Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Orleans Installment Three: The Culinary Easy

I have deep respect for a particular vegetarian friend. I worry not a bit about securing options for dining with her when the opportunity arises…the friendship is worth the effort. But I concluded when I moved to New Orleans in late 1993 that this town…this tropical, delightfully smarmy Third World-esque haven was no place for a tee-totaling vegetarian. In other words, New Orleans and I would get along just fine.
Having not set foot back in New Orleans in fifteen years saw me missing lots of things about the Easy. It’s a city of texture, sound, shape and taste that’s quite frankly unrivaled. Sure there are cities that roll-up said mélange in equally memorable ways but none, at least for me; do so with the same taste bud emphasis on which the Crescent City delivers—in spades. Emeril's ... I used to go to the Tchoupitoulas Street restaurant before he got so famous that the noise and frenetic movement of staff made it a no-go. And back then, said particular street, even in the daytime, wasn't one that you tarried on.
I used to look for clients to entertain when I lived here so that I could eat on my expense account. The highbrow is rightfully high…and expensive. But the lowbrow is such an equally facile deliverable that once I discovered my go-to standard Big Easy fast food, (a cup of gumbo and a shrimp or oyster Po Boy…dressed) I wondered why the hell anyone here would ever go to a McDonald's or Wendy’s…ever. And till you get out in the Jefferson Parish burbs, the typical homogenized lineup of national chains is for the most part, comfortingly absent.  
Galatoire's, Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, NOLA, Emeril’s…I mean really. The bar for average is so darned high in New Orleans that it’s hard to make a bad dining decision—as long as you stay out of the absurd tourist traps on Bourbon Street.
 Galatoire's being the Bourbon Street exception of course. As my friend George Frazier, IV…who decamped Gotham and his job at Esquire to attend law school at Tulane and never left aptly stated, “we don’t talk about Bourbon Street in polite company.” Frazier IV by the way, is the little fella with the perfect Brooks Brothers collar roll in my previous post. He gave me permission to shoot a few pictures that line a hallway in his home.
 Surprise…I also photographed his Belgian loafers, the oldest pair I've ever seen…his mother-in-law bought them for him over forty-five years ago. Ok, I’m digressing, this is my food post. I’ll do one on things sartorial and Frazier later. Here’s one of the greatest things about culinary New Orleans; once you make your way through all of their nationally renowned restaurants there’s at least another year’s worth of equally, if not more satiating places to discover.
So here’s my journey…the four day meanderings of a redneck gourmand. I arrived from Charlotte early enough Wednesday evening to join my small client group of eight for dinner at Muriels, on the back corner of Jackson Square. I’d never been there before and while it isn’t tops on my list, it was a fine place to begin my tastebudian reorientation. Turtle soup and a pecan crusted piece of fish was great but as I shared with one of my clients, a local, my New Orleans food-itch was barely, just barely scratched by that meal.
Thursday evening was the culinary highlight of my visit. The New Orleans Cooking Experience is indeed--an experience. It’s housed in a lovely old; I’ll coin this one…two acre Plantation-ette on Bayou Road. Yep, two acres. 
Thankfully the property was just purchased by an artist foundation in New York and they are beginning to renovate and transform it into a residential retreat for artists…kind of a Yaddo for visual artists. The other good news is that the cooking school will remain.
My client takes her team there about every six months or so and nothing against the other local chefs who rotate through the program, she only goes when Frank Brigtsen is cooking and teaching. 
And after spending an evening with him I can see why. He’s a kind soul—manifesting it immediately in ways that can’t be faked for ten people who've paid to semi-circle and needle you with questions. 
His stories and anecdotes aren’t some contrived pile of gumbo ya-ya bullshit delivered with an exaggerated New Orleans Irish Channel play to the tourist accent. He’s thoughtful and thorough in explaining technically what he’s doing as well as supplying just enough history, back-story and lore to make a tale loving guy like me, sit up and literally, take notes. Tale loving. I said tale loving. Shut up.
It’s all about drinking wine and learning and tasting. You do no work. This isn’t some cook it yourself pseudo-sous chef boondoggle. You sit, you sip, you query and then you eat. I’d go back in a heartbeat and I’d go to Frank’s restaurant just as fast.
Friday morning sees me at Café Du Monde early...real early before the crowds thicken and my breakfast meeting begins. Beignets will kill you. But damn, what a way to go.
My breakfast meeting concludes and my personal agenda manifests. New Orleans thankfully, remains a great literary town and the evidence I needed to assure myself of it was the survival post Katrina, of most of my favorite bookstores. More on that later when I do my Literary New Orleans post. But after walking through the Quarter and dropping serious coin in used bookstores, I needed lunch. Nothing against Acme Oyster House but to me, it’s a tourist trap with a line of people craving admission. And I don’t do lines. (I NEVER did THAT kind of line…ever…I understand the price has come down somewhat but that stuff was always too expensive and unappealing to me) Felix’s is right across the street on Iberville and it has always been my go-to joint for a dozen oysters and something cool to wash ‘em down with. 
On this my return visit, I moderated my intake with a half dozen oysters and an oyster po-boy. Nice.
And I couldn’t return to New Orleans without going to Mandina’s on Canal Street in Mid-City. To most folks, it’s average. To me, the Turtle Soup and Trout Almandine are the only things ADG on the menu and Friday early evening saw my Mandina’s itch on the scratch list.
Saturday early lunch…Mr. B’s on Royal Street. Mostly because it was my go-to destination for entertaining clients and it’s also really, really good.
Saturday evening offered me a delightful alternative to my French Quarter, fried, sautéed Cajun/Creole cravings. It also reminded me of something I’d quickly learned within a few weeks of moving to New Orleans. There’s another New Orleans that unless you live there or have personal friends who do, you’ll likely never discover. The small and somewhat secreted watering holes and eateries in Uptown and the Garden District are somewhat deliberately, I think, off the beaten path. New Orleanians are gracious people and are very welcoming. I met more people and was invited to more homes and events within a month of living in New Orleans than my entire first year in Washington D.C. But the locals selfishly covet a few safe harbors of their own. Places where you know people when you walk in. And more importantly, can rest assured that there won’t be an ersatz who dat? drunken gaggle of tacky-ass bead wearing drunks from Poughkeepsie sitting next to you. Oops...sorry Poughkeepsie, I meant Cahoes.
Gautreau’s would be that place. George Frazier, IV and his lovely bride suggested Gautreau’s for our dinner visit and it was a great choice. So I cabbed it over to casa Frazier and after a glass of wine, we ambled over. I loved meeting the Fraziers and my Creole culinary time-out manifested in a superb duck entrée. I was also reminded of another New Orleans custom…long dinners. Here’s evidence from a Frazier, IV email…“I really enjoyed our talk -- over seven hours…” Yep, I’m chatty.
Ok, let me close this rambling drivel and get to work. I got a lot to do work-wise and it’s a good thing. The food/bar tab on the good ole American Express bill this month is gonna be a zinger.

Onward. Satiated.


DAM said...

Okay! Heavy hitter while down south...

SFBayARea said...

I am soooooo hungry right now. Damn.

I used to take my family to Thanksgiving dinner at Bayona. Susan Spicer's place over on Dauphine St. Is it still there, I wonder? Is it still any good?

Anonymous said...

Was just going to mention Bayona. A friend works for Paul Prudhomme, and we had dinner at Bayona with lots of personalization from Susan Spicer. Excellent.

megtown (who for some strange reason can't comment)

Toad said...

I've enjoyed every visit to Felix's. Been going for over 40 years and hope to make another 40.

Anonymous said...

My first dinner in New Orleans,over 15 years ago, is memorable to this day - Barbequed Shrimp at Mr. B's. You may be thinking yuk, but barbequed in New Orleans means something different (and awesome) than it does to the rest of the country. I think I just gained a couple of pounds thinking about that dinner and I'll need to take a statin when I get home.


Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

I love Galatoire's... between the dresscode and the tall bourbons, one can't go wrong. I had snails and about 6 loaves of bread for an appetizer.

Nelle Somerville said...

No Jacque Imos? Dying with envy over this post!

Reggie Darling said...

I ate (and drank) at many of the places you featured in this post last spring/early summer, which brought back marvelous memories of New Orleans and makes me want to go back. Best breakfast I have ever eaten, really, was a fried oyster eggs benedict washed down by chickory coffee at Stanley's, right on the square, early in the morning before it got mobbed. Unbelievably delicious! Loved Gautreau's, and enjoyed Galitoire's so much we went twice. You should have seen Boy navigating his way through the bachanalia (sp?) of a mobbed Bourbon Street in his jacket and tie on our way to the restaurant for dinner. I have never been so happy to walk through a door and into a place like Galitoire's in my life. Needless to say, several martinis later we thoroughly enjoyed walking down BS amidst the mayhem, on our way back to the Soniat House, a charming hotel owned by the parents of the wife of the man who owns Gautreau's.

ADG said...

Reginald Old Sport...sounds like a great trip and yes, I can see the Boy right now, navigating through all the goodness and badness that so defines New Orleans. I almost left the JW Marriott for the Soniat House after my meeting ended but my client's corporate rate was extended to me so I stayed put. Did Boy break anything at Soniat House?

NelleBaby...I could ONLY eat SO much during my stay. I couldn't go everywhere. My washboard abs are almost gone as a result of my caloric throwdown.

YankeeWhiskey...yep... Galatoire's is as old line traditional as you get.

AnonBarbShrimp...Andy, yep, I know that particular shrimp treatment well.

Toad...maybe next time, we'll meet up at Felix's...and invite Frazier IV.

MegTown...whatchoumean you can't post under your name?

SFBay...well just get yourself down to New Orleans and eat something!

DAM...If I only roll in on the Crescent City every fifteen years, we ain't gonna keep a budget while imbibing.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Damn...like to be your wing-man on this jaunt!

Anonymous said...

I'm so homesick I can't stand it. Galatoire's is one of my favorite restaurants, too. But I have to say that beignets never killed anyone that I know of -- well, almost. I'm glad you're having such a good time. Enjoy real gumbo (they don't make it that way in SC where they call tomato soup gumbo) and an oyster Po-Boy for me.


Easy and Elegant Life said...

Had a wonderful luncheon in the Garden District last visit (15 years ago....0 but for the life of me I can't remember the restaurant. It was in a white clapboard townhouse ....

ADG said...

MainLiner...you bring the cash, I'll bring the torches and fire extinguisher.

Eliz...then go home...this weekend.

EasyEleganto..."white clapboard"...man that REALLY narrows it down! kidding old buddy.

Patsy said...

Made a meal of the oysters at Felix's when we were last there. Oh so good!

yoga teacher said...

My wasband and I took our daughter to Jazz Fest last year and it was so much fun to revisit our old favorites, including Mr. B's, where we spent our first anniversary. He used to work there often, I walked that baby stroller everywhere, alternating between the Quarter, the Garden District, and Magazine Street.
And, may I commend you on your metabolism. You eat more than I do!

JKG said...

Apropos of nothing in this post, I thought you might be interested (I wouldn't say "enjoy") this:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these vivid installments, Max. I've never been t'Nollins, I probably never will get there either, but I do have a similarly textured place that brings me "home" like no other, just as Nollins did for you. I'm happy you got back there and could record some new memories over top of the old ones you shared with us some time ago.

ADG said...

Flo...Where's your place and why don't y'all go down to New Orleans?

JKG...thanks. I spent an hour reading that stuff.

Yoga...ahh...you too have New Orleans memories. re my metabolism...Rodney Yee just kicked my ass.


T said...

Go talk to Natasha H. at Pure Prana off of S.Patrick. I've never seen more stunning women in one yoga studio in my life.

ADG said...

T-DogofDownward...I'm no longer allowed in Pure Prana. Namaste non grata

Richard M said...

IV echoed his comments to you in an e-mail to me.
I can still taste the bread pudding souffle' at CP.
IV, our brides and I went to Emerils shortly after it opened. I remember especially the ice cream sandwich dessert.
Let's get together soon to swap GF tales!

Anonymous said...

"Where's your place and why don't y'all go down to New Orleans?"

My place is the mountains, specifically the cabin my grandittie built in 1930, Highlands, North Carolina, not a human in sight, on a little lake, canoe sits under the house, surrounded by beautiful trees, listen to the birds and the leaves rustle, crisp air, fire in the fireplace, do the crossword, walk, look, watch, flop. Antithesis of Nollins, see.

CeceliaMc said...

Highlands, NC is indeed beautiful!

My husband and I go there several times a year to get alone and romantical.

It would be wonderful to have a place hidden away up there, and we've talked about it over the years.

Anonymous said...

"It would be wonderful to have a place hidden away up there, and we've talked about it over the years."

Wouldn't it? I will confess to falsifying the realities of "my place" because said place is now only in my memory, but richly so. My family built and owned the house for 60 or so years, but as the years went on, the ownership became complex and fraught with problems, and so the house was sold. I was able to remove a piece of the architectural history, which I have propped on one of my bookshelves, the sign that hung over the door, handmade by my grandfather. God I miss that place, being there transformed me every single time I got up there, and I know you know what I'm talking about Cecelia. Another confession: I am constantly sifting through the MLS listings for Highlands, even the simple act of looking at listings induces a dreamlike state conjured from memory. I wish you good luck in finding your special transformative place, now is an excellent time to buy as we know. Have you ever stayed here, Cecelia: www.halfmilefarm.com ? I haven't, but I was wondering about it.....

CeceliaMc said...

No,I've never stayed at the Inn at Half-mile Farm, but the lovely pictures of the place make me think it's time that I did.

Such straight-forward decor is a departure from some of the rustic kitch that seems to be the norm at Highlands lodgings.

We have rented a small (and very ungrand) place on the lake so often that we've become friends with the people who manage the property.

I have stayed at the Highlands Inn and enjoyed it.

I love the Highlands. I love every breathtaking vista, every twilight trail, but truthfully, it does not evoke for me the eternal call of family, childhood, and home, that it so obviously sings for you.

I well understand the song of those bygone places. It's the background music to our lives. It speaks of the past, the gift of the present, and the promise of life to come.

Anonymous said...

"I well understand the song of those bygone places. It's the background music to our lives. It speaks of the past, the gift of the present, and the promise of life to come."

You're gonna make me cry now. Coincidentally, last week my 100 year old growing-up house in Jacksonville FL was torn down to the ground, the church that owned it needed to put in a parking lot. I think I'm having kind of a fragile family-housing-attachment week! Onward, and I echo what Max said to you a week or so ago, get thyself a blog!