Monday, March 7, 2011

Eating My Way through NoLA

My fabulous stepmom turned 50 this year, so the family decided to have a little trip to celebrate.  Her and my father took a cruise out of New Orleans for a week, so my sister and I flew down over President's day weekend to meet them in port and spend a few days seeing the sights of NoLA.  I, of course, took every opportunity to overeat and try the local flavors that we just don't get up here in Boston.

I arrived late Saturday night and met my sister and her boyfriend at a restaurant on Bourbon Street, just down and around the corner from our hotel.  I've never been to New Orleans before and I must admit, being on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night made me feel like an old prude lady!  The whole beads-when-it's-not-Mardi-Gras thing and the flashing.... wow.  I suppose I had always pictured young co-ed girls doing the flashing thing, but we are talking about middle aged women.  People who have ZERO business doing these types of things.  Either way, we struggled through the crowds and ended up a a little restaurant, La Bayou.

I loved the ambiance of the French Quarter.  Almost all the restaurants and bars in the area open right up onto the streets, which make you feel like you're still a part of the city and all it's action.  Sort of like I imagine cafes in Europe to be like.  Everything just opens right up - a luxury that we don't get in Boston due to our four very drastic seasons.  While the restaurant was on Bourbon Street, our little table was tucked away from the madness of the street.    Once we were seated, I took one look at the beers on tap and was instantaneous drawn to The Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale.  This was SUCH a good beer - I had it several times throughout the weekend.
We started off with an order of Boudin Balls, which were described as a "Cajun Tradition of ground beef, pork, rice, onions, peppers and seasonings all rolled together with a crispy coating, served with Creole mustard cream sauce for dipping."  These were excellent - the crunch on the outside actually had a nice crunch to it - rather than a deep fried, greasy feeling. 
For my entree, I ended up with the Creole Jambalaya.  This dish, while it contained tasty flavors, was a bit on the dry side.  This was also my first introduction the fact that every single meal I ate in New Orleans was served with an excessive amount of french bread.  One does not need that many carbs!

On Sunday morning, we woke up a bit on the later side, so we didn't get a chance to grab any breakfast en route to meet our parents.  I was starving, so I was grateful that our day included a ferry ride across the river to the neighborhood Algiers Point.  We walked around a bit, soaking in all the amazing architecture.  It's fascinating to see some of these narrow little houses, painted in all colors of the rainbow, showcasing amazingly intricate amounts of detail on all the woodwork.  I want to take one of the little tiny houses and transplant it up here!  Luckily, there is a little hidden gem of a cafe right off the from where the ferry drops you off:  The Dry Dock Cafe.

I decided to go with a Muffaletta Sandwich, which is a ham and salami sandwich, served with an olive salad and provolone.  I've never had one of these before, but I thought it was pretty good.  I think I just much prefer a sandwich that is light on meat and heavy on veggies.  I don't think you can go wrong with sweet potato fries - especially not when they are crispy like the ones I had here.

But the real gem, and probably the best meal of the trip, was the Barbeque Shrimp appetizer.  My dad ordered this and the sauce was out of this world.  The shrimps themselves were done well and taste, but the sauce.... good god, the sauce was heaven.  It wasn't barbeque like we northerners know it, but something slighly spicy and tangy.  Trust me, all of that french bread that came with it, was used to sop up every last drop of that sauce.  I will be doing some research to find out exactly how to recreate cajun barbeque. 

My family took a paddleboat tour down the river Sunday afternoon and once we were back on land, the three couples I was traveling with decided to head back to their hotels rooms and rest before heading out for my stepmom's 50th birthday celebration.  Because it was a gorgeous 75 degree day and the sun was shining, I set out upon the French Quarter to do some wandering on my own.  I had been hearing all these rumblings at Cafe du Monde - a local place famous for serving beignets and coffee.  I am often skeptical of any place that reeks of tourists, but I decided to wander over.

I waited in a massive to-go line for about 30 minutes.  I decided upon a little bag of three beignets because that was their smallest size.  I took my $3 bag and wandered back out onto the street to find a perch to people watch and eat my treat.  I had planned to eat only one and even went so far as to offer up one of my beignets to a local who was just taking in the day. 
All I have to say is, YUM.  These are doughy perfection, topped with enough powdered sugar to cause quite a mess, but the sugar is necessary to add sweetness.  It's not like a doughnut in the tradition sense, nor is it like fried dough, it's a cross and it's awesome.  Again, I had planned on only eating one.  In the end, I ate 2.5 and then felt incredible guilty.  Dear self control- you fail.
I ended up walking around the French Quarter, popping into the little shops and taking pictures with my new Nikon.  I love this camera and surprisingly, I feel less dorky carrying it around than I had expected!   The streets of the French Quarter in the afternoon are MUCH different than the streets at night.  They are clean and the people that are out are not drunken slobs.  There's no one standing on the balconies begging you to pay up for some beads.  You are able to wander through and appreciate the distinct and unique culture and architecture.

I cannot remember the name of the restaurant where we ended up having my stepmom's celebratory dinner - all I know is that I had more Southern Pecan beers and some terrific crawfish cakes and crawfish chowder.  I was stuffed from eating all those afternoon beignets, so I couldn't stomach much more than this!  The creole sauce on the cakes was a little heavy, but over all, both were really good.

The food in New Orleans is stellar.  I couldn't eat it all the time because it's not necessarily "healthy" or condusive to any sort of dieting, but it was a fabulous weekend of food and drinks.  You can't beat spending a weekend with the family exploring a new city.  I loved the live music jazz scene and would be thrilled to go back some time for Jazz Fest or maybe another random weekend sometime in the future.

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