5-Day trip report (long!)
We had a very nice 5 days in New Orleans this past week. As expected, we did not get to all the places on our list in that amount of time, but we did eat and drink well. Here’s a report of the food and drink part of the trip.
We arrived in the Quarter late on Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the Carosel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. We had bartender Chris Hannah’s neighborhood-by-neighborhood recommendations from a few years ago as a guide. I had my first Sazerac and my wife ordered an Aviation. We were waited on by bartender Marvin Allen and I was impressed that he didn’t flinch when I ordered this classic cocktail off-menu. I’m not really a fan of the anise-flavored liquers, so a Sazerac will probably never be my drink of choice, but I wanted to try one while I was in New Orleans and I suppose this one was done just fine, but I don’t really have anything to compare it to. My wife’s Aviation was a little heavy on the crème de violette and the result was an overly flowery drink . Not undrinkable, but not that impressive. Then we headed over to Kingfish for some food and more drinks. Our server was under-trained and/or inexperienced, unfortunately, leaving us with that uncomfortable feeling when the service is awkward and clumsy. Chris McMillian was behind the bar, so I thought we were in luck. We tried to get another Aviation but they didn’t have any crème de violette, so we asked them to make it with St. Germain instead. It was difficult to get the hostess/waitress to understand what we were talking about since she had apparently never heard of these ingredients. She also knew very little about the wines on their list when we inquired. I had a crab corn bisque and it was the best of the dishes we ordered here, rich and full of flavor. The rotisserie chicken was dry and underseasoned even though it is presented with a syringe of broth stuck in it and injected into the meat tableside. The sea scallops were far better, but we were not too impressed with the overall experience at Kingfish. I think I expected a bit more from the cocktail experience given the reputation of McMillian.
By that time Arnaud 75 had opened and we headed over and were in luck to find Chris Hannah behind the bar. The whole place exuded that old world sophistication, dark woods, low light, bartenders in white tuxedos, perfect! Hannah fixed us up with a bourbon drink of his called a Rebennack named after and created in honor of musician Dr. John. He didn’t tell me all that was in it, but it was like an Old Fashioned and it was excellent, balanced and flavorful. Hannah was a pleasure to talk with, the service was relaxed and skilled and things were going much better after a couple drinks at Arnaud’s. Then we headed over to Three Muses in the Marigny for some music. I had an Orange Blossom Sazerac made with orange-fennel bitters, vanilla infused whiskey and Cointreau, another potent full flavored sipping cocktail.
The next day started with espresso at Sptifire (solid even by Pacific Northwest standards, I’d say) and croissants at Croissant d’Or, also delicious and well made. We ended up doing this continental breakfast most of the mornings. We had wanted to have lunch at Commander’s, but when I realized it was Sunday Brunch only and we didn’t want to eat that much food, we switched over to brunch at Coquette, which had the best food of the trip for us. I had crabmeat over Vadouvan popcorn rice and browned butter bits ( It doesn’t sound like much but it was fantastic) and friend shrimp with aioli. Pepper jelly and pickled watermelon rind (not quite as impressive). My wife had redfish with eggplant relish. The fish was moist and had crispy skin that she said was delicious. I had a La Reve (g'vine gin, St. Germain, Chartreuse, lime, absinthe, sugar) which to my tastes was an excellently balanced absinthe cocktail. Manager Jacob was great to chat with and gave us lots of good recommendations for later in the trip, most of which were already on my list, but it was nice to have them validated. After a brief rest, we headed over to Kermit Ruffin’s Treme Speakeasy which was lots of fun, but more about music than food and drink. I did get some red beans and rice and it was tasty but a really huge portion. My wife made it clear there would be consequences later if I ate too much of it, but I’m glad I at least got to taste it. We ended with a nightcap at Sylvain and being a Tom Petty fan, I had to try a Benmont Tench - Cognac, Vermouth, Peychaud’s Bitters, Orange Bitters. Not quite sweet enough for my tastes, but I was not too picky at this point. Sylvain is a nice dark bar, we never got back to have any of their food, though.
We had a breakfast disaster at a newish spot on Rampart, Mr. Gregory’s. Its kind of a French breakfast lunch bakery but there was something really weird going on. They didn’t open until 10 AM and when they did open they seemed disorgazined and unprepared. My wife had the worst French Onion soup she’s ever had, telling me it tasted flavorless even though the stock was a dark brown. It was also luke warm and there was no offer to heat it up. We were so hungry by this point we just took what was given, but she didn’t have more than a few bites and no amount of salt improved things at all. I had a room temp pain perdu that was probably from the day before. It was set down on my table with no plate. It was a shame because the menu looks so good for light French fare and I think they must know something about food based on how the pastries looked, but it didn’t taste good. Truly awful. Lunch was far better at Peche with the standout being the crab eggplant gratin, we devoured that in seconds! Also very good were the crab artichoke fritters and and the shrimp bisque. I also had a 3rd Ward Zombie with Nocello for an interesting nutty twist on that fruity tropical rum drink. I finished with key lime pie, very good.
Dinner was at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau. We didn’t get to sit on the balcony since it was raining and that was one of the main reasons for going there so a bit disappointing. We had the tiny crab claws in truffle vinaigrette, the shrimp remolade and the crabmeat ravigote with fried capers. The later was the standout. My wife had gulf fish Mueniere and I had Creole Courtbouillon which didn’t really seem all that different from a basic gumbo. I wished the sauce were less thick and more like broth. These entrees were OK, but not that exciting. Service was fine, but we were not that impressed overall for what it costs to dine there.
The next day’s lunch was at Luke and I loved it. I had a French 75 and the crabmeat maison salad with horseradish and shaved egg. I was surprised how well crabmeat paired with horseradish, I would’ve thought the delicate crab would be overpowered, but not so. Served with grilled crostini. I didn’t see the Pacific Northwest and the Atlantic Northeast oysters until we were leaving, but as I mentioned in the latest oyster thread, the nice oyster shucker offered me a taste of a gulf oyster and I was very surprised at how briney and delicious it was without any topping at all. We met lots of good and friendly people all over New Orleans and it truly made us feel more welcome.
Early dinner was at Domenica and we were not very hungry so I just had the vegetable minestrone with duck broth. WOW! It came as a plate of diced carrots, zucchini, and green beans, perfectly blanched, topped with sausage bread pudding. Then hot duck broth with just a touch of five-spice flavor was poured over. This was an incredible dish, almost too salty with the broth and the sausage, but so so tasty for me, just huge flavors, well seasoned and perfectly prepared and presented. After eating at the Besh and Link spots, I realized it sometimes works out best if you go where you know the chefs take the time to do things well even if you don’t find a lot of stuff on their menus exciting. I was blown away by this dish.
We had to do one more trip to Coquette and it was even better than before. Jacob was again super friendly, spending a lot of time chatting with us and just being a fantastic host, regaling us with hilarious stories of Jazz Fest, local celebrities and eccentric characters and just how great living in NOLA is. We had their gin-based French 75, some fries and fried shrimp but the amazing dish was the king salmon tartare with trout roe, smoked marcona almonds, tangerines, basil oil, shaved cucumbers and microgreens and a buttermilk sauce. This was another dish with absolutely huge flavors in every tiny bite, meticulously and gorgeously prepared. A dish like this and the minestrone at Domenica can carry an entire trip. We had to leave to get to a concert but I would’ve loved to stay and try other things there. I wished I could’ve had the sea scallops with ndjua and lardons.
We had an unremarkable breakfast at Criollo. Our last meal of the trip before a flight home was a debris pot roast po’ boy from NOLA Poboys on Boubon St. It was also really good, packed with meat and a fantastic tasting jus to pour over it.
All in all it was a great trip. I could easily spend twice as long there and still not eat at all the places I would like.