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Pour a drink and get comfy: It's Kukubura's trip report

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Well, we did it. We had an almost entirely food-and-drink focused visit to New Orleans and I think it was one of our best visits to date. The occasion of the fifth anniversary of our New Orleans wedding was the perfect opportunity to toast many cocktails and stroll slowly from venue to venue. I'll try not to write too lengthy a report but... well, you know how I get...

Over airplane bloody marys we realized that our arrival actually marked the fifth anniversary of the notorious Friday night dinner at Galatoire's which resulted in our engagement (if you just did a quick bit of math in your head you understand how spontaneous our wedding was!) and we laughed about how little we knew of the Galatoire's experience at the time. So we decided to scrap our usual trip-opener of lunch at Mr. B's and head straight to Galatoire's for a proper lunch. We were seated along the mirrored wall with Harold as our server. We started off with a couple of sazeracs (mysteriously filled with chipped ice, as is their style) and leaned back for a leisurely lunch. We eventually ordered a small version of the goute. The mustardy crawfish in the goute was spectacular and ran as a contender for best flavor of the trip. The remoulade and crabmeat were also both fantastic. For entrees we put ourselves in Harold's hands, my wife asking for his a fin fish with his prefered treatment and I for a shellfish dish. She got drum topped with crab meat and I crab sardou. Everything was perfectly cooked and luscious. The drum had a buttery lightness to it and the sardou, bathed in hollandaise and atop creamed spinach ("how Popeye would have liked it" according to Harold) was decadaent and delicious.

Even though we rarely order dessert, we keept seeing little key lime tarts topped with wiggly columns of chantilly wander by so we ordered one and split it. Perfectly tart with a kiss of sweetness. Our ideal dessert. We went through a few sazerac refills and lingered to chat with Harold for some time until we sensed that, as his last customers of the day, it was time to mosey. He was really sweet and gave my wife a kiss on the cheek. We've been back a couple of times since our calamitous first experience, but this was my favorite Galatoire's meal to date.

We never really settled on a dinner plan and had hoped to do a bar nibble crawl but the heat did a number on us and we ended up skipping dinner, using the early evening instead to while away some time at the Carousel Bar (another to-the-day five year location from the fateful engagement night.) We sipped Vieux Carres and watched the crowds swell and recede.

Friday in New Orleans for us means lunch at Commander's Palace. After some cafe au laits from Cafe Du Monde delivered bed-side by yours truly (who said I'm not a gentleman?) we got all gussied up and cabbed to the Garden District. Our tradition of riding the streetcar to lunch was on hold due to the heat, although I was promised a streetcar ride back downtown. For the first time, however, Commander's had lost our reservation! Not to fear, we were in no rush and had arrived early with the intention of hanging at the bar anyway. Bar chef Daniel hooked us up with a series of fabulous cocktails and, along with a chef on break, entertained us with restaurant gossip and chicanery. We love the pre-lunch bar experience at Commander's. We also inquired after some of our waiters from the past and found out where they work now, making a note of checking in with them when possible.

After our lengthy multi-cocktail bar time we made our way up to the garden room where we had a small table with a great view of all the action. We ordered more cocktails and a trio of appetizers: shrimp and tasso henican, turtle soup and white shrimp remoulade. The turtle soup was as good as ever and the remoulade had a delicate sweetness to it but the shrimp and tasso henican was a stand-out. It's boldly flavorful and recalled smokey bar-b-q and buffalo-style dishes. And in true Commander's style, just as we were wondering what "henican" means a server popped up out of nowhere and told us that it's the surname of a Brennan family lawyer. We marked it as another top-of-trip dish. The only thing I would have done differently is start with the remoulade, since it's more subtle and was a little trampled on by the bolder other dishes.

Our entrees were good but I think we made a mistake by ordering them at the same time as the apps. I think they cooled a touch while we lingered over the appetizers and weren't quite as notable as they'd have been otherwise. My wife had a jerked goat empanada and I had a duck dish. The entrees and the coctails were the stand outs this time. After the plates were cleared we ordered some aged scotch and sat back to enjoy the room.

After lunch we strolled up to the Columns Hotel for some pimm's cups to cool us down. I love hanging out here even though it's a little goofy. Eventually we caught the streetcar back to Canal st and did a little window shopping.

For dinner that night we had reservations at Root. But on the way to their Warehouuse District location we stopped at the Swizzle Stick Bar for drinks. The menu wasn't seasonal (it had cocktails "to warm you on a crisp day"... Not what we needed) and the drinks were inconsistent. My wife refilled her drink and what was clear as water one minute came back cloudy the next. Not sure what's going on there.

But we weren't worried because we had Root to look forward to. The last time we were in town we followed our Commander's lunch with dinner at Cochon and weren't impressed. This time we had hopes that Root would be a better bridge between the older style of New Orleans restaurant and the modern world. Luckily it was. We started with a truffle-scented chicken liver parfait served in a little jar and surrounded by beautiful little pickled things plus a little paint tube of blueberry mustard. I had been longingly perusing the entire charcuterie menu thinking we'd arrange a board full of stuff but the waiter suggested that just one item would probably make sense due to all the accoutrements and he was right. Among the various levels of sweetness and tartness, the rich parfait and the crisp flat bread this was a stellar start to the meal.

We also ordered the Louisiana pickled shrimp which are served alongside shrimp-stuffed devlied eggs. Another killer plate of plump, sweet shrimp and some of the best deviled eggs we've ever had.

Our entrees were a lesson in contrast: One was a contender for the best bite of the trip, the other took the dubious honor of least exciting. My wife ordered a Korean hot pot that suffered from a surprising lack of depth and an oddly dry texture. This was the only dish of the trip that neither of us was remotely excited about. However, my plate of roasted marrow bones accompanied by watermelon, "face" bacon jam, za'atar naan and a little pile of coarse sea salt was revelatory. The three fore-arm sized bones yielded the most unctuously rich marrow that, when spread on the naan and combined with the watermelon, bacon and salt yielded a shockingly jaw-tinglingly complex and mind-meltingly memorable flavor. If I'd known that the dish was so big we would have ordered more apps and split it as an entree. Sitting with a pile of bones to make Ed Gein jealous was an odd experience and after a day of such rich food by the end of the meal my wife said I had a "meat sheen." I will say that this dish kicked my ass but I'd gladly go back for more.

Saturday night we had dinner reservations for our anniversary (the anniversary was actually on Sunday) so we started out planning to skip lunch or just have a nibble. Then we decided that rather than SKIP lunch we'd actually EAT lunch! I think it was a good change of plans. We strolled out to Borgne for our first meal in a Besh restaurant. August's menu doesn't really appeal to us and the other places haven't seemed like the right stops but the Borgne's lunch menu looked great. Located in a non-descript hotel lobby fairly far from the central cultural areas Borgne does suffer a bit in atmosphere, although the space itself is cool with giant oyster shell-filled cages and a long, sleek bar. We started with a couple of apps, with my wife sticking to the spirit of our original plan and ordering a cooling yellow tomato gazpacho and me going my own way with delicious duck poppers, featuring bacon and jalapenos. The entrees were just as good: Continuing her quest to stay light my wife had a beautiful creole and heirloom tomato salad and I, being a pig, got a fried oyster and pork belly sandwich on a country toast. This was one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. It was so juicy and textured. I wish I could make it a weekly standing lunch!

That night we cabbed out to Brigtsen's for our proper anniversary dinner. The atmosphere was definitely unique: Small rooms filled with boisterous conversations and enthusiastic diners. There was a slightly loud table of bachelor party guys in the room with us but they weren't too disruptive. At the end of the evening the waitress apologized for them and asked if they had bothered us. We told her that we've had lunch at Galatoire's and she just nodded her head and understood.

Anyway, the dinner at Brigsten's was just as described: Beautifully cooked, thoughtfully seasoned and simply plated dishes that spoke to the soul of great flavor. We started with shrimp remoulade, deviled eggs and corn relish (we couldn't get enough of deviled eggs, for some reason) and mustard and cornmeal fried catfish with roasted jalapeno tartar sauce. These were both absolutely awesome plates of honest cooking with no quirks. My wife got the overwhelmingly comprehensive Shell Beach Diet platter and I ordered the pan-roasted snapper with truffled crabmeat "glaze." Both dishes were pretty massive and for the second night running we couldn't finish, but everything was tremendous. The freshness of the snapper was evident and the crabmeat "glaze" was actually a pile of beautiful, moist crabmeat. All the elements in the shell platter were great, but I think the top prize goes to the shrimp cornbread. So amazing...

On returning to the Quarter by cab we got dropped off at the Carousel Bar for some more cocktails - our second visit of the day. We managed to get seats at the bar and enjoyed the raucous atmosphere. The expanded space really adds tot he overall liveliness (they added a second bar to the bar! What a concept!) A great end to the evening.

The next day, Sunday, was out actual anniversary, although we had some of our most casual eating experiences planned. We strolled the length of the Quarter through some extreme heat, stopping at Rouse's for champagne, and up Esplanade to our usual brunch destination: Lil Dizzy's. The brunch buffet is a favorite of ours and never fails to dazzle us with tasty options. We broke out the bubbly to make mimosas, and our server Lucy joined us in a toast. The staff at Lil Dizzy's has always treated us like family and have really made us feel welcome. As for the food, we've loved it every time. The gumbo stands as one of our favorites in town and the fried chicken is another undersung masterpiece, with crisp crust, moist meat and very little grease. But beyond those the grits are amazingly creamy and buttery and the mac and cheese is awesome as well. Finished off with some fantastic bread pudding, Lil Dizzy's never fails to make our day.

We strolled through the blazing heat back through the Quarter and eventually poured ourselves into Tujaque's where we found Jenny, our Commander's Palace server from years past. A couple came in and said they'd driven past us while we were walking and couldn't believe how far we'd walked, especially considering we were all dressed up. We were like "Eh, it's no thang!" We had some sazeracs but for our second round Jenny suggested her Pimm's Cup, made with her own fresh juice blend. I have to say, in a city that's sporting some exceptional craft cocktails these days, this refreshing version of the Pimm's might have been the best cocktail of the trip.

After hanging out with Jenny for a while we headed back to the hotel to cool down some more. That night we cabbed up to Kermit Ruffins' Treme Speakeasy to hear his father's day show. At a $20 cover it's a pretty steep ticket but the show was loose and fun. I will say that compared to Vaughn's a few years back, it was odd to see everyone sitting at tables lining the walls rather than dancing and grooving. Plus the grab bag of special guests ranged all over the musical spectrum, which could be good or bad. We rolled with it because it's Kermit's house and it's his rules. It was fun.

We were planning to go to Kingfish and SoBou for a small plate crawl but the show ran long and we didn't want to leave early, so our dinner consisted of oyster and roast beef poboys from Verti Marte. It was the actual night of our anniversary and dinner was sitting on the bed at the hotel eating two of the best sandwiches we've ever had. Heaven.

Monday was our last day but since Southwest has added a later flight we actually got to hang out a bit instead of race off to the airport before dawn. We headed to Mr. B's for our BBQ shrimp fix (great, but maybe suffering a bit from coming so late into the trip) and gumbo yaya (rich, deep, dark, fantastic) and then finally over to Kingfish where we tried a few really fantastic cocktails. The big winner was the Cocktail a la Louisiane. Outstanding.

After stashing our bags we strolled up to Tujaque's for a little more craziness with Jenny and some more Pimm's Cups then hopped in a cab to the airport. We made a quick stop at Cochon Butcher to pick up our dinner: Their muffaletta plus a roast beef with horseradish. As much as we were underwhelmed with Cochon in the past we loved these sandwiches and would gladly have them again.

Anyway, that's the trip! If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Cheers!

 
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  1. Great report! Next trip, try Commander's gumbo. Hard to believe, but every rendition (except the seafood) surpasses the turtle soup. Just a few suggestions should you choose to step,out of your comfort zone:
    Unique and delicious po boys : Killer Po Boys in the back of Erin Rose on Conti. Have a frozen Irish coffee while you wait.
    August: There's a good reason it's (arguably) considered NOLA's best. The food is refined, polished, elegant and tastes fabulous. The service is warm, friendly, excellent. They are very accomodating, graciously allowing substitutions to their tastings. Or, compose your own from their apps and entrees. They will spilt them in the kitchen and serve as a tasting. Check the changing menu. One of these visits they are bound to have something appealing.
    Coquette:. Fun for lunch or dinner. A "poor man's August" but very good none the less. Creative craft cocktails as well.
    GW Fins: Not to be missed for their smoked sizzling oysters( the gold standard for grilled oysters and unlike the others) and "Scalibut". The menu changes daily. Call after noon to see if they're on the menu.
    Gelato: Angelo Brocato's. Take the Canal streetcar (air conditioned) to it's Carrollton location. Take it a few blocks more to City Park.
    St. James Cheese: Cab it to their Pyrtania location for a casual lunch. Get there early, it's always packed.
    Bon Appetit!

    4 Replies
    1. re: JazzyB

      Thanks for those tips! Coquette has always been just under our radar. We always talk about it but decide there are other places we want to try first. August and GW Fins never make it because we just want to have New Orleans food, but at least August should get on there eventually. I recognize that, like many visitors, our list of favorite places that we need to visit grows with each visit and we run the risk of lock ourselves into a routine. It's possible (you will be shocked!) that Mr. B's will be out next time in favor of someplace new. But skip Commander's Palace or Galatoire's? Not a chance!

      As for poboys, we've been lazy. We haven't even made it to Parkway or Domilise's. And we've slacked on the banh mi (although we go to Philly for those) and our one attempt at Casamento's a couple years ago found it too crowded to manage. We just need to come down more often, that's all!

      1. re: kukubura

        agreed on your solution!

        as for August -- they do have some food i would consider sorta new orleans food. the speckled trout is from lake pontchartrain, i believe, as is the blue crab in the tasty truffle gnocchi. their $20, 3.5 course lunch specials are a great way to sample the menu a bit, tho the two afore mentioned dishes are not on it.

        1. re: kukubura

          +1 on your solution.

          Heartily support Parkway, for sitting a the bar with Po-boys, sweet potato fries, Abita and ambiance, on your next visit. Also really great tip about Commander's and the pre-lunch bar. I've only been once and it was not a great experience and perhaps this is why.

          GREAT trip report. Thorough, amusing and flavorful. I have Thanksgiving '13 and Jazz Fest '14 trips on the horizon and it is never to early to start drooling.

        2. re: JazzyB

          JazzyB,

          I agree with Restaurant August. We have never had anything but 100% accommodation there - one reason that we have enjoyed it many times.

          We have also been fans of G W Fins, though many here do not like it. They have always come through, whether for us, as a couple, for family of about 12, or for private dining for ~ 20. Never a complaint.

          As I am a big "cheese fan," we have wanted to add St. James Cheese, and hope to, in the near future. I always look for a "cheese-course," in lieu of desserts, and seek those out with a passion.

          Thank you,

          Hunt

        3. I'm pleased that you've "gotten the hang" of Galatoire's Harold is a classic. he is one of the Ville Platte waiters in there and his son Billy is also a fine waiter.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hazelhurst

            He was great. Although many people flatter us by asking us where in NOLA we live (I suspect that some of them actually think we're local, others are buttering us up), there's no way Harold bought it. Still, once he realized that we meant to enjoy our stay he gave us a taste of the usual deal.

            Something similar happens at Commander's, although there the time we spend at the bar probably helps. Remember kids: Tip your bartender!

            1. re: kukubura

              They ALL think that you are a local, and want to make sure that you get the very best. Trust me on this.

              Hunt

              PS - Tip all servers well.

          2. (Of course there are typos galore in here... The only egregious error is that at Commander's the APPs and the cocktails stood out, not the entrees... Whoops, too many words...) Also, there are pics of many of the best dishes at Tasty Trix...

            1. I really enjoyed your report. I felt I was sitting next to you and your lovely wife. When's our next trip?

              14 Replies
              1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                Ha! Thanks! I don't know. We've been down 5 times in the last 7 years but we always leave thinking about the next visit... Jenny did tell us about the pretty spectacular sounding two day celebration of Tujague's refresh that should be happening later this year. So there's always the possibility of another visit later this year! Plus, as great as this last trip was I think we might be swearing off the dog days for a while. Just too hot. There are so many other places in this world to visit... But there's only one New Orleans...

                1. re: kukubura

                  You haven't truly experienced New Orleans until you've seen the Saints in the dome and been to Jazz Fest.

                  1. re: JazzyB

                    i advocate mardi gras over Jazz Fest. food aside, JF has gotten to the point of just being a bunch of people guarding blankets hundreds of feet away from stages they can barely see. in the heat. i slip in to grab my must-have food items for the year and slip out. MG, OTOH, is magical...so many opportunities for rare, hilarious, and beautiful moments.

                    1. re: kibbles

                      I've been to Mardi Gras a few times, back in the 90s. One of the trips some friends drove down in a conversion van and slept wherever we could find a parking spot. It was a special time.

                      1. re: kukubura

                        I contend that one should do Mardi Gras three times.

                        The first is a must.
                        The second is to assure one, that what they thought they saw, was correct.
                        The third is so that they will never pine to go back again.

                        For us, we have done MG about 20 times, so do not need to see how it is, nowadays. Wife rode the floats for even more years, so she's "been there - done that." We have both done myriad balls (she as a "callout"), and I as an attendee.

                        For us, now, it's about the City, the dining experience, and the rest will be left to others.

                        We only hope that they enjoy!

                        Hunt

                      2. re: kibbles

                        "A bunch of people guarding blankets" vs " a bunch of people roping off the neutral ground and adults standing on ladders curbside", I choose JF everytime. However, everyone should experience MG at least once.

                        Oh and kukubura, should Mardi Gras entice you, plan on doing the majority of your dining lunchtime. Most parades roll dinnertime.

                        1. re: JazzyB

                          I think we're going to continue doing "off-season" visits or visits during smaller festivals. We just kind of like the manageable buzz of it, rather than the out-and-out chaos of the big events. We're easy going like that...

                          1. re: kukubura

                            You should try the Uptown Carnival parades in the week before Mardi Gras. Babylon, Muses &c. These are manageable. The weekend day parades are great fun, too, especially Thoth which is MUCH better if you see Hermes on the previous Friday because you get to see the same floats hopeless re-cast into another theme. It's a riot. And restaurant mania doesn't really get going until the weekend before. Uptown spots are busy but not too bad. (Although I must say that I had dinner at Commander's on a Bacchus Sunday years ago an)d it was quite pleasant: everyone else was on the street

                            1. re: hazelhurst

                              This is such a weird tangent! I don't remember seeing a trip report that turned into people planning a poster's next visit for them! I love it.

                            2. re: kukubura

                              Then come during football season. Fan or not, being in the dome with the Who-dats is something you won't soon forget. It is electric. You will truly feel the heart of the city. Fall is one of the lovliest times of the year here (weather wise).

                              1. re: JazzyB

                                Exactly true about the the Dome -- I'm not much of a sports fan of any stripe but have had some great times watching the Saints. And -- though the $14 is steep by any standard -- the bloody mary's are mighty fine.

                                If you're in town for MG, be sure to catch the rice & beans parade that strolls through the Marigny on Lundi Gras. The Marigny parades lack the uptown glitz (and ladders) but are really a ton of fun for the 21+ crowd.

                                (Though a little off topic, I'm with Kibbles regarding JF. Certainly everyone should go a couple of times but -- for me -- it's not nearly as good a time as French Quarter Fest. I attribute that to a certain dislike of inescapable crowds. But the thing that really irks me is that a non-LA company has the beer concession, aside from a solitary Abita booth.)

                                1. re: montuori

                                  Inescapable crowds is exactly how I'd describe the last FQ Fests. Butt to belly barely moving masses by Woldenberg. IMO neither the food nor music compares to JF. You can always go VIP to JF. We did that the first 3 years it was offered. No chairs to carry, no lines for drinks or bathrooms( plus they are clean and airconditioned). Respite from the sun and no sitting on the ground with the masses. Parking directly outside the gate. It does get a bit pricey when you are going both weekends. "Diminishing returns" for sure, but it does address the crowd issue. And yea, Abita should be the official beer of JF.

                              2. re: kukubura

                                I am with you, 100% on that.

                                Enjoy,

                                Hunt

                              3. re: JazzyB

                                imo, if youre near ropes and ladders during MG youre doing it wrong. breakfast parties, costuming in St. Anne, and our personal MG rituals are leaps and bounds more amazing than standing in a crowd of people not even masked.

                                as for going VIP to JF, im not sure thats a sustainable alternative.

                      3. Thanks for the write up. Am a vegetarian...and enjoyed it immensely!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pedalfaster

                          So the the marrow bones would be out then, eh? ;)

                          Actually, my first NOLA trip report was as a pescatarian during the period when we were in between being full-on vegetarians and ravenous omnivores. NOLA as a pescatarian is easy, as a full vegetarian much trickier. Either way, you have to sort of take the tactic we took in eastern Europe as vegetarians: "We ordered garlic soup and assume the stock is vegetable-based... but who knows!"

                        2. The Pimms Cup at Tujaque's is one of the city's best-kept secrets: Head-and-shoulders better than the one at Napoleon House or any other version I've ever had.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Boatman

                            Right? How great is it? I think it's a bridge between a NOLA Pimm's and a traditional English Pimm's with a bit of a fruitier make-up.

                            1. re: kukubura

                              We are just back and I thought we were busy. WOW. I also had the goat empanda and it was just one more great treat in a great restaurant. I commend you on your stamina. Your mix of bar hops with spectacular meals is quite an accomplishment. Happy 5th. We are past 31 and while we could not keep up with you we gave it a great try.

                              1. re: Hockey19

                                We're pros. Do not attempt this on your own.

                                Your trip sounds great too!

                                1. re: kukubura

                                  Yes. It takes serious training, and then reserve, to do what you did. Lesser folk would have fallen into the gutter, to be swept up by the street cleaners!

                                  "Do not try this [that] at home... "

                                  Hunt

                          2. So.much.fun. I envy you both your cast iron constitutions too.

                            1. Fabulous review, as always. Just a delight to read!

                              Happy Anniversary.

                              Sorry that it was so warm, but that is what we would have expected (for the first time in many years, we did Sydney, in their Winter, rather than the Deep South).

                              You are better than I have ever been. I think that my lovely, young wife has done dessert at Galatoire's once, in the last two decades, and I can ONLY manage a tiny taste. Way to go!

                              Sorry that CP's lost the reservations, but I have had similar experiences, even with FAX'es, telephone calls, and e-mails. Still, they made it up to you, so that is worth the note.

                              We have had similar results at Brigtsen's, when surrounded by louder tables. Maybe a part of the architecture? I can only recall one diner, when WE were the loudest table, and we are almost always quitet.

                              You hit some spots, that we have not managed to fit into the scheme, and those comments are greatly appreciated.

                              Glad that you had a great trip, and again, Happy Anniversary!

                              Hunt