Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eating My Way Across New Orleans

In order to travel as much as I do, something has to go and this "something" has usually been food.  I don't write about food a lot (like most travel writers) because I'm happy with a loaf of bread and a bag of fruit.  I'll give up a meal in order to buy those ever sky-rocketing tickets to museums or  . . .okay, I admit it, that vintage lace nightgown from France!   But let me tell you, New Orleans was different.  For one thing, every conversation you have with every single person you meet will eventually focus on food.  Everyone had an opinion--taxi drivers, hotel workers, bartenders, other tourists, waiters (they weren't afraid to talk about restaurants other than their own!).  By the time our five days were up, we had a two-page list of "must go to" restaurants.  It was impossible, of course, to go to all of them, but after my very first taste of gumbo, I was determined to try!
Oysters.  And more oysters.  I could not get enough oysters.  I had them crispy fried at SoBou, char-broiled at the French Market and on the half-shell everywhere else.  And then there was shrimp, crab and scallops.  My scallops floating on a sea of sweet potato puree at Emeril's was to die for!  My crab and asparagus salad at Louis' was light, fresh and well . . .perfect!

My travel buddy liked the sausage dishes and the heavier jambalaya.  At Kingfish, however, he ordered a local fish and it was brought to our table still sizzling on a red hot brick of Himalayan salt.  We were absolutely dumbfounded and had a long conversation with the waiter about food.  He was a California transplant.  "My first year in New Orleans, I gained thirty-five pounds," he said.

It seems we were eating all day long.  Sometimes we had lunch at 3 p.m.  Sometimes dinner wasn't until 11.  Even the bar food was good.  I can still taste those little pork sliders at the bistro next to the Ambassador Hotel.  "It's impossible to have a bad meal in New Orleans," one taxi driver told us.  "Even the hole-in-the-wall places are good."

I haven't been so enraptured by  food since Paris or San Francisco.  This is a foodie's destination, for sure.  Our last day we still had not tried beignets so we hoofed it over to Cafe du Monde where we were ushered to a table immediately.  (Go on a Monday afternoon!)  After all the seafood I had, the sugar-dusted pastries and deep roasted coffee was a nice change.  We sat under the green and white awnings and soaked in the food, the happy tourists, the beauty of the French Quarter, and simply sighed with pleasure.  We did not want it to end.

It was nice to realize that we are far from jaded--that we can still be surprised and I mean really surprised.  "You know, this has been one of the best trips we've ever had," I said.  My travel buddy's mustache was coated with white sugar.  "I know.  I can't believe it.  We've got to come back."

"Yeah, we didn't get to Mother's and get a Muffaletta sandwich."

"Or try the fried alligator."

"I've got to come back for more of those cheddar sausage biscuits.  And Oysters Rockefeller."

And gumbo.  Catfish.  Rosemary grits.  Red gravy.  Boudin with pickled peppers.  Sazeracs!   Crawfish.  Po'boys.  Chicory coffee.  Crepes.  Barbecue shrimp.  Pralines.  Sweet potato pie.  

Okay.  I'll stop now. 

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