Flying in over the swamp, I felt nothing but anxious excitement. I haven’t been back since 2003 and I’m still kicking myself in the butt that I haven’t. This is a city that doesn’t compare to any other in the U.S. Some people try to compare it to Las Vegas and I think that’s a slap in the face. New Orleans is one of a kind, a cherished drunken city. If there’s a reason to party and celebrate, New Orleans has the answer. On this trip, I wanted to see the city. Not just the French Quarter. I love this city. I can’t say this enough. It’s the vibe. The smiles. The conversations. The humidity wraps around you like an angry chimpanzee, but the alcohol eases its grip. And the food, that’s the tranquilizer. And once you fall into a trance, a soundtrack is constantly playing. A trumpet solo in the distance, minutes later an accordion and washboard are having an argument and then the click of a street dancer’s shoes. This is New Orleans. A small part of it at least. The food, drinks, music and most importantly the people. New Orleans is a world of its own. I will try to describe it for those who have never been, but they will only be words.
New Orleans isn’t just a city. It’s a lifestyle. You see the old mansions and porches with magnificent columns. Columns holding up memories of segregation and then there are columns of hope after devastation. Yet, when you sit and talk to the locals, it’s not hope. It’s life. You don’t sit and hope; you get up and move on. We met one young woman on the trolley who left before Katrina and didn’t come back until four years later. Now she says she wants to “get out of the city”. No she doesn’t. She says these words, but the city is her. Strong, but has a distracting front (escape = Bourbon Street). But at her core, she will re-establish her roots here and become entranced in this amazing life.
I could sit and write pages on the cuisine. If you’re looking to fall in love and then into a coma, you need to just walk around New Orleans. From the upscale restaurants like Restaurant August to the quick and simple Acme Oyster House, New Orleans is filled with amazing food. We went to Boucherie, Restaurant August, Dante’s Kitchen, Bouche, Domenica, Café Du Monde and many others. We were there almost four days and I swear it was focused on the cuisine. The best restaurants? I have no clue! They are amazing in their own way. However, I will never forget my meals at Boucherie and Restaurant August. Like I said, I could write pages, instead I’ll talk about these two. Boucherie is up in Riverbend, tucked on a side street. You could walk past it and not know. It is a small house that may sit 25 people. We sat at the bar and the food started coming. We learned the fryer was broken and I wept inside. No, but seriously. I was looking forward to some boudin balls. We were served a local green salad with herb vinaigrette, an amazing duck confit with roasted vegetables and muscadines. Then next was the smoked grilled scallops on a sugar cane with roasted kale. It was something new to me and amazing. The smoke taste and then the hints of sugar. Genius! James, the owner, rigged up a fryer in the back and brought out some amazing French fries. And suddenly the skies parted and a boudin ball with garlic aioli fell in front of me. He served it with a rare Danish IPA that he searched out himself; Mikkeller. This is Heaven. We rolled out, literally, and found ourselves cheering on ‘Bama at Cooter Brown’s. For those that don’t know, Cooter is just a nickname, not a birth name. Don’t fret. After somewhat of a break, we had plans for Restaurant August. Some back story. I flew in on Friday early to stage at Restaurant August. My flight was delayed and I got to the hotel at 12:30, the heart of the lunch rush. I went at 1:30 and met with Chef De Cuisine Michael Gulotta. We sat and chatted and it turned out that the Discovery Channel was filming Chef John Besh in the kitchen so things weren’t meant to be. Literally, Chef John Besh was right there with cameras around him. I felt like I was watching a rock star. And we’re back. So my lady and I were pretty excited about this meal. We sat and the courses began. It started with a beet salad with black-eyed pea croutons which we unintentionally inhaled. The pic has remnants of beet blood. That’s about it. Needless to say, we somewhat enjoyed it. Next was the blue crab and black truffle gnocchi. This dish literally melted in your mouth. The sweetness of the crab, the pungent truffle and the savory cream sauce melded together. Next was the rabbit pasta with red gravy. Red gravy is a tomato sauce with some kick. That is the best way to describe it. This was Amanda’s favorite dish and who am I to argue? This dish was an Italian trapped in a New Orleans body. It was a perfect mixture of both worlds. And the rabbit sausage was probably one of the best sausages I have had. Ever. Before we could get our next order in, our waiter brought a gift from Chef Michael; ouefs a la coque (soft cooked egg). This is a traditional French dish, but of course they took it to another level. They made an egg yolk custard, then topped it with a egg white foam and caviar. Rich, small and the best way to crossover to the next dish. Next was a soft crab almondine in a brown butter sauce. To me, this blew everything out of the water. Apparently, I love crab and butter. But this took it to another level. The crab was fresh, the crunch of the almonds off set the tenderness of the crab and the butter, it was powerful, yet subtle enough to not overtake the other flavors. This was a perfect dish. This was the moment we were preparing our white flags. However, Robert (the best waiter I have yet to cross) described us the dessert. I told him he could describe dog shit to me and I would order it, after asking what breed it was and how it was prepared. True story. He loved his job, the food and the restaurant and it showed. Next came a “non-deconstructed” banana pudding. Being Southern, this was my icing on the cake. Caramelized bananas, “wafers” and the pudding…how can I go to Heaven twice in a day? I shouldn’t ask questions and just go with it. Erica, the sommelier, brought out a Pinot Noir to pair with it. We passed on the port. We were finally coming to an end. Or so we thought. Another dish came, a dessert plate. It came with little bites of fudge, a shortbread cookie, some type of raspberry candy and of course a praline (pronounced praw-line. They will correct you on this if nothing else). Restaurant August is easily in my top 5 of dining experiences. From the staff, wine and food, everything was above and beyond.
We spent the rest of the trip exploring New Orleans. From Jackson Square to Mid-City. We met amazing people along the way who told amazing stories. Including a drunken man who stumbled out of a bar, followed us and warned us not to go in there. Warned that they will get us drunk and people will be all around us. Gutter people! Great guy he was. I hear a lot of people say that New York or Chicago folks are tough, hard. I’m going to have to disagree. New Orleans has been nailed with disasters; Katrina, the oil spill and yet you cannot tell with the attitude they have. The city still sings, the people still dance and echoes of “laissez les bon temps roulez” can be heard throughout. It was a good time indeed. Thank you New Orleans. I will see you soon.