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Oct 28, 2012 01:41 PM

New Orleans - Short But Sweet Visit

My wife and I stopped in NOLA for three nights a couple of weeks ago on our way home to San Diego from Durham, NC. As was the case on our last visit three years ago (hard to believe it’s been that long), we would like to thank the people of New Orleans, easily the most hospitable we’ve met anywhere, and the locals and visitors who post on this board, for helping us have a fantastic time. We really need to come more often.

1st day
We hit the Carousel Bar right after we checked into our hotel. It was pretty crowded at 4:30, but we found seats at the bar. The remodel really opens up the space, but the atmosphere around the bar seemed like we remember from last time. I asked the bartender (don’t remember who it was) for a recommendation, and without hesitating, he said sazerac, seconded by the guy next to me at the bar. After my first sip, I couldn’t have agreed more. The guy next to me turned out to be a NOLA native who is the superintendent of a nearby parish school district. Talk got around to food, and he gave sterling recommendations to the oysters Rockefeller at Brennan’s and po’ boys at Parkway. We told him we were headed to Galatoire’s that night, and he said it’s one his favorites. He’s also a horn player, so we talked about music, too. He recommended several places on Frenchmen, but strangely, just like another local we met at Carousel 3 years ago, he said it might be a little iffy to walk there after dark. He also spoke highly of Irvin Mayfield’s and said that Bombay Club was worth checking out, too. Said it was too bad we were leaving on Friday, because he would be playing at Seafood Festival that night.

Several sazeracs later we decided to walk to Galatoire’s before we got into trouble. As was the case last visit, the loaf of hot, crusty, and feather-light French bread was great. I had sautéed soft shell crab and lamb chops, my wife had shrimp remoulade and crab Yvonne. The soft shell crab was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, without a doubt. I love fried soft shell crab, but sautéed, it rose to a completely different level of flavor; every bite was an explosion of crab succulence. The only reason I can think of for not ordering a second one was my sazerac-addled brain couldn’t connect the dots. My wife’s shrimp remoulade and crab were both outstanding, and the black bottom pecan pie we split was a nice way to finish up. Our server, Bryant, was great. Stopped in at Irvin Mayfield’s for a set afterward. Ellis Marsalis was scheduled, but had to go out of town so a local progressive jazz band filled in. Good set, nice relaxing place.

2nd day
We woke up feeling pretty fuzzy, so I took a one-block walk to get an order of beignets from the Bourbon St. location of Café Beignet. I failed to eat one immediately, so they were tainted by the amount of time they spent in the bag, but they were very good. We never did an A/B test with CDM, but nonetheless found these beignets to be pretty tasty.

We ended up having a late lunch at Cochon. We split wood fired oysters, fried alligator, Louisiana cochon, and banana pudding. Everything was very good, especially the vegetables accompanying the cochon. The lightly battered alligator nuggets were perfectly fried and had a perfect texture, although they didn’t have a lot of flavor. The oysters, while tasty, didn’t have a trace of smokiness. The cochon itself was a tender, moist, nicely flavored ball of shredded pork with a nice crust on the outside. The Louisiana hayride was the perfect drink to clear the cobwebs.

Back to FQ for a hurricane at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (not that great). Dinner was at Upperline, which I’d been looking forward to for awhile. It turned out to be a charming restaurant where we felt like dinner guests at the home of a gracious hostess. However, the food wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. We started with another great loaf of French bread. For my 3 course dinner I chose fried veal sweetbread w/burrata&olives, roast duck, and bread pudding, along with a side of fried oysters St. Claude. My wife’s 3 courses were shrimp remoulade w/fried green tomatoes, cane river shrimp w/mushrooms , and crème brulee. Best items were the sweetbread, mashed sweet potato side accompanying the duck, and the perfectly fried oysters. The St. Claude sauce was too assertive for the oysters, though. Likewise, the burrata and olives were good with each other, but didn't go with the sweetbread. I was looking forward to the duck most of the day, but the actual bird was unfortunately quite overcooked. The shrimp remoulade was good, but unexceptional. JoAnn is truly a lovely lady and hostess. She told us that the front dining room had just re-opened the previous Friday after repairing damage from Isaac, but that offices upstairs still weren’t ready.

3rd day
Three martini lunch at Commander’s. The garden room was closed, so we had a window table next to the patio in the rear dining room. Lively crowd and a great lunch. I had the two course lunch, choosing turtle soup and shrimp&grits. My wife had the 3 course creole luncheon with creole gumbo, bbq brisket, and bread pudding soufflé. The gumbo, with its rich smokiness, was out of this world, one of the best things I ate on this trip; my wife only let me have a couple of bites, though. The turtle soup was fantastic, and the creamy cheese grits and big, fat grilled shrimp were a perfect entrée. The brisket was also very, very good; very tender from the slow smoke and not overpowered by the barbecue sauce. Loved the soufflé, but there were bites of pasty bread here and there. Don’t know if it’s meant to be that way. Our server, Clayton, was excellent, and those 25 cent martinis were just outstanding.

After a short stroll through the neighborhood, we took the bus back to Canal (the bus had apparently replaced the trolley all the way down St. Charles), then straight to Carousel Bar. It was very crowded at 3:30, too. We had dinner reservations at Herbsaint, so the plan was to have a drink here. Sat next to a NOLA native now living in Atlanta who was back in town for a conference and headed with a group to dinner at SoBou. He told us he misses Mr. B’s the most. After he left, a couple of guys, who were buddies, sat on either side of us. Both were transplants who had moved to NOLA 7 and 10 years ago, from Michigan and upstate New York, respectively. They played off each other like morning drive-time DJs and were a ton of fun. They both gave SoBou a thumbs down, listing Galatoire’s and Felix’s among the many places they liked. Talk got around to music, and they said we should walk down Chartres to Frenchmen and that we should definitely come back to town during Carnival.

So, after too many sazeracs, we cancelled Herbsaint and started walking down Chartres to Frenchmen. While my wife was changing into walking shoes in Jackson Square, a local guy on a bike overheard us talking about Frenchmen and told us about a concert going on at that moment in Armstrong Park. So we headed over there, listened to some good music, and had a couple of really good grilled andouille “dogs” (there was some real smoke in those sausages). I was still wearing my jacket from lunch, so, after the concert ended, I decided to hit Galatoire’s and try to have one more sautéed soft shell. Alas, they had run out for the day, and next day would be hard to do, because it would be Friday lunch, and we had to head to the airport by 3.

Departure day
We had a little trouble getting up, but made it to lunch at Emeril’s. Only two other tables were occupied when we got there at 12:45, but the dining room was more than half full when we left. Last time we had lunch there 11 years ago, I had a truly memorable roast duck. This time we split the gumbo (chicken/andouille), which was very good but not as good as Commander’s. Also split the chicken and corn waffles, shrimp mac ‘n cheese, and banana cream pie. Standout by far was the pie. It was as good as it’s reputed to be. I had high expectations for the chicken and waffles, and the waffles and watermelon slaw didn’t disappoint. The chicken breasts, though, were overcooked (didn’t have good luck with poultry on this trip), and had far too much crust, sort of KFC extra crispy on steroids. The mac ‘n cheese was good, but pretty ordinary.

After lunch we walked up to Cochon Butcher and picked up a muffaletta, which we had for dinner when we got home. It was a good sandwich, but we thought that the muffuletta we got at Central Grocery three years ago had a better olive salad and better bread.

Another great visit. Although the remodel has changed the ambience at Carousel, we found the bar itself to be as convivial and as much fun as on our last visit in 2009. The sautéed soft shell crab at Galatoire’s, creole gumbo at Commander’s, and banana cream pie at Emeril’s were my favorite dishes, especially the crab. I will regret not ordering a second one until the next time I can have one (I mean two). Our best food experiences were at the places we re-visited from last time, Galatoire’s and Commander’s. Herbsaint is definitely on the list next time. Also mulling Clancy’s, Gautreau’s, Felix’s, Casamento’s, Bayona, oysters Rockefeller at Brennan’s, and a re-visit to Mr. B’s. Think the next visit might be in January.

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  1. Great report! Definitely don't miss Herbsaint next time. I just left your lovely town, there for a 3-night convention. Hit my faves: Island Creek Oyster Bar, Atlantic Seafood Co., Marliave, and Troquet. So nice to have visited Boston in May and now in October, perfect weather. Next trip, gotta do all new places--well, except for ICOB, which I will never miss.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sanglier

      Thanks! I live in SD now, but visit family in Boston every year. They don't like going into town much, so we end up mostly eating at or near their homes. I have a lot of places, including ICOB, on the 'gotta go' list.

      1. re: beantowntitletown

        I liked Neptune Oyster much better than ICOB. I like the sazeracs at Carousel Bar too.

    2. Seconded about Irvin Mayfield's Club (in the Royal Sonesta). Music is always top-notch there. Only possible drawbacks are that when it's packed, some sightlines are difficult, and also that a few of the bartenders/staff can be really unpleasant (most are not), meaning that you never know what kind of quality Sazerac you'll get.

      SoBou starts off with a silly name. South of Bourbon? Really? We don't talk NYC realtor talk here. Terms like NoLiTa and DUMBO just don't fly in New Orleans, so naming a restaurant that way does not signify hip to us, but reaching for hip. Also, when one stands with the Mississippi at one's back, facing Rampart St., that direction is not North, but instead Northwest. The Quarter is a grid tilting NW, so the name SoBou isn't even accurate, as to be so it would have to be SoEaBou, which is actually more ridiculous than the present name.

      14 Replies
      1. re: nolala

        I had the same reaction to SouBou's name but, then, as a general rule I am suspicious of restaurants that are not maned for the founder(s)

        It is nice to see someone bypassing fried soft-shell in favor of sauteed. I like to mix it up with various additions such as garlic or maybe bacon, even anchovy. The late, lamented Boston shop Locke-Ober used to do them up nicely in the spring. I continue to proselytize for sauteeing.

        1. re: hazelhurst

          Count me as firmly in the saute camp. Bryant suggested I order the crab sauteed, and it is the way I'll ask for it from now on when it's in-season and fresh.

          1. re: beantowntitletown

            Bryant is a great waiter and will be happy to let youplay around with idea. It'll cost a little more but whaththell.

        2. re: nolala

          After a recent dinner in the FQ we decided to stop at SoBou for our after dinner drink and coffee. We got seats at the bar and wife ordered a Drambuie. We then learned they have no after dinner drinks. They have one after dinner cocktail. They also had two cognacs, Hennessy VSOP and I think a Peyrot, both there for mixing cocktails.

          With all this "cutting edge" gastronomy and cocktail culture is fully rounded dining getting left behind? Probably not, but I guess one has to know which places are about fusion and fixations and which are old school, although old school can now be five years ago.

          1. re: collardman

            A bartender friend of mine is fond of saying "I don't serve drinks, I serve guests." With the resurrection of craft cocktails it seems that many so-called mixologists miss the distinction. Did the barkeep at least offer a reasonable substitute?

            1. re: montuori

              We went with the cognac as we had a time constraint and we weren't going to move on to a third place. But he did mix up for us the one after dinner cocktail they had. Three of us tasted it (one with 12 years bartending in a well known place). I'm glad we didn't order it or have to pay for it.

              But he tried and the policy was not his and he got well tipped for his concern.

            2. re: collardman

              Sounds like "fully rounded dining" is indeed not the objective at SoBou. They seem to be aiming only at "grazing" with drinks for young people on their way home or to a full dinner elsewhere.

              However, I would add the observation that the absence of Drambuie behind the bar is odd, even if one can justify an emphasis on cocktails, given that Drambuie is an essential ingredient for the popular "Rusty Nail" cocktail, as well as the Highland Fizz, and several others.

              1. re: Gizmo56

                SoBou is definitely not a focused on a full-service dinner menu -- they're a cocktail shop w/ small plates.

                name aside, i think they do what they do pretty well. the Vesper is one of my favorite new drinks. for food, the duck beignets are incredible, the molasses pork belly delicious, and the foie gras burger dish (three components) deviant. ive enjoyed almost everything ive tried there and its quickly become a new go-to for me after work.

                1. re: kibbles

                  Yes, I am anxious to give it a try on my next visit. I noticed that noredeidre listed a dish from SoBou as among her favorites from 2012, on another thread.

                  1. re: Gizmo56

                    yeah its pretty solid. also really like the tuna cones, boudin balls, and mac n cheese.

                    i dont like eating a heavy meal when going out, so for me the small food done well focus is perfect.

                    1. re: kibbles

                      Yeah, that would work for me too. I appreciate your rec's on their dishes.

                      1. re: Gizmo56

                        The cajun queso - andouille spiced queso served with cracklins- was what I'd mentioned elsewhere, and I echo the mac & cheese and the pork belly (and I am actually not a big pork belly fan, but this was amazing.) I liked SoBou, though I to share the eyeroll at the name.

                        1. re: noradeirdre

                          Sounds great and I am sorry for the typo in your name in my original reference. Agree with all that the name is not optimal, but names are near the bottom of what matters. I still think it is odd if they only stock one one or two VSOP cognacs, no Drambuie, etc.

            3. re: nolala

              SoBou's management actually does mention the geographical inaccuracy on their web site -- stating that it actually is south-east of Bourbon.


            4. @bean - it is odd that locals would tell you it's unsafe to walk to Frenchmen. not true. especially now that Frenchmen is basically the new Bourbon Street and there are always people coming and going there. if paranoid, the best route to take would be Decatur Street just past Esplanade where it hits Frenchmen. high-traffic route at any hour. my guess is these locals may not actually live in the neighborhood, so anything unknown is dangerous.

              bummer about the hurricanes at Blacksmith Shop. they're actually my favorite -- they seem to use real fruit juice so it's not as sickeningly sweet as at some other unnamed watering holes, yet still packs a punch.

              3 Replies
              1. re: kibbles

                Yeah, I thought it was especially remarkable that it was 2 different guys who are mature native locals, on two different occasions, three years apart. And, yeah, you're right, neither one lives in the neighborhood. One's in the Garden District and the other's in the 'burbs. We were walking down Chartres to Frenchmen St on the recommendation of our two transplant new friends, when we took that left turn at Jackson Square to go to the park. We've made hotel reservations for January, so, if we're able to show up, we'll be walkin' to Frenchmen.

                Will have to give Blacksmith Shop another try.

                1. re: beantowntitletown

                  Ha, folks from the burbs tend to be, shall we say, overly cautious /paranoid. You'll be fine. Just stay near the crowd and it should be no problem.

                  1. re: beantowntitletown

                    I believe the concern was in reference to an apparently delightful bartender at Pat O'Brien's having been murdered when heading off duty. At any rate, the www dot nocrimeline dot com archive shows some of the types of crimes that have been committed there. Though nocrimeline dot net is not currently being updated I recommend a look at it nevertheless before any trips to New Orleans. A quick glimpse shows ten pages on Frenchmen Street.