Trip Report Jan 16-19th, 2010 - LONG!
I want to start by taking a minute to thank all of you so much for your guidance and recommendations, I am convinced (as the only place that wasn't recommended and pre-planned on here I hated!) that without all your insight we (my husband and myself) would not have gained nearly as much weight on this trip! :) Quick sidenote on pricing - we tipped 20% everywhere and we tipped on the non-discounted totals so some were higher like Luke (as it was really cheap for happy hour and service was great so we hooked him up) and Camellia's because we loved Ricky! So full disclosure...
Sat, Jan 16th
We landed at 12:20pm so the plan was to order takeout from Voodoo BBQ and grab on the way out to River Rd to see plantations as they have a location on 61 (Airport Hwy). GREAT PLAN and CHEAP!
Voodoo BBQ - St Rose - right next to the Ramada (important to know or you will miss it as its hard to see heading west from the airport) (www.voodoobbqandgrill.com)
My husband got the Carolina sandwich (has coleslaw) and I got the pulled pork sandwich, as sides we had fries, corn pudding and mac and cheese. My expectations/standards were very low for this meal as we figured it was this or Wendy's (the only other thing on airport hwy) but we were very happy with this. The sandwiches were excellent, meat was so tender and I loved their BBQ sauce. Mac and cheese was unremarkable, corn pudding and fries were good but don't travel as well boxed up as the sandwiches do. Two thumbs up from both of us!
After hitting a couple plantations we checked into our hotel in Baton Rouge and headed to dinner at:
Juban's - Baton Rouge
My husband had oysters 3 ways to start (Maxwell, Bienville and Rockafeller) and really enjoyed all of them. It is here that he decided he likes Rockafeller the best (he had never had any of them before). He had a cup of gumbo to start that he also enjoyed very much and for our entrees he had the hallelujah crab and I had the special which was roast chicken with crawfish sauce over pasta with sauteed vegetables. Now, I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the soft shell crab as I am a picky eater and the idea of just breaking off a leg with shell and chowing down made me uneasy but after one bite of my husbands crab I knew why they call it the Hallelujah crab! If you havent seen it, go to their website and check it out! (www.jubans.com) Now my special was the best roast chicken I have ever had but the Hallelujah crab was insane. Lightly battered, perfectly cooked and tastes even better than it looks. Had my chicken not been excellent I would have tackled my husband for it. Instead he was very gracious to share a bite every few minutes with his pregnant wife to keep her subdued! I had told them when I made reservations that it was an anniversary trip and they remembered and brought us a champagne toast on the house before dessert that was excellent. I wish I could tell you what kind it was (I am sure they probably use a house champagne you could find out easily enough) but it was delicious the one little sip I had! My husband was more than happy to finish off both glasses and he is NOT a champagne drinker so that says a lot! He also had a mojito with dinner that was just that, a mojito. Dessert was creme brulee (also excellent) and our server was Madeleine and we could not have been more thrilled with the food and service here. The portions were generous, servers extremely attentive and atmosphere lovely. LOVED IT! ($100 all inc., free champagne toast) 10!!!
Sun, Jan 17th
Woke up and headed to NOLA. Started our touring but ended up getting hungry mid morning and stopped at
Cafe Pontalba - right diagonally across from the Cabildo. Now here is where I know that your suggestions made all the difference! This was not on the plan or list of places as alternates but my husband wanted a quick cup of gumbo and bloody mary so we stopped in. (Note - Gumbo Shop turned out to be half a block north of here and I WISH we had gone there instead so if you are in Jackson Square you might head up St Peters half a block and try it instead.) They were not very busy, all tabs are automatically gratted (15% is added for gratuity already) and the service was poor as you can imagine. Also, when she gave me back my card and slip it looked like it had not been gratted and I had to search for the detail receipt to see that it had - this is a personal pet peeve of mine as I think its shady. Sorry, I waited tables for years in high school and college and had many large tables with grats and I was upfront with people so it makes me crazy when servers try to double dip on this, especially when you can't get them to look your way except to take your order and your credit card! Anyway, I digress. So my husband got a bloody mary and gumbo, I got a crab cake. My husband actually really enjoyed his gumbo and the bloody mary was good. My crab cake on the other hand - terrible. It was warm on the outside and cold in the middle. I waited for about 5 minutes to try and grab our server to see if she could have them nuke it or something (we were really hungry and just wanted something quick and I almost NEVER send anything back) but never saw her so I just ate it so we could leave as quickly as possible. Even the warm parts were not good. I could have gotten better in the frozen section of Costco. I didnt even give my husband a bite because he seemed to really be enjoying his gumbo and I didnt want to spoil it for him! So mixed reviews here because he did really like his gumbo but you couldn't get me to ever go back! ($27.38 all inc and only place we tipped 15% and thats because it was an auto grat!) Lunch was at:
Acme's - FQ (www.acmeoyster.com)
There was a little bit of a line but it moved quickly, we were seated at the oyster bar right in front of the TV which was great as the Cowboys game was on and my husband is a huge fan so this was part of our itinerary. (Plus we were right in front of the oyster cam so we called the grandparents to get online so the kiddos could see us and our 4 yr old son got a huge kick out of watching us the whole time!) Husband got oysters on the half. The shuckers were hilarious, we had a great time and really enjoyed ourselves but I can't say the bang for your buck is here - see Luke's review. Chatted with "Stormin Norman" who gave me a pearl for my daughter (due in April) and told us all about the TV shows that have been filmed there, showed us pics of celebrities on his phone that have come there and showed us the Hall of Fame (15 dozen just to get on the board - gross!!!). So husband had the shrimp etoufee and I had fried crawfish and a side of red beans and rice and that side item was excellent, tasted exactly as I was hoping it would and really hit the spot. Rest of the food was unremarkable here but I will tell you what did get us excited - dessert! They have a pecan cobbler on the menu so I asked one of the shuckers what that was "its like pecan pie without the crust and boring stuff" - boy was that the perfect explanation! Topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and served in a martini glass this was the highlight of our Acme's experience and my husband's vote for BEST DESSERT. Husband took a pic and emailed it to all his friends at home to make them jealous. :) He also tried the Abita beer here for the first time and became a fan, and would have them all over the next couple of days. Dinner was at:
Red Fish Grill - FQ (www.redfishgrill.com)
We found a coupon in the visitors guide for a free bottle of red or white wine with dinner and had high hopes for Red Fish and boy, we were not disappointed! My husband started with the gumbo and said it was the "best meat" of any gumbo and that remains his consensus post trip. He now understands why there are so many "best" recommendations as he says every gumbo he had was so different they were almost impossible to compare. Our free wine we got to pick which we thought was unusual (most places give you the cheapest thing they can find) and we chose the mezzacorona pinot grigio which we both REALLY enjoyed and again, we arent wine drinkers so very pleasant surprise. I had the grilled gulf fish (bay snapper) with blue crabmeat sauce and potatoes and my husband had the chile rubbed ahi tuna with southwest rice and beans and HOLY COW I was NOT sharing. :) This is the BEST FISH I have ever had and would not be beat on the rest of the trip. I cant say enough about this, especially considering I don't generally like fish! I seriously almost licked the plate clean and told our server (awesome) Trey to tell the chef he had the happiest pregnant chick in the world at our table and I was never leaving! My husband was also thrilled with his chile rubbed ahi even though he has had Ahi many times, its never been prepared like this. He was very full from all the eating of the day plus gumbo but hung onto his plate an extra 30 minutes because he had to finish it! Once our server Trey found out it was our anniversary trip he insisted on buying us a dessert and we got the pineapple/coconut sorbet because it sounded like the lightest thing we could get and we were both already stuffed and can I just say - props to Red Fish again as this was the BEST SORBET I have ever had. You could really taste the fresh flavors of both the pineapple and coconut and it wasnt too icy, perfect consistency, I licked the bowl clean (seeing a trend here?). So from a girl that rarely, if ever cleans a dish (theres always something I pick out) I cleared every plate at Red Fish and couldn't have been happier with our experience. 10!!! Thanks so much to those who recommended it, this was a last minute change from NOLA since we wanted somewhere a little quieter with more seafood options. ($100 all inc., free bottle of wine and free dessert)
Mon, Jan 18th
Camellia Grill - St Charles/Carrollton Ave (www.camelliagrill.net)
Praise Jesus to those of you that recommended this place on the streetcar line for breakfast. Wish we could thank you each personally! We hopped off the streetcar at the Carollton curve right in front about 2 minutes before they opened. Our "server" if you want to call him that at a counter breakfast place was so much fun, (Ricky) we cut up with him the whole time. I got a ham and cheese omelette (picky eater remember) with fries and my husband got a waffle. So, BEST OMELETTE I have ever had. Be prepared - they are HUGE! Our server said we could split it but my husband was in the mood for waffles and eggs so he got that and I still gave him half of my omelette and our "little" breakfast before touring the Garden District became a highlight of our day! The grill cooks and counter guys were awesome, my water never got less than 3/4 full, a grill cook talked to my husband about why cane syrup is so much better than regular syrup and they all joked about football. Once again - very fat and happy preggo after this and CHEAP! Total bill was about $20 with drinks and tax and everything - we tipped them $10 if that tells you anything about how we felt about our food and service there! ($30.58 all inc.) After some touring we were off to:
Commander's Palace - Wash Ave/Prytania in the Garden District
Again - thanks to all for the recommendations! We sat in the garden room, everyone wished us happy anniversary throughout the meal (we also liked that literally everyone we passed on the way to our table welcomed us to the restaurant - think 20-30 people!) and it was gorgeous. My husband started with the soup trio, had never had turtle soup before and enjoyed them all, the shrimp bisque coming out the winner for him. He got a 25c martini and seafood under glass and I had the white shrimp and grits. We of course, ordered our bread pudding souffle at the same time and glad we did because if we had waited we might have been tempted to pass as full and happy as we were after this meal. Service was exceptional, my entree wins the title of BEST SHRIMP I have ever had. Cooked perfectly and though I was nervous about the rest (I like grits but not sausage or peppers/onions) I at every bit and cleaned my plate - the trend continues! My husband's entree was interesting, it comes out tied up in a plastic bag that they open across your plate. He really enjoyed it and sorry I dont have more details than that but I was so absorbed in my shrimp that he may have told me and I just didn't catch it! :) Bread pudding souffle - amazing. We arent meringue lovers so we just pushed the top layer aside but the bread pudding itself - YUM! Again, I don't particularly care for bread pudding and I was elbowing my husband to get more than my fair share of this dessert! Just when we thought it couldn't get any better we were wished happy anniversary and thanked for coming to Commander's by Lally Brennan herself! 10!!! ($90 all inc.)
Luke - CBD at the Hilton www.lukeneworleans.com
So we couldnt miss Happy Hour at Luke and were glad we didn't. Although we were stuffed from lunch still, my husband managed to down a dozen oysters and they were so good he actually ordered another dozen! These got his vote for best oysters of the trip. They looked to be about the same size as Acme's but were pleased to discover that the shells were deep so these were very fat oysters. At Acme's they told me they save the big ones to chargrill and put the little ones on the half which makes sense I guess but considering they are $14 a dozen at Acme's and these were 25c a piece I would have declared Luke's the winner based on size and value alone never having eaten one, my husband declared them the winner on taste so appears to be a clean sweep this visit for Luke's. ($21 all in with $6+ tip!) 1/2 price drinks so husband got a couple vodka tonics and we were off again until dinner at:
Bon Ton Cafe - 401 Magazine in the CBD (www.thebontoncafe.com)
Thanks again, this was a last minute change from Drago's at the Riverwalk and I can't imagine there is any way that Drago's could have been better! This is a family owned place tucked away in the CBD and apparently one of John Besh's favorite spots as they had just aired on Friday "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" on the Food Network and John Besh had picked the Bon Ton Cafe's Crab Au Gratin! Now I had heard good reviews, but nothing prepared me for this. (Oh, and by the way my husband had the crawfish dinner which was crafish 4 ways - etoufee, omelette, sauteed and creole and he said it was excellent as well.) They use huge chunks of Louisiana blue crabmeat with a rich creamy cheese sauce and holy smokes! This will put you in your grave and you won't even put up a fight! I did after much coaxing allow my darling husband one bite and he said he liked it even more than macaroni and cheese which I am sure sounds ridiculous but this boy LOVES homemade mac and cheese more than anything! He got a Rum Ramzey which is their signature drink and I was surprised by how much he enjoyed it as he is usually a beer - martini kind of guy. I tried a taste and it was exceptional - no wonder its a closely guarded family secret and the bartenders don't even know how to make it! (Its made up by family members during off hours in big jugs and then poured over ice by the bartenders.) Now on the flipside, when we were dead in the water on dessert our server insisted on bringing us copies of the recipes for their bread pudding and salad dressing, both of which apparently are highly regarded and often requested, as she hoped we would get a chance to try it at home after our trip. I am not a cook but after everything else we had there I am seriously considering giving it a shot! My husband also had what he considered to be the BEST GUMBO of the trip here and my BEST CRAB DISH ever vote goes here! I am giving it my BEST DISH award as well although it was a tough battle with the fish from Red Fish and shrimp and grits from Commander's for sure! Our server was Jennifer and she was very fun, we got checked on by the manager twice and the place definitely has a friendly family vibe that you don't see enough anymore. 10!!! (Plus a good value at $97 all inc.)
Tues - Jan 19th
Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait - all excellent. ($14 all inc.)(www.cafedumonde.com)
Central Grocery - right when they opened (9am) for a muffaletta to take home (my husband is taking for lunch this week so will update with his review on this later). ($14.21 for whole.)
Galatoire's - FQ (www.galatoires.com)
We sat downstairs and what a beautiful setting. The service here was incredible. So much so that at one point I actually looked around to see if the place was bugged because the nanosecond after the last bite or sip of anything the next dish or refill was hitting your table! My husband says he thinks the mirrors are one-way and they have monitors on the other side of the wall sending texts to your servers! I did get a kick out of the fact that not one server seemed to be under 50, most obviously older than that! Homer was assigned to us and was top notch. My husband started with the Oysters Rockafeller and dubbed these the best of the trip (I guess that shouldnt be too surprising since they invented them!). He really liked how the spinach was almost like moss and they were served on rock salt, unique and delicious. He chose the Crab Sardou and I had the Red Fish Special. Now this is where I am almost afraid to say that they lost me. My husband's crab sardou was incredible, he couldnt say enough about it. However, my red snapper topped with crabmeat and garlic butter was not. Now the crab was great so I ate it off and then drenched the fish in lemon to choke the rest down. Now remember, I am not a big fish eater so I had my husband try it to make sure it wasn't just me and he agreed that it was not by any means exceptional, and was maybe OK if you liked all fish and this was a $31 dish! It was very fishy tasting, a little slimy and the seasoning/slight breading did nothing for it. :( Now I will say that everything else there was so good we will go back if we ever make it back to NOLA but I will be staying away from the fish! I tried my husband's crab sardou and despite not normally being a fan of hollandaise sauce, it was exceptional and I could have easily eaten every bite of that instead! Oh - they also got my husband's vote for BEST BLOODY MARY ever and BEST DISH of the trip for him (very hard choice between this and the Hallelujah crab). For dessert my husband had the banana bread pudding - awesome, and Homer brought me a free little custard but I was so stuffed I could only take a few bites. So mixed reviews on food, but BEST SERVICE vote in a very tough category as Commander’s, Red Fish and Juban’s were right there as well… Not a value eat though as this was our most expensive meal and it was only lunch! ($130 all inc., free custard)
So in summary, our "Best" awards go to:
Best Bloody Mary - Galatoire's
Best Dish - Crab Sardou - Galatoire's
Best Gumbo - Bon Ton Cafe
Best Oysters - Luke's
Best Signature Drink - Rum Ramzey - Bon Ton Cafe
Best Dessert - Pecan Cobbler - Acme's
Best Breakfast - Camellia Grill
Best Crab - Hallelujah Crab - Juban's (since Best Dish was crab also, have to have an award for this one!)
Best Dish - Crab Au Gratin - Bon Ton Cafe
Best Shrimp - Commander's
Best Crab - Crab Au Gratin - Bon Ton Cafe
Best Fish - Grilled Gulf Fish - Red Fish Grill
Best Dessert - Pineapple/Coconut Sorbet - Red Fish Grill
Best Breakfast - Camellia Grill
Best Chicken - Juban's
Lastly, we want to thank the people of New Orleans for their generosity in every way - spirit, portion size, service, anniversary wishes and personality. We had an amazing trip and will have memories that last a lifetime. Having been to NY and San Francisco, I officially declare NOLA the Best City of Great Eats! We love you NOLA and can't wait to come back!
Whoops! That doesn't surprise me (that I got them mixed up), after all that research it all started to morph together. Of course I took one look at the menu at Galatoires and almost left because I was so overwhelmed! Not only is there an entire page of what they are known for but then you have another 3-4 pages to weed through. Thats why I got the special and in hindsight I should have just picked something crab or shrimp and I am sure I would have been fine. Oh well! Next time I will talk him into taking a jacket so we can try those oysters at Antoine's! Thanks again!