Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Orleans

I have been wanting to write this post for a while. Watching the finale of Top Chef, one of my favourite TV shows right now, that is set in New Orleans prompted me to finish it up this week. And it's Mardi Gras today!!

I got to spend four days in New Orleans in 2004 (a year before Hurricane Katrina hit - I remember watching weather reports, worried a hurricane would hit that year also) when my colleague C and I were sent there for a conference. I had such a great time! It was one of three cities I wanted to visit in the USA (the others being New York and San Francisco). It has such a good vibe. And the food! The FOOD! There is nothing better when you travel to a city like New Orleans than to have all your meals paid for. This meant I had three solid meals a day, with dessert at lunch AND dinner! I probably would not eat so much if I was paying for it myself.

I regret not having a blog (or a digital camera) earlier when I think of instances like my trip to New Orleans. However, at the back of my project diary (to scribble notes during lectures), I had an impromptu food diary. I can assure you that you would not be interested in anything that was in the front of my notebook...

Here are some of the highlights, focused mainly on food, of course:
  • My first meal in New Orleans consisted of crawfish pie and pecan pie at Remoulade. My first taste of crawfish was great. The crawfish pie was spicy and seasoned so well. The pecan pie, the first of many, was great, not too sweet with a generous layer of chopped pecans, not whole like I was used to. The highlight of my trip was leaving Remoulade and encountering a wedding on Bourbon Street with a band, waving white napkins. So fun and festive! That's how I imagine New Orleans!

  • Wedding party on Bourbon Street.

  • On the next day, after going on a swamp tour, C and I went to Central Grocery for a muffaletta for lunch. For such a renown sandwich, I was surprised that it was served in a regular Italian grocery store with a deli counter. Nothing flashy except for the awesome combination of cheese, cold cuts and olives, with a generous dash of olive oil. I especially like the crustry bread with sesame seeds and the pickled vegetables. C & I found a bench by the Mississipi River and ate our muffaletta, while downing cold iced tea.
  • For dinner, C made a reservation to Nola Restaurant, the cheaper of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. We were offered a complementary choice of different breads and jalapeno corn muffin. I loved the corn muffin!! We had a great meal with very generous (American) portions. I started out with crab cakes as a started and had "pecan crusted flounder with caramelized grapefruit in a meunière sauce" as a main. I remember being especially dazzled by the grapefruit! Dessert was chocolate torte. All very good!

  • C & I having dessert at Nola Restaurant.

  • The first day of the conference, C & I snuck out for lunch. I had my first ever po-boy, which was an oyster one. What can I say, other than deep fried goodness in a sandwich? Yum! Later that day, we took a trolley to the Garden District to admire the beautiful mansions and walked around Audubon Park. My second highlight of the trip was going to Preservation Hall for some jazz! For $5, I enjoyed one of the best concerts in my life. I especially enjoyed the trumpet player who also sang and the clarinet in Gershwin's Summertime! Love, love!

  • C & I woke up early to go have breakfast at Café du Monde before our lectures. There, we had chicory laced coffee with beignets. Deep fried goodness smothered in powder sugar? Need I say more? I thought it was amusing that all the waitresses and the cook were Vietnamese. My people! I thought I was being very smart by buying a tin of coffee there for $4.60, compared to $9 at the hotel. I was sorely disappointed to find out that you can buy that coffee at home, at the Asian grocery store. Supposedly, Café du Monde's coffee is popular among the Vietnamese! I thought that yellow container was familiar...

  • On the same day, C & I ventured right outside of the French Quarter for lunch and had a great authentic meal. The minute you step outside the French Quarter, you know it. Suddenly, everything seems to be rougher and we knew we should not venture much farther out. Our waiter was a tall black man, wearing, what I wrote: "a jazzy outfit with a top hat and all (and of course a gold tooth)". We were served what seemed to be very authentic Southern food. I had soft shell prawns, candied yams and sweet potato pie. C had stewed chicken. I did not write down where we went but I believe it was Praline Connection.

  • For our last meal, we went to Herbsaint, in the Warehouse District. We did not realize it was a pretty fancy restaurant. I had shrimp bisque and tried rabbit for the first time. I finished it with a delicious crème brulée.

  • I never tried gumbo, Jambalaya, turtle soup or alligator, because none of them interested me. There were plenty of other things to try. I did buy and bring back pralines but they were too sweet for my taste and my family did not love it either.

  • Other random things: I loved the architecture in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is crazy at night, beads and all. There are also many crazies, professing the word of the Lord, in New Orleans. I mean N'Awlins. Being a French speaker, I still did not know how to pronounce anything.

Bourbon Street after a night of partying.

I could go on and on. Can you tell I really loved New Orleans? I don't know if I will ever go back since I do believe in travelling to different places. I do recommend that anyone who has never been to go and enjoy the great culture there!


Anonymous said...

Excellent recount, Nina. One of these days, V and I are gonna road trip it from Bama to LA and I definitely wanna taste EVERYTHING the Big Easy has to offer.

Miss.Adventure said...

That would be an awesome trip!You'd have to bring elastic waistband pants!!

Anonymous said...

And my running shoes ;-)