Saturday, January 21, 2012

36 Hours in New Orleans

We actually spent seven luxurious days in NOLA, but if I blogged about all of it, it would get boring. Or at the least, I would get bored halfway through and might never get to some of the highlights. Instead, I'm going to boil down my recommendations for a 1.5 day food-centric excursion through the Crescent City, based on things I ate during this trip. I stayed in the French Quarter, so everything in this list is basically easily accessible from there. Someday I'll get back and roam a little more widely through other parts of the city.

Arrive. Eat an order of beignets and have a coffee at Cafe du Monde. It doesn't matter what time you arrive - any time is the perfect time for beignets. Enjoy the busy atmosphere, the old school uniforms that the servers wear, and the shower of powdered sugar that you will inevitably be wearing once you're done.

Lunch: stand in line at Central Grocery. It looks unbearably long, but it'll move fast, and you'll wind through what might as well be a museum of food oddities, but is actually a market. If there is only one of you, get a half a muffuletta. You probably won't finish the whole thing, but if you only get a quarter, you might long for one or two more bites. Also get a root beer in an old fashioned bottle. And some Zapp's potato chips if you like the salt to cut through the olivey goodness of the sandwich. Take your lunch to Jackson Square and eat it on the grass. They're closed Sunday and Monday and are only open til 5 on the other days, so plan accordingly.

Snack: walk into the Central Business District and grab a crepe and an espresso beverage at Merchant. Or a frozen yogurt at Pinkberry, because you can't go wrong with frozen yogurt. Or a Pimms Cup at Napoleon House Bar if you don't want to leave the Quarter and you want a refreshing drink surrounded by excellent atmosphere.

Dinner: start with the spinach salad at Muriel's. It's warmed slightly by the apple bacon vinaigrette, and topped with a perfect combination of sweet spiced pecans and thinly shaved sweet onions. I usually dislike raw onions, but these were thinly shaved enough that they just blended in with the rest of the salad rather than overwhelming it. Next, I'd have the butternut squash soup from Restaurant August. Butternut squash soup is everywhere, but this rendition was especially creamy and luxurious, just the right temperature, and garnished well. For an entree, I had so many crazy rich good dinners that it's hard to choose, but I guess the prime rib at Besh Steak wins, for being over the top and still excellent. It is probably the largest portion of meat I have ever been served. The veggies on the side were also lovely, though the potatoes were way too buttery. For dessert, I'd go back to Muriel's and its bread pudding, because bread pudding is a must in NOLA, and this one was rich and comforting and the portion size was right.

After dinner: dueling pianos and hurricanes at Pat O'Briens. Even the sixth rendition of Sweet Caroline sounds fine after a couple of hurricanes.

Super late: at 2:30am, a hard cider from the Dungeon poured into a plastic cup and drunk on the streets with all the revelers was pretty great.

Breakfast/Brunch: The corned beef hash and eggs at the Old Coffeepot plus the grits with roasted corn from Zea's plus some boudin and a pastry from Cake Cafe plus an cappucino shakerato (refreshing and strong despite its silly name) from Merchant would be my ideal combo while I recovered from the night before.

While you wait til you're hungry again, roam the shops in the French Quarter. Check out the Mardi Gras and Katrina exhibits at the Presbytere museum (it sounds like a weird juxtaposition, but it totally works). Sit on the benches and watch the boats on the Mississippi. Visit the excellent Aquarium. Browse through the cookbook shop on Toulouse.

Lunch: be more adventurous and leave the Quarter. Ride the St Charles streetcar to S Carrollton Ave @ Willow Street, and walk a block to Boucherie. I liked this place so much I would order the whole meal again without having to supplement from other places: get the duck confit po boy with roasted garlic, bread and butter pickles, arugula and creole tomatoes if you're a carnivore, or the curried vegetable stuffed roasted beet with red jasmine rice and beet hoisin if you're a vegetarian, and split an order of fries. We didn't sample cocktails here, but a sazerac is one of those quintessential things you should try in NOLA. The thai chili chocolate chess pie was fine - I wish my people had been willing to try the krispy kreme bread pudding, though.

Hop back on the street car and take it to Avenue Pub. The selection is great, and you get $2 off a pint between 4 and 6pm.

Dinner: you might be too full for another super rich meal, so sample a bunch of appetizers like the eggplant caviar and olive tapenade, Crispy Smoked Quail Salad with Pears and Bourbon Molasses Dressing, and fried pork cake with poached egg, spinach and warm lentil dressing at Bayona. Check out their beautiful courtyard and toast a successful trip. If you're too full for dessert, order the petit fours plate to go, and eat them in your hotel room after you've digested properly.

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