Roadtrip: New Orleans, Part 2

When I’m in New Orleans, fried-food lover that I am, of course I stop at the Cafe du Monde for beignets:

Beignets and milk, Cafe du Monde

Beignets and milk, Cafe du Monde

I know it’s Mardi Gras tradition to eat king cake, but I tried some and didn’t find it particularly interesting or tasty.  Seemed like a very pretty coffee cake to me.  Instead I went to the Court of the Two Sisters to try out some other traditions: mimosas and a jazz brunch buffet:

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I’ve been to the place one before, many years ago, and I think my memory gilded the place a bit.  The open-air courtyard is lovely and it was nice to relax and listen to live music with your breakfast, but the buffet was fairly unremarkable except for the price.

A better repeat visit was Cochon:

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The woodsmoked oysters were just as delicious as last time, buttery and spicy and garlicky with a little smoke, and ridiculously huge three-biters.  If you tried to slurp one of these down, you’d choke.  Fried livers were crisp and greaseless, but not quite as molten inside as I’ve had elsewhere, while the headcheese was a nice amuse.  The cured fish plate was, to be honest, kind of boring, if well-executed.  I don’t know, I guess Manhattan’s Jewish delis have spoiled me for that kind of thing.  The ribs, though, with the pickled watermelon rind relish, they were excellent.  Peeled right off the bone, juicy, smoky all through, and best of all, still tasted good a day later (I packed half of them as my lunch on the flight home).  Satsuma sherbert was basically an orange dreamsicle, but I appreciate the cookie.

New stop this year was Sylvain:

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Omar’s Leap cocktail was, I think, the first I’ve had with Madeira.  Given that its ingredients include cinnamon and nutmeg, I was prepared for mulled holiday wine, but the spices were surprisingly and pleasingly subdued.  Instead it was rather like an alcoholic vanilla milkshake.  As for the food, the Southern antipasti plate was overly generous, with *deep breath* pickled eggs, pickled dill green beans, chorizo (Spanish-style), smoked duck breast, hummus, raw milk cheese, pickled squash and bell peppers, microgreens dressed with vinaigrette, mustard and bread.  I mean, amazing value for the price, but a coherent plate of food, it was not.  Antipasti at home is whatever you’ve got lying around; you pay for antipasti at a restaurant to be curated properly.

Anyway, the green beans were the best, super-dilly and sharp with vinegar, while the duck breast was too smoky to really enjoy the fat melting in your mouth.  I kept having to breath the smoke out of my nose.  Main course went much better, an absolutely ridiculous and ridiculously delicious amount of garlic in the sausage, and then the dessert was a really creative execution of the classic float, with a locally made root beer and caramel ice cream, which rounded out the herbal notes in the root beer very nicely.

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Roadtrip: New Orleans, Part I

Last stop on the roadtrip was New Orleans.  I think a lot of people don’t realize that the festivities actually start a good month before Mardi Gras itself.  The town gets decked out and there are parades every couple of days, and you can enjoy it all without having to smash through a drunken crowd for a decent view.

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And enjoy the other laidback cool/weird things you stumble upon (cats for entropyenator):

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Food in the next post, because New Orleans is just one of those places where the food deserves its own post.

Trip: New Orleans Jazz Fest, Part IV (The Fest)

Day One (Friday): Really disjointed.  I’ve never been to an outdoor music festival before, although I’ve been to outdoor festivals.  I guess the major difference is, music fans are way, way more rabid, and therefore ready to invade your personal space, than people who go to state fairs or renfairs or art fairs or food fairs.  Also, it had been raining for several days and only let up Friday afternoon, and Jazz Fest was in a horse-racing track.  So, horse-shit smelling mud that could suck you in up to the knee if you weren’t careful, and of course, the closer you were to the stage, the deeper it was.  I came prepared to ditch my sneakers afterward, but I wasn’t expecting that I would have to throw them out only after the first day.

More from a slightly shell-shocked first-timer

Trip: New Orleans Jazz Fest, Part III (Food)

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Food!  Food!  Foodfoodfoodfood, oh, God, I’m still having indigestion.  But it was worth it.

Pictured:

Muriel’s: Blackened redfish with crawfish tails, double-cut pork chops that were incredibly juicy and tender and salty-savory (more like a good ham than a chop), and a purple sunrise cocktail (not pictured, on the fruity side but well-balanced).  Found out later it’s haunted, but did not see a thing when we were there.

Café du Monde: Beignets and frozen café au lait.  Beignets, hot, crisp exteriors with airy interiors, just a magical kind of fried happiness, are my strongest memory of my first visit to this city.  Still so good.  The café au lait was really blended fine, ice particles that melted before you could crunch with your teeth.  Also, conveniently close to the French Market where we did some quick souvenir shopping (or Bourbon Street, which we walked through, quickly, just so we could say we went there, because it is still icky tourist).

Willie Mae’s Scotch House: Amazing fried chicken.  The breast meat was dripping juice.  The good, lick-your-chin kind of greasy.  And a breading that went crunchsaltcrunch that you dream about for hours later.  Also, the homemade lemonade is real, legit homemade, tangy instead of over-sugared, and the sweet peas are really good, too.  Fried okra (not pictured) was a bit of a let-down.  It was fried fine, just nothing special flavor-wise.

Cochon: Spicy oysters roasted over a wood fire, popping briny and warm and delicious in your mouth.  Fried boudin balls were less good, the spice level keeping me from assessing the other flavors in the mix, but those pickled peppers were awesome.  Gumbo was fine, nothing standout, and the fried alligator was like every other alligator I’ve tried: stringy and tough.  Stick with the oysters.

Roosevelt Hotel: Sazerac tasted like a Sazerac should taste.  I’ve had more exciting twists on it, but you go here for the standard and that’s what you get.  The shrimp and grits paired plump, spicy shrimp with smooth, cream-cheesy grits, while the cochon benedict suffered somewhat from really dry pulled pork.

Not pictured (either because it was too dark for the camera, or I was too busy drinking to bother snapping photos):

Trip: New Orleans Jazz Fest, Part II (Non-Fest Doings)

We hit up some of the historical landmarks in town, including the old Ursuline Convent, the Cabildo and Arsenal (not pictured, and sadly, since the Arsenal had a really cool exhibit on early proto rock ‘n roll acts in New Orléans, and their somewhat forgotten part in creating rock music), and most of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 before we got rained out.  Also, a couple more cool local details, like horse-headed iron street posts and sidewalk tiles spelling out street names (not limited to the French Quarter).  Lastly, we wanted a taste of the local music scene, and as the Jazz Fest itself ends oddly early for an outdoor festival, with the last acts finishing around 7 PM, we hit up Frenchmen Street Friday night.  It was buzzy and jumping, with an alleyway crafts market over there, a brass band busking on the corner here, and music pouring out of every club.  We caught the end of the TBC Brass Band‘s act in some club that I can’t remember except that it was one of the few that didn’t charge cover, and I wish we’d happened on it earlier [Edit: Vaso’s!  I did remember to note it in my phone’s memo app.  Bless smartphones].  I would’ve happily paid to see the whole thing–a little rough and ready, but with true verve.

Trip: New Orleans Jazz Fest, Part I (Pre-fest)

I was just down in New Orléans for the second weekend of Jazz Fest.  We had day passes for Friday and Saturday, but decided to fly in Wednesday.  At the time, we mostly made the decision because of the difference in plane ticket prices, but having that extra evening and full day to wander around town was the real benefit we got.  We stayed in Joe & Flo’s Candlelight Hostel, located in the Treme, and walked all over there, the French Quarter, a little of the Seventh Ward (mostly Frenchmen Street) and then cabbed in/out to a couple other areas for food; the Jazz Fest itself is held in a racetrack in Mid-City.  I’ve been to New Orléans once before, but my memories of that trip center almost exclusively on the French Quarter, which was then in full Anne Rice vampiric goth mode.*  So this time, I saw much more of the city, especially the non-tourist areas.  We walked whenever possible to take in more.  Most of the time what you hear about is the ironwork, but I was equally struck by the absolutely fearless plus commonplace use of bright colors, and the attention to detail in all exterior parts of the house.

*Wow, has that disappeared.  I remember it was July, but the streets were full of men and women in velvet and lace, with long sleeves and full skirts.  None of that now, though there’s still the odd haunted tour and voodoo store around.