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Three days in NOLA - How I ate it

Thanks to the many chowhounds, and visitors to NOLA, who have taken the time to create such thoughtful posts about the local dining scene. While my recent weekend was not my first to the city, it was certainly my most enjoyable from a culinary standpoint, and I owe that to you all.

I stayed in the FQ on Bourbon Street, and arrived late on Thursday evening. My wife was working on assignment there, and wasn't ready to eat until around 10pm, so we just walked over to NOLA and sat at the bar. Emeril has been around for a while now, and for good reason. His dishes are crowd-pleasers, and lack the overly earnest qualities which encumber many of his younger peers. We sat at the bar, and I had some deboned and stuffed chicken wings (great concept, great delivery, except for the slightly underwhelming soy-based dipping sauce) and followed those up with the shrimp and grits. The entree was superb, although when I asked the bartender what the creamy sauce was around the edge of the bowl, he ascribed it to "the natural buttery juice from the grits." I'm fairly certain it was a beurre blanc. Skipped dessert because it was so late, but those we saw next to us looked fantastic.

Friday AM: Cafe du Monde. I know they're just glorified donuts, but the beignets and cafe au lait are an institution for a reason. Surprisingly good OJ too - maybe fresh-squeezed?

Friday Lunch: I got roped into a lunch which was out of my control, and ended up at the ACME Oyster House. The gumbo was average and oysters were bland (not surprising, given the season). This was me trying my best not to be the annoying food jerk who insists he knows the best places to eat. Michael Keaton sighting at the bar (he looks good - come back to us, Batman!!)

Friday dinner: August. The hype on this board and on the web in general for Restaurant August is well-deserved. John Besh was actually cooking that night (nice to see a celebrity chef who remembers what he's famous for), and from start to finish, the meal was the finest I've experienced in N.O. The environment recalls an older age, the high ceilings and dimmed crystal chandeliers had me wondering whether the servers would be wearing powdered wigs. This is not a "high my name is XYZ, and I'll be your server" kind of place. The gal that waited on us read us well, and tailored her service to our experience and preferences. Her command of the entire menu, which I'm sure changes a lot, was superb and the information she provided complemented what was on the menu and led us in the right direction. I started with the gnocchi, which if you haven't read about, is somehow rich and light at the same time. Fluffy gnocchi, parmesan, black truffles, lump crab - this is a no-brainer as far as an app goes, although my wife's roasted beat salad was terrific. The lardon in the salad was the best bacon ever to cross these lips.

Trout never had it so good, a simple preparation with lump crab meat (the second of many dishes I'd experience featuring lump crab meat) and a hollandaise on the side. This is one of those dishes where upon review of my description, you might presume that you could pull this off at home. It's possible, I suppose, and my own confidence in the kitchen actually led me towards this thought at one point in the meal, but I thought more about the golden crust he achieved on the perfectly filleted fish, the briny lumps of crab which crested the fish and spilled gently into a small stream of hollandaise which had obviously just been prepared - and my confidence withered into humble appreciation for a master who respected his ingredients by keeping the dish as simple as possible but whose technique truly brought them to a rare level of refinement.

My wife's duck breast was seasoned with bold ingredients (cardamom, cinnamon, star anise), but he somehow managed to avoid overwhelming the meat. There was some broiled foie gras, a peach compote, and some other lil' nibblies on there as well, and they were exquisite together, but I left this alone and let my wife enjoy it, save one or two test bites.

Rum cake was a little mini-layered, fluffy cake, creamy icing, shaved white chocolate and the sort of down-homey, goodness you rarely get when you order cake anymore. It was gentle, smooth and thoroughly enjoyable with the bold french press which accompanied it. Wifey had the cheese cake, which was on the tart side due to the presence of goat cheese, and a lovely way to round out the meal.

Saturday brunch: Commander's Palace. The whole experience was great. Getting out of the F.Q. and into the old, stately homes of the Garden District, the first sign of exemplary service was when we hopped out of the cab and an attendant sprang forward to extend an umbrella over us as we walked up to the front steps of the restaurant. I'd asked for a table in the Garden Room (props to you all for that recommendation), and we wandered through room after room, up some stairs, until we finally arrived in what felt like a richly decorated tree house. We sat against the wall of windows among what appeared to be a mix heavier on locals than it was on tourists. When my wife asked me what I was expecting, my answer was "the best brunch of my life." C. P. delivered, and it was a damned fine brunch experience. The friendly yet formal service, the wandering jazz trio that managed to play table-side without being intrusive, the turtle soup, peach griddle cakes (light, airy), bread pudding souffle with bourbon glaze. I'm telling you, it was all exceptional. The meal nearly put me into a food coma though, and so the post-brunch meandering up and down the nearby Magazine Street shopping district and the historic Lafayette Cemetery across the street was a welcome aide to my digestion.

Saturday Dinner: Coquette. Again, out of the F.Q., the quintessential bistro (black and white tile floor, heavy wood bar, dim lighting, corner location on the bustling Magazine Street) was a crowd pleaser. After so much seafood throughout the weekend, I was ready for a steak, and their strip was just what the doctor ordered - served with sauteed mushrooms, onions and a demi. I started with an app of house-made mozzerella, tomatoes and toast points drizzled with basil oil - nothing innovative here, but wonderful attention to the quality of each ingredient, and beautiful combo of flavors.

Sunday brunch: Mr. B's. Brunch salad, BBQ shrimp. The head-on prawns were everything you all said they'd be and more, with a sauce so perfectly constructed that I wasn't sure whether the best part of the meal was the glorious crustaceans or the savory sauce that I wanted to stick my straw into once the prawns were done. Thankfully, in addition to the warm, soft slices of bread that accompanied the dish, they also brought out a warm mini-baguette to accompany the meal which became the vehicle for the spicy, brown sauce. Again, jazz trio playing softly in the background, sat at the bar without a crowd, and received top-notch service. Note: this is a hands on entree, so don't order it if it's going to be a problem for you to end up with shrimp shells and sauce all over your hands. Props to the bartender for keeping the debris bowl emptied and promptly providing a hot towel with lemons as he saw me concluding my meal.

That's it in a nutshell. You guys have a wonderful town down there, and I'm always delighted to be a guest for a few days. Thanks so much for taking the time to write up your insights on the food scene.

Restaurant August
301 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

Commander's Palace Restaurant
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130

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  1. Great report. Come again, soon!

    1. Glad you enjoyed yourselves; sounds like you made some excellent choices.

      1. Great report Fisherdm. Come visit NOLA more often. They can't cook in DC like they can in NOLA and they certainly don't have August, CP, Coquette or the other great places in NOLA.

        Good luck.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Littleman

          You are absolutely correct about DC, Littleman. Great chefs, but nothing like NOLA. You've got so many great chefs down there - we need to do some sort of work-exchange program.

        2. Great review and it sounds like you both hit some very good places, but also got what each is noted for. Nice when that happens.

          Sorry that ACME was not up to par, but I always liked Fexlix's across the street a bit better. That said, I know many, who swear by ACME, so they CAN be very good. Maybe it was the season and the year? I need to give them another try, as it has been a very long time.

          Thank you for your report,


          1. Great report--great choices. We had an extraordinary night at August, Chef Besh was sitting at the next table so service was pretty impeccable.

            1. I just returned today from 4 day trip for 10th anniverary. I requested assistance on another thread. Looks like we got there right after you and had some similar experience. We stayed at Sheridan on Canal.

              Sunday arrival - Johnny's - Chicken Parm Po Boy. Outstanding taste with great bread. After a short walk, snack at Cafe du Monde. Later went to the Howlin Wolf for music. Fortunately, they had some food while we were later and music was not going to start until real late. Spinach and artichoke dip and fish tacos were very good.

              Monday - Breakfast at Stanley for eggs benedict with soft shell crab. Very good, but a little bit of a letdown. Was planning on lunch at Commander's but no shorts so Cafe Rani on Magazine which was very good. Gelato at La Divina was very good. Dinner was at Bayona before going to Preservation Hall. I had garlic soup (very tasty) and snapper (outstanding). Wife had mushroom and goat cheese (outstanding) and a salad (really good).

              Tuesday - Quick oatmeal at Starbucks in hotel before Katrina tour. Cafe Gumbo for lunch. The Okra seafood gumbo was fantastic. 2 hours of poker at Harrah's netted $309, so we went to Stella for dinner. The Walu was among best fish I ever had. Wife's sea bass was fantastic although you need to appreciate a strong sake flavor. Chocolate cake was divine with unreal after meal treats. Next stop, Frenchman St was music.

              Wednesday - Trolley to Camellia Grill for breakfast. Dinner at August. I had4 course tasting menu including gnocci (mentioned above), lemon fish with summer squash, wagyu beef and peanut/chocolate bar for desert with wine pairing was all fantastic and enjoyable. Wife had the tempura vegetables and trout. Presentation of the trout was amazing and taste was delicious.

              Thursday - Cafe Beignet for snack and Johnny's for Po Boys (Chicken Parm and Chicken Fried Steak) before flying home.

              Great food and music.

              Camellia Grill
              626 S Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118

              430 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70112

              Preservation Hall
              726 St Peter St, New Orleans, LA

              Cafe Rani
              2917 Magazine St Ste 103, New Orleans, LA 70115

              1. I'm glad you enjoyed Mr. B's, as it is a favorite of ours.

                1. OK, slightly embarrassing question: How do you eat the head-on BBQ shrimp? After having tried my hand at BBQ shrimp recently (using Emeril's recipe, which is headless), I'm anxious to try them during my upcoming visit in November. Are they served with the head on and in the shell? If so, how do you deal with all of this if they're swimming in the sauce?

                  Emeril's Restaurant
                  800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: ClevelandRandy

                    Yeah, they're head on and in the shell. The head part pulls right off though, that's the easy part. They messy part is the peeling. You just get sauce on your hands while peeling and eating, that's all. Most places (Mr. B's, Manales) give you a bib to wear while you're eating and bring you a hot towel or a wet wipe with which to tidy up once you're finished.

                      1. re: ck1234

                        pretty easily. the head slides right off, then you just grasp the legs and peel the shell off, one section at a time. it isnt so much work.. a friend and i had them last nite (declined the bibs) and he took it to it. its little different than eating crab legs.

                        Mr. B's has the advantage of a) great sauce b) huge shrimp. its good fun.

                        1. re: kibbles

                          Thanks Kibbles. :-) I know I'll need the bib because for whatever reason, I'm a messy eater! I'm sure I will have sauce everywhere!

                          1. re: ck1234

                            I too went with the bib ck1234. If you wanna prepare yourself Mr. B's does have the recipe on their website and I have made it at home as well. You WILL get sauce everywhere and you'll probably ask for a straw once you get a hit of it's peppery, buttery goodness. The also give you a half lemon and a wet towel to try and de-sauce after the whole things over. It's an experience you'll wanna repeat, trust me!

                        2. re: ck1234

                          Practice with some crawfish first and you'll look like a pro. South Louisiana motto: Pinch it, peel it, suck it, eat it.

                        3. re: uptownlibrarian

                          I recently took my son to LSU to start his freshman year and we flew into New Orleans and spent one night before heading up to Baton Rouge. We ate at Mr. B's and I got the BBQ shrimp, which was really fabulous. I would have been happy with a loaf of bread and the sauce, the sauce was so good. I was glad to be there with my son and not a date because it was REALLY messy to eat!

                          1. re: pcdarnell

                            It's definitely hands-on, ClevelandRandy, but as others have said, well worth the mess. You feel like you've really earned the meat once you get it free of the shell/head.

                            1. re: fisherdm

                              This might cause me to eat them at Emeril's instead of Mr. B's or Manale's, since Emeril's version is served only with the tails intact (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/em...). As much as I love shrimp and really would love to try Mr. B's version, I just don't know how appetizing it sounds to be de-heading and shelling saucy shrimp!! Perhaps if I have a few drinks beforehand I'll feel differently!!

                              Emeril's Restaurant
                              800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130

                              1. re: ClevelandRandy

                                Maybe because the shrimp we buy for our own local cooking often come heads on (the heads also make a good base for a stock) cleaning/eating BBQ shrimp may seem normal to us, not to mention the mess we get into eating boiled crab and crawfish.

                                It's not much different from getting involved with your hands while eating the different variations of seafood stew like gumbo, boulibase, chioppino, etc.

                                But I do admit that I usually get into those foods when I'm cooking at home and usually avoid them when eating out, with the exception of steamed mussel which I can't seem to pass up.

                                1. re: ClevelandRandy

                                  Just eat the shrimp shells...many natives do....shhh

                                  1. re: Suzy Wong

                                    Suzy........I read a book about dining in NOLA about 40 years ago. At the time Mr. B's was not in business and the place to get BBQ shrimp was Pacal's Manale. The book said eat the shells. I did the first time and I have never done anything else different since then. They actually improve the flavor and certainly decrease the dining efforts.

                                    I have never peeled a BBQ shrimp. You lose all the flavor. I wish I still had that book

                                    1. re: Littleman

                                      Interesting...We always did, eat the shells...I've heard some zealous people back in the day would eat shrimp freshly caught, still moving. Now that do that in some Japanese paces. (Not a fan of that practice myself)....I haven't been to Manale's in years but it is an old school classic....

                                      1. re: Suzy Wong

                                        Very cool. I've done this with Chinese preparations, but when the hot oil in the wok cooks the shrimp, it really softens the shells. Generally, when I've had it done that way, the shrimp weren't as large as the ones I tasted at Mr. B's. This gives me something to shoot for next time!