hotel and had to hold on to hubby for support, and apparently forgot most of what we saw and heard on the walk back because when I was quizzed about some things the next day, I had no recollection. As for the food, I remembered a crawfish remoulade salad we had for an appetizer being tasty, and after that, I don’t remember eating much, no doubt contributing to my inebriation. We had my crawfish pasta in tasso cream sauce boxed, but unfortunately, neither one of us got it consumed later, so that was our only wasted food (in more than one sense of the word) during our trip. So I guess that’s not too profligate for New Orleans.
I know this post is super long and has turned into a rambling ode to our love of New Orleans, but hubby declared I hadn’t raved enough about New Orleans! In fact, we may be planning our next trip there in May. What’s the weather like then? Still pretty nice? He will be celebrating the big Four-Five in May, so I think it would be a great getaway.
So thanks for bearing with me, ya’all. I love reading your nice long posts, too! We can’t say enough about the friendly people and visitors to N’awlins, and remarked to each other that never once did we have any food that we said, “Meh, that was just all right”. Everything was outstandingly killer food, from the high-end to the low-end. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Thank you for taking the time for this review. Sounds like you hit some hit-spots.
Glad that you enjoyed so very much! New Orleans can offer so very much, from a culinay perspective. Though we lived there, and vist often, there are just too many great restaurants, at all levels, so we can never feel that we've run out of options - just time.
Christine, great report and I am impressed with your plans. Amazing how you included some of the places I have wanted to go. Next time I go to NO, I am definitely going to that museum. I have been to NO twice in the past month for a nice afternoon with my sons. There is no place like New Orleans. So many great local places like no other city these days. It is tough in the restaurant business these days and so many cities have the same places on every block and corner. We ate at The Gumbo Shop and I had the Softshell Crab and pasta and it was delicious. One of my sons had Gumbo and the other had the Jambalaya, Red beans and rice plate. The both told me it was a good choice. The time before we ate at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen in the French Market and I had Bar-B-que shrimp and my son had a pasta dish which both were very good. Next trip, I definitely want to plan to eat at Irene's Cusine on Chartres. Brightsens is on my short list. I had a good meal at Feelings Cafe a few years ago. Is it still good? Also, there is a place on Chartres closer to Canal called Mena's Palace. A small diner. Someone told me they have the best Gumbo in NO and I tried it. I don't disagree, it is pretty darn good.
my wife says I have a drinking problem, but I,m an amateur next to you guys. We're coming into town on the 17th of dec. and along with all the usual spots(nola-galatoires-commanders palace) we're trying luke for the first time and the sazerac bar in the roosevelt hotel. Last june the roulette table at Harrahs bought us two meals.Hope our luck holds this time
Wow, hope we didn't sound like too much of two drunks! :) Truly, we typically don't indulge like that (at least I don't...my husband is seasoned), but since we were in New Orleans and had the opportunity, we did. As my favorite Steve Winwood song goes, "While you see a chance, take it"!
I would like to go to the Roosevelt sometime. Would have loved to see the one-man show playing there while we were in NO called "Kingfish" about Louisiana's famous (infamous?) governnor. Have a Sazerac for us....
And best of luck at the roulette table. Remember, it's not gambling, it's gaming! ;-)
Wow, I'm really impressed. You did New Orleans right. I think you can take as much credit for the "friendly locals" as we locals can -- you seem like the kind of person who meets people easily.
Next time you visit, I think you should explore the Marigny and Bywater, two funky neighborhoods downriver from the FQ. Mimi's in the Marigny is a two-story dive bar with delicious tapas (go late at night) and live music most nights. Bacchanal is a wine bar in the Bywater that has an event every Sunday where local chefs cook small dishes. It's usually packed with locals.
I'd also recommend some neighborhood joints like Mandina's, Liuzza's and R&O for your next trip.
Aw, shucks, "your-all's" kind remarks are making me blush! Yeah, I must admit I am (and my hubby, too) the kind of person who meets people easily, which may or may not be beneficial, depending on the situation (remembering our "friend" at Ms. Mae's). :) but that's one of the reasons we love NO...the locals are already friendly and helpful, and the city just attracts visitors who are the same way...
Yes, all the places you mentioned, Shell, are on the list for "next time". In fact, if we arrive on a Sunday, I'd love to go to Bacchanal in the Bywater and see what's on offer. Does Pete Vasquez, former chef of Marisol, still do "his thing" there on Sundays sometimes? And in your opinion, do you recommend Liuzza's by the Track on Lopez, or Liuzza's on Bienville, or go to both? :)
Oh yes, and Suzy, I did know that Pitt & Jolie helped do a lot of the rebuilding in the Ninth Ward. Do you know if they were part of Harry Connick, Jr.'s, Music Village project?
What a great review! I LOVE to hear about visitors enjoying our wonderful city. My hubby and I live just a ferry ride across the river in Algiers Point. It's the oldest community in New Orleans...second to the French Quarter. Next time you're here, take the ferry across and check it out.
May is a great time of year. The last weekend of April and the first weekend of May is JazzFest and it's a show in and of itself! If you love New Orleans food and music, you will be in heaven!
You know, catching the free ferry ride across to Algiers IS on my list. Is the Dry Dock the place to eat over there? And is Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World still housed over there? Seems like I read in one of the tourist mags that it is now located somewhere near Riverwalk?
The guys at LIE recommended the French Quarter Fest (in early April?) over the Jazz and Heritage Fest, primarily to avoid the crazy crowds at the Fairgrounds. Is the FQ Fest more "intimate and small", if those words can describe anything associated with NO? :)
Thank you for bearing with my long post, Niki, but I tend to get wordy, especially if I'm relating something I really enjoyed! And we MORE than enjoyed New Orleans!
The crowds at Jazz Fest are not crazy, sure there may be 100,000 people out there on a day when some huge national act is playing, but just don't go near that stage. Get there when the gates open and start eating then, walk around to all the stages and hear great music before the crowds file in to watch Dave Matthews or someone like that. Then when the big acts start playing late in the day, hit the food booths again since the lines won't be as long. I do Jazz fest every year and as much as I hate crowds, it does not bother at all to be out there.
The French Quarter fest may be smaller but it's held in the quarter and gets larger each year as it is free, I would have more problems there as I hate the quarter when its crowded like that. You can;t get away from the crowd there as opposed to Jazz Fest.
After going to a free music fest in San Fran this year where it was estimated the crowd was 750K over three days (and I would guess there were more than that), Jazz Fest is not crowded at all. lol
The Dry Dock is good...but my recommendation would be to head over on a Sunday a.m. and go to brunch at Tout de Suite cafe. Their brunch items are wonderful and they always have entertainment on Sunday mornings. There are either old guys that play the banjo or a young girl that sings french music. Mardi Gras World is transitioning into a new building on the other side now. All of the tours are done from the new location. Algiers Point was sure sad to see them go....as having that there really helped our little restaurants and shops.
I do love the French Quarter Fest too....because it's free and the crowds are smaller...but I LOVE JazzFest. You'll find more mainstream music at JazzFest...along with New Orleans music. I would say it would depend on how you handle crowds. If you hate crowds, then JazzFest wouldn't be for you.