Saturday, May 16, 2009

New had me at Gumbo

From NYC I head directly to the Big Easy for my first, & certainly not last, New Orleans experience. After a short 4 days exploring, I cannot say enough about the heart & soul of this town. It is mind blowing & breaths through styles of music & food that are all it's own. Of course, the fact that I traveled with 5 of my favorite people in the world was certainly a bonus. Music & food are always better when shared with people you love, which took this trip to a level of it's own.
We were there for the first weekend of Jazz Fest, which provided more live music than you can possibly imagine. Bands...amazing bands...playing in the middle of the street. Vendors selling cobbler & locally roasted coffee curbside at 3 in the morning, just to keep the crowd up & listening. In between jam sessions, we made room for some serious creole eats. Hit the high notes...

Restaurant Patois.
A quaint warm space welcomes you to the off-the-beaten-path location in Uptown bustled with jazz fest travelers antsy to get the weekend started. The energy was undeniable & any time the aroma of butter greets me at the door...I know it will be a good night. The french fare with a local twist was unbelievable from start to finish. The first course menu is absolutely ridiculous & worth skipping an entree or two to try more than one. The sweetbreads (with beluga lentils, wilted spinach, & country ham reduction...get out!) were some of the most tender & flavorful I have tasted without being fried. The seared scallops with crispy pork belly was perfectly cooked & bursting with flavor (bacon...good), and the gulf shrimp & chorizo (with a sherry vinegar garlic butter over manchego spoonbread) were equally as perfect & enjoyable. Entrees were large & definitely sharable. The half roasted duck with apple cider reduction is get-out-of-town caramelized & delicious. If, or shall I say when, you make your way to Nola...this is a must, just don't expect service to be super speedy. It's the Big Easy. eh?

Festival Eats. If you've talked to anyone who has attended Jazz Fest, it's nearly certain that they told you the food is ALL GOOD. I have to say...I was skeptical of this festival food, but it did not take long for me to change my tune & believe these wise words. I may not go as far as saying it's ALL good (the bread pudding was worth skipping), but it's pretty hard to go wrong. I had co-favorites at the festival grounds. The first is this tasty treat to the right, Crawfish Monica, a creamy crawfish pasta dish complete with delightful cajun spicy flare. The other & equally respectable favorite was the cochon de lait Po-Boy. Cochon de lait (the literal translation, "pig in milk" can be slightly misleading), is a method of roasting a pig injected with a cajun marinades (which can be pretty spicy...and involve butter) over a wood fire at a very slooow pace. The result is some of the best pork I have had...EVER. Crawfish Sack (perfectly crispy purse of crawfish wrapped & fried...a creole won ton of sorts), Crawfish Bread (cheese+bread+crawfish...get real), & the Mango Freeze (pretty self explanatory & perfect for the mid-day cool down). The only downfall of this culinary experience that brings you back to festival reality are the beverages...miller light, coors, fosters? Perfection can be difficult.

The Butcher. The sWine Bar (more pork? yes please.) brought to Nola by the owners of Cochon (can you feel the love for the pigs?) specializes in house made artisan meats & sausage. In addition, they offer a casual comfortable space to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your charcuterie & a delicious list of sandwiches featuring their artisan meat masterpieces. We enjoyed a variety of snacks including a Cuban sandwich with more cochon de lait and a charcuterie plate of chorizo, fennel sausage, & coppa...all house made...all delicious. The cheese plate, while respectable, was not the star here. It's all about the meats. I guess that makes sense.

Commander's Palace.
Old school & classic New Orleans experience. This place is a must...once. The food was slightly hit or miss and don't expect local fabulous & organic ingredients, but you can expect attentive service, table side music, and an overall very entertaining dining adventure. Save the sport coat and some cash by going for brunch, check out the Lafayette cemetery across the street after for more classic Nola.

St. James Cheese Co. Hungry or not, we had to hit the THE place for artisan cheese in Nola
to enjoy a plate of three cheeses carefully selected by a friendly man behind the counter. The only request was for the plate to be unique & different...he assured that if I had tried any of his selections...he would provide a new wedge. I like it. All were new to me, imported, & tasty. My favorite from the plate is in the center, the Saveur du Maquis, a soft sheep's milk cheese with a delicate herb rind from Corsica. The earthy flavor from rind was perfectly balanced by the higher fat content of the sheeps milk. Delicious. Beyond the cheese plates, the menu offering seasonal salads & sandwich options are quite impressive. The perfect lunch break from the creole madness in the French Quarter. A meal without pork can be a good thing...every now & again.

Lilette. On a fairly unassuming corner in Uptown, Chef Josh Harris is serving up some amazing food rooted in traditional French & Italian cuisine with a dash of Asian influence and a heaping bucket of Nola soul. I wanted a bite of everything on the menu, but at the end of a 4 day eat fest...there's only so much 6 girls can handle. The gnocchi in sage brown butter was certainly up to Nona standards & the white truffle parmigiano toast (with wild mushrooms, marrow & veal glace...whaaaat?) will certainly be ordered again on my next visit. The bouillabaisse was easily the best I have tasted and provided some serious entertainment (tempting crab claw, not a cracker in the house...graceful or not, I took care of it), and...dare I say it (I'm gonna)...the meal highlight was perhaps the most delicious dessert I have experienced in years. It was the most perfectly sweet & salty hazelnut chocolate pot de creme flavor explosion. We were all speechless...which is the best possible way to end a meal...and New Orleans experience.

Oh sweet sweet Nola, when can I see you again?

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