Eating in New Orleans

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November is an ideal time to visit New Orleans.  It’s quiet and has less of a Disneyland vibe, but New Orleans can’t hide its colorful street life and rhythms easily.  And one of the shining stars of this visit for me was the food of the city.

I had barely arrived at the home of Kit Wohl, cookbook writer, photographer, and  foodie (New Orleans Classic series.  See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_Wohl) when a steaming bowl of Crawfish Bisque was placed before me.  Diving face first into the velvety stew and marveling at the nuttiness of the rice on which it luxuriated, I knew then that with such an auspicious introduction, this visit would be like none other.

I was not disappointed.  With Kit as the spirit guide and my sister by my side, I ate my way through five days in a city where everything shimmered more brightly, sounded clearer, and tasted better.  The following is an attempt to capture in a few photos the sights, sounds, and tastes of that wonderful adventure .  There is no denying that spectacle is at the heart of New Orleans, and even in the quiet season, the city still rocks its mojo.

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First stop for an informal dinner was the landmark joint called Frankie and Johnny’swhere I shared a seafood boil with the Wohls.

Low on glamor and high on genuine and incredibly fresh NOLA fare.

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The next morning we hit Magazine Street and paid a visit to Vam Foss(http://nola.vomfassusa.com) where  oils, vinegars, and spirits live in beautiful casks. You can sample them all, and the sales folks will package and hand label them for you.   I left swooning. I think my eyes had permanently rolled back in my head. They mailed me my special selections (lemon balsamic, apple cider, and fig balsamic vinegar) in a stylish set of bottles nestled in special holder.

I passed on the absinthe, however.

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Talk about a specialty shop.

Next– no visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at a local farmers market.  This was a small one, but it was big on choice, quality, and personality.

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Okra was everywhere.  Gotta get it for making your gumbo.

It was a privilege to dine at Dooky Chase’s iconic restaurant, birthplace of the civil rights movement in the Treme quarter of New Orleans. It’s not a tourist stop and pretty much remains a neighborhood restaurant. The historic dining room was full.  We opted for the luncheon buffet.  The collard greens were my favorites out of all those I sampled during my visit.  Fried chicken and peach cobbler were over the moon.

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 Ms. Leah and Mr. Chase were out and about

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A mighty beautiful lady, Ms. Chase was tending to an okra stew in her humble kitchen. We had a nice chat.

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At this point, I still had not ventured into trying a fried oyster.  I resisted until hanging out at the River Walk and ended up sharing a few with my sister.  Now I am craving them and can’t understand why I thought I would not like them.

It was hard to not to run into some local color on the streets of the city.  Best way to see it all is to walk, walk, and walk some more.

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This bistro featured jerk chicken, ribs, and sauces with plenty of mojo.

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Put on your dancing shoes.

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Steamship punk artisans in the French Quarter market can design goggles and leather strapping for your next dirigible flight.  These guys and gals were adorable, really friendly,  and original.  Can’t see the bloke’s vampire fangs in this shot.

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I made Kit drive around the block a few times to chase this gorgeous lady down.  She  had spent the night in the emergency room of the hospital where she said they never bother homeless folks like herself.  What a wonderful spirit she had.  She pedaled around town full of optimism, soul, and the grace of God which she enthusiastically shared with me for a mere five bucks. Gotta love her.

Then it was time to do some cooking at Kit’s.  She walked me through a recipe in her kitchen.  A version of southern pepper shrimp that she called BBQ Shrimp, except no BBQ sauces or grills were involved.

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Start with a pound of butter (4 sticks), lots of whole garlic cloves (was that an entire head we used?), and 4 large sprigs of rosemary…

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Take a long whiff.  Soon lemons and lemon balsamic will be added. And then at least a quarter cup of ground pepper.

Don’t forget a dash or two of green tabasco (or red if you prefer).

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2 pounds of shrimp with heads, a good toss, and then into a roasting pan to broil in the oven for 2- 5 minutes.  Pour a glass of beer, ladle the shrimp into a bowl, put on a plastic bib, say a voodoo prayer, and gobble.  Your lips will burn before the third bite.  Just the way they should.

More local fare near Tulane at Dat Dog.  Hands down the best weiner I ever ate– basic German hotdog ( it was roasted) with Creole mustard and Asian slaw. Snapped with each sweet and spicy and creamy bite.  Rolls were rich and held up.   Choose from many sausage and hot dog styles and build your own.

And yup– we had fries with that. They were superb in texture and seasoning.  Had a nice crunch, too.

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A visit to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in the River Walk mall building featured an homage to the famous Cake Lady, Frances Kuyper.  There were very funky exhibits about the history of southern cuisine with a Louisiana focus…

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…and the famous History of the Cocktail exhibit, which has a full room of its own.  Don’t miss this!

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You’ll be thirsty afterwards…

And then it was time for some serious haute cuisine at Chef  Donald Link’s

Herbsaint Restaurant on Saint Charles Ave.

It was just nice enough of an evening to eat dinner outdoors.

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Since I was in an altered state of culinary bliss, I ate most of my plates before I could take snapshots of each of them. Highlights follow below:

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I suppose you might call this a deconstructed Spaghetti Carbonara, but it was an ethereal version.  The pasta was housemade, guanciale replaced the usual pancetta, and the broken egg sauce was created by me when my fork broke through a perfectly poached and then breaded and deep fried egg!  How’d they do that? It’s a secret. I assure you that there were at least 4 forks navigating through each dish.  I think I licked the plate.

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Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique. The rice had so many special touches– bits of liver, maybe some dried fruit, something spicy, nutty… Hell, I can’t remember anything except that I couldn’t stop eating it.

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More pommes frittes.  Light and crispy with a great pimento aioli.

We re-ordered these.

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Braised short rib with potato rosti and salsa verde. Melt-in-your mouth and fall-off-the-bone delicious.

I didn’t even get pictures of our desserts. Some sort of buttery brulé in a luscious shortcake crust was one of them.  It vanished off the plate.

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And right on cue, this ethereal New Orleans buggy showed up.  The horse and driver were taking a breather and I popped up to get a few shots (Kit’s magic hand here.)  Sweet nag.  Looks like the whole horse and buggy are floating in air.

I know I was when we left the restaurant.

–Fin

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