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Feb 1, 2011 02:40 PM

Trip Report From First-Timer Who Vows to Return

I’d like to thank everyone on this forum, both those who asked the questions and those who so helpfully answer. This was my first time to New Orleans, my husband last visited in the late-80s. He was going for business and I was tagging along to eat. I didn’t need to post a query about the trip, since the “first-timer” question was covered so extensively. But since I took, here’s my trip report to give back a little.

Our Tuesday morning started early with snow and ice in Philadelphia, but by the time we checked in to our hotel in the French Quarter, the Monteleone, we were starting to thaw.

Checked in, checked email, dealt with business, then headed across Royal St. to Mr. B’s. The lunch service had just ended, which was no big deal, as we settled in to two bar seats and ordered up a couple of Sazeracs. This is a lovely drink. Mr. B’s version was a little sweet, but that paired well with our order -- the BBQ shrimp, gumbo ya-ya and duck confit spring rolls. The shrimp were outstanding – three huge head-on shrimp in a pool of absolutely delicious sauce. The shrimp were cooked perfectly, and the surfeit of sauce was sopped up by the batard of good bread that was served with our dishes. The gumbo was sublime – deep and dark with flavors that were blended but still distinct. I’ve read some have found it runny, but I didn’t find that at all. The spring rolls were solid, you really can’t go wrong with duck confit and some goat cheese in a crispy wrapping. But next to the shrimp and gumbo, just good, not great.

We walked that off with a get-to-know-the-neighborhood hike down to the Moonwalk on the Mississippi, around Jackson Square and into the Marigny and up and down Esplanade.

Back at the hotel, we ordered another round of Sazeracs at the Carousel Bar. I grew up in a tourism town, consequently I harbor a healthy disregard for anything, bar or restaurant, that spins. But the bar was fun, and the bartenders friendly and helpful. Since only the barstools move, maybe the rule is that if the whole room spins, it’s gonna suck. This Sazerac was even sweeter than the one across the street at Mr. B’s, but still quite good. I learned that subsequently, I’d ask for a dryer drink. It is The South, they love their sugar, so it’s probably just my Northern tastes.

A quick change of clothes and we met Jer’s work compatriots back in the bar. This time I went with a martini, and it was well-crafted. Grabbed a cab and proceeded to Emeril’s. I’d made the reservations through Open Table, and was greeted by name by our server, Marcus. We had a table for four, and the table was indeed set for four, but only three chairs. After some awkward standing around, the renegade chair was found and dinner proceeded. I started with a andouille and boudin app with greens, braised onion and mustard that was delicious, but how can you really go wrong with sausage? I sampled my husband’s gumbo of the day and it was tasty and hearty, though we both preferred my lunch gumbo. There were a few service glitches, but it was clear the busser was new and was getting training from Marcus. My entrée was a smoked and roasted duck breast over dirty fregola which was also well-prepared, the breast was flavorful and moist and the fregola well-seasoned. Husband’s fish of the day was flounder with a fried oyster on top – and I have to admit I don’t remember much about. Between the early travel, the lunch, the cocktails and my duck, I was pretty much done for the day. But he was quite happy with it. Overall, we were quite pleased, if not blown away.

Wednesday morning, I set out for a day of rambling around the French Quarter. I started at Café du Monde for the obligatory beignets and café au lait. It was a sunny morning, and I found a table under the awning, but in the sun and watched the action around Jackson Square as I left nothing but a pile of powdered sugar in my wake. I did take in the Katrina exhibit at the Presbytere. I’d recommend it for visitors – I certainly remembered all the news coverage, but seeing the coverage along with things like an apartment wall used as a diary, or a garage door with the rescue workers’ spay paint messages was incredibly moving. I left both amazed at people’s courage and once again angry at the failure of so much of the government and social services.

After more walking, my feet were tired, so I repaired to the bar at the Napoleon House for a late lunch of red beans and rice and a Pimm’s Cup. OK, two Pimm’s Cups, after all was said and done. The plate sure didn’t look like much – it’s not the most attractive dish in any case – but the beans were tender, the sauce creamy. The smoked sausage on the side was a little salty, but worked well with the beans. Back out to do some shopping – for music fans, you can lose a lot of time at the Louisiana Music Factory. The staff was knowledgeable and really helpful, very music geeky, like the record store in High Fidelity (without Jack Black abusing customers). Since this is Chowhound, one of my other stops on my ramble was Lucullus culinary antiques on Chartres. Lovely things there – but I was mostly concentrating on not bumping into something and breaking it. But for a cook or enthusiastic eater, this is a really interesting stop.

I went back to the hotel around 5, the Carousel was filling up, and all I wanted was to take my boots off and put my (now) blistered feet up after a day of walking. Got a Sazerac (dry) from the bartender and retreated to my room. Husband had a full day of meetings, from 8 am on. He showed up around 6:45, and we heard sirens and a band -- from the room, we could see flashing lights coming toward us on Magazine St. (we faced Iberville). He threw a jacket on over his suit, I pulled on a pair of shoes, and we went downstairs to give chase. We got off the elevator to see a small cadre of costumed Mardi Gras performers leading a line dance through the lobby with drums and chanting, which was pleasingly bizarre. Obviously hired for a corporate event, but fun to see in the Monteleone lobby. Hit the street, saw the end of a float going toward Jackson Square on Decatur and gave chase up Chartres. Caught up just before the square and it was a high school brass band followed by a float, with stiltwalkers, etc. On the way back, we stopped in at Napoleon House and had another Pimm’s Cup, because I found mine so delightful earlier and wanted to share, and because the décor and the rooms and courtyard were something I thought he needed to experience.

Neither of us was up for the planned dinner at Galatoire’s; he needed to shed his suit and I couldn’t fathom putting on heels. So we opted for a more casual approach and went to the Acme Oyster House. He’s a big oyster fan, me not so much, but it seemed like a relaxed choice. There was a small line, we put our name in and he went to the bar to get drinks for the wait. Our name was called while he was still at the bar and we were seated in the back room, with Sazeracs in hand – this, despite being in a plastic cup, were quite good, not too sweet, a nice rye flavor but oddly, a cherry. He tore through a ½ dozen oysters, while I had yet more gumbo. He pondered another 6 oysters, but instead got the fried catfish/oyster platter, I opted for fried shrimp and a side of red beans and rice to share, with Abita Ambers. Our server was fantastic, the seafood was great, just right after a long day.

On Thursday, I skipped breakfast, he was finished with meetings at 1 pm, so we cabbed to Commander’s Palace for lunch. For me, a martini, he went with a Sazerac. The amuse was boudin noir, delectable. I had the gumbo of the day, but this was unlike anything I’d had. There were shitakes, maybe some rice wine vinegar, in what tasted like a nod to a hot and sour soup. The flavors were delicate but earthy and the remains were sopped up with bread. His turtle soup was outstanding, and likewise the bowl was cleaned with bread. I had the Creole couchon de lait, and though I was full, I could have eaten another. He had the cassoulet, and I could have eaten all of his, too. The slow-cooking inherent in both dishes can create muddy flavors, but each individual component was perfect. It was a fairly mind-blowing experience.

Back to the FQ, we walked yet more, stopped at the Roosevelt Hotel to look at the interior and, yeah, hit the Sazerac Bar. Best of show! Loved the low-key elegance of the bar itself, it’s a definite must-see and drink. Though stuffed, he had yet to have a beignet, so I insisted on a Café du Monde stop. The walk would do us good – so we stopped and looked at the galleries on Royal and he needed to see Lucullus. I stopped him from buying an antique copper pot for me, for risotto; he should not shop under the influence.

What to eat for dinner? We went with Bayona, which was a short walk filled with madness, at least on Bourbon. We had a short wait in the lounge with a cocktail, which seems like it was a back porch in another life of the building. To start, I had grilled shrimp with a black bean cake – the cake was so light and airy it seemed more like a soufflé. Husband had a roman egg drop soup, which was based on one of the most complex yet clean broths I’ve ever tasted. I had the hanger steak with bordelaise, and he had a drum with braised bok choy. Everything was amazing, from the drinks to the food to the service.

Yeah, between Commander’s and Bayona, it was a very good food day.

Up on Friday to pack before a 1 pm flight, but we still needed something for breakfast. We agreed it should be something substantial, since we wouldn’t be seeing anything edible til we landed. This gave me an excuse to steer us to Stanley.
When I asked our young server for a tomato juice, she said they didn’t have it but I could have some bloody mary mix. And then it occurred to me that we could have bloody marys. Lovely, made me a much better airline passenger later. I had the eggs benedict poor boy and he had the Breaux Bridge benedict – midway through we just switched plates. Both were wonderful, but I have to give the edge to Breaux Bridge bennie, the boudin put it over the top. The coffee, the service and the room itself were all top-notch.

Overall, everyone we came across was friendly and helpful, whether they were working or not. Though I feel bad about missing the Galatoire’s experience, we’ll definitely be back! I went deep on gumbo and red beans and rice this trip, because those seemed to be things I can recreate at home and I really wanted to learn the flavors. Next trip? Po boys and muffalettas. And then we’ll get to Galatoire’s, August, Stella!, Brigstens’, Bon Ton, and all the rest.

Again, from a visitor, thanks to everyone who frequents this forum -- it really makes trip planning easier!

Napoleon House Bar & Cafe
500 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Acme Oyster House
724 Iberville St, New Orleans, LA 70130

430 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70112

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

Galatoire's Restaurant
209 Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA 70130

Bon Ton Cafe
401 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130

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  1. Great report - ya love those sazeracs, eh? ;)

    1. you're killing me! thanks for coming and hurry back! we know no strangers, and next time you'll be considered a local!

      1. Nice review. You get it, and may end up a local!

        Besides being good, Sazeracs are easy to make at home.

        13 Replies
        1. re: collardman

          And we have been! We're a house divided, however, on whether the Angostura/Peychaud's mix is superior to just the Peychaud's.

          I'd consider a move, but when we were there in January, the locals were bundled up in down parkas for low-60s weather. I was quite happy in a sweater. I'm not sure if I would implode or just simply melt into a puddle during the summer.

          1. re: lsmutko

            I've had excellent Sazeracs with the mix of bitters but never with just Angostura alone. As a purist, I make mine with just Peychaud and I am much lighter on the simple syrup than others (but the original was pretty sweet by my standards).

            1. re: hazelhurst

              I also use Peychaud and have been using Depaz cane syrup from Martinique for drinks instead of regular simple syrup. A few months back I was served a Sazarac made with real absinthe but I couldn't tell the difference between that in a mixed drink and say Pernod.

              1. re: collardman

                Really? I haven't bothered with have le veritable absinthe but your deposition is a fine testimonial to the substitutes.

                I'll check about for cane syrup just to try it but, as I said, I just like enough sweet to bounce the flavors around.

                1. re: hazelhurst

                  I think the real absinthe variation gets lost in the bitters and rye and you're better off putting good money into the larger portion rye than drop of absinthe. but there is certainly a lot of variation in the substitues like Pernod and Herbsaint not to mention Ouzo and Aguardiente.

                  The cane syrup is sweet but it is a bit different than sugar water.

                  701 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130

                  1. re: collardman

                    I enjoy absinthe on its own, and I think the herbal notes in it along with the licorice flavor add to the rye. But I may just be kidding myself. Because I do love absinthe, too.

                    Our rye selection up here in PA is pretty limited, what rye would you recommend?

                    I do like a a couple of Angostura shakes, but the Peychaud's is prominent. (I'm sipping one now!)

                    1. re: lsmutko

                      You must have a better choice than we do. Rye is "yankee" stuff. (smile)

                      Up until a few years ago you couldn't find any rye unless you went to a wine specialty shop. Now local groceries carry JimBeam, Old Overalls (Overholt) and Sazerac. The wine shops now have some high end well aged stuff that I haven't yet sprung for.

                      1. re: collardman

                        Our wine and spirits stores are state-run, leading to choices that are envied by no one (though it has gotten somewhat better). My best bet will be going to New Jersey and checking out some of the superstores.

            2. re: lsmutko

              Having moved here in mid-May from New England, I declare the summer to be not as bad as the hype and infinitely preferable to a New England winter. Whoa. SO much better.

              1. re: noradeirdre

                having lived in Minnesota for ten years, I agree. warm summer any day.

                1. re: kibbles

                  You guys are hardier than August I pine for my days in Connecticut and Massachusetts

                  1. re: hazelhurst

                    In August, CT and MA are having those hot and humid days too! Just not as consistently.

                    1. re: noradeirdre

                      yeah thats exactly it -- the midwest gets hot & humid too, just not as consistently every day. so having more of the uncomfortable H&H, but none of the sub-30, sub-0 weather on a consistent a nice trade off :)

          2. thank you. i enjoy long trip reports. very detailed.

            1. Loved the report!
              I will be staying at the Monteleone in May did you like the Hotel?

              1 Reply
              1. re: maryinri

                I did like it -- the location was great, the lobby is lovely, and I do love the bar. We had a small room with a not great view, but it looks like more of the rooms have a nice view of the river. Husband and co-workers were in meetings and events catered by the hotel and they said that was all fine.

                It does have what I think of perhaps the saddest restaurant in, possibly, the world. The Hunt Room Grill is about the size of a small suburban living room, and every time I walked by on my way to or from the elevators, there were NO patrons. It's a beautiful little room, and I'm sure the food is quite fine, but there's a plethora of fantastic flavors in the immediate blocks around the hotel. The entire staff of the rest of the hotel were quick with great recommendations and suggestions. It was oddly poignant to see the formally dressed staff busying themselves by polishing a spot on the bar that wasn't there, or giving the flowers a little sprucing, knowing no one would come.