New Orleans is a city that embraces authenticity in culture and the arts, and it is superbly reflected in the culinary arts. As Mark Twain affectionately stated, “New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” Although, the saying, “sinfully good” has taken on a referral to the naughtiness of pleasure, there is indeed truth in Mr. Twain’s insights as this is a city that does not blush at its culinary indulgences or otherwise. Known for po-boys, beignets, gumbo and the flaming bananas foster, along with notable cocktails such as the Hurricane and the Sazerac, New Orleans is place that consistently showcases the best in stellar cuisine, music, art and festivals; in general celebrating the great pleasures of life albeit some do have a darker side to them.
A three hour plane ride from Las Vegas, a quick stop at our New Orleans hotel, and we are off to a weekend of culinary indulgences that indeed reflect the cultural pride of New Orleans.
Descending into Nola affords a glimpse into the true frivolity and fun that New Orleans does so well along with stellar dining and drinking and this weekend happened to start off with a St.Patrick’s day Friday celebration that showcased all of the above. Making our way into the French Quarter, we knew that a good meal was the way to begin our three days of celebration and with that in mind starting with innovative and upscale Restaurant R’evolution that turned out to be a grand culinary entrance into some of the best cuisine in the city.
Commencing with a deconstructed gumbo that reflected into the genius of award winning New Orleans native Chef Folse and partner Chef Tramonto, we quickly garnered a look and taste of the collective skills of these brilliant chefs. Throughout their careers Folse and Tramonto have drawn from cultural and culinary nuances in composing dishes that revel in a true taste revolution. Many come to New Orleans to have the po-boys and beignets but Folse and Tramonto catapult the diner into another culinary construct; a realm where you find that creativity and artistry have come together to somersault a classic gumbo into another dimension. Aptly named “Death by Gumbo” (as this would be my choice for a last meal),consisted of a rich roux broth, with a golden quail delightfully endowed with savory bits of andouille, oysters, and file rice gently placed in the delectable savory red brown liquid which melded together in such a way that the decadent depth of flavor and texture spilled from each spoonful into mouthfuls of ecstatic lusciousness. Truly this was one of the best dishes we encountered in the relatively brief weekends worth of exploring new venues in such a diverse and culinary competitive city. The preceding dishes where indeed well executed and thoughtful, but this dish was indeed worth remembering and coming back for again and again. www.revolutionnola.com
With a planned excursion on the horizon, we made our way out of the Quarter picked up our Mustang convertible for a breezy ride out to a Plantation that reflected a society that truly has gone with the wind. In prior trips, most of our New Orleans adventures have kept us in a few miles of the French Quarter, but being in a place of rich historical interests, we decided a visit to the Houmas Plantation was a perfect way to learn about a bygone area that revolved around the wealth and gallantry of the Sugar Barons of the old south.
An hour drive from New Orleans is well worth the time and effort to explore and encounter an area that for the most part did depart from the landscape of American culture, that of plantation life. Seeing the grandeur and the opulence that existed in such a secluded area in the 1800’s makes one wonder at how such luxury could have existed in world of no refrigeration or many other daily conveniences that we take for granted. The Houmas Plantation has been carefully maintained and preserved with a vast collection of rare and expensive art works, gorgeous gardens and 4 acclaimed restaurants, overnight luxury cottages, and an extensive wine cellar located in converted water cisterns. Although we did not have the time to enjoy one of the various dining venues on the property, a tour of the main plantation house by our knowledgeable docent gave us a glimpse into a world that truly captured the ambience of a bygone area; a world pristinely preserved of an insular society relegated by restrictive social norms, traditions and excesses and the shadowy side of the Antebellum period that conjures up ghostly images that do not easily fade away into the past. www.HoumasHouse.com
As we drove along Lake Pontchartrain we chatted away about this interesting and noteworthy expedition, especially noting the stories of the great sugar barons, their families and the 1000 slaves that maintained a lifestyle that seems as impossible as remembering a misty dream. As we neared New Orleans, ravenous after an afternoon of Plantation viewing, it was a time for dinner at one of the newer restaurants in New Orleans, Sylvain, which has claimed its space in a rather historic and reportedly haunted 18th Century French building. Sylvain definitely captured the younger hipster crowd, with its Traven like space, open seating and very busy bar that according to local author Elizabeth Pearce is reported to serve up one of the most “perfectly balanced Manhattans” in the area. We however opted for glasses of syrah, but clearly the bar scene was busy and in full swing for a Friday St. Patrick’s celebration.
The noise level was much to be desired as the space inhabits a very old narrow building with unfavorable acoustics so we opted for the more comfortable outside dining venue with palm trees and quaint patio area. We eagerily devoured house specialties of fried eggplant and burrata salad, along with the generous mounds of shaved Brussel sprout salad with tart apples, grana padano and hazelnuts drizzled with tangy sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The local sheep head fish entrée, moist and perfectly cooked filled our longing stomachs with groans of delight but the dessert was the winning dish of the evening; a simple dish of assorted cheeses, crostinis, and thinly slice apples paired with a nice sauterne; indeed an exclamation point on the end of a satisfying farm to table meal. www.sylvainnola.com
The next day begins with yet another dining adventure after an eventful night of joining in with St. Patrick’s partiers as our costumed revealers joined us in ample classic cocktails and dancing the jig at the lively Krazy Korner bar to some of the best live music on Bourbon Street. As dawn turned into day, and the Leprechauns meandered back to their pots of gold, and we needed some sustenance to start another full day of fun and frivolity. We gingerly made our way into a local’s favorite, Angeline, for a Pimm’s Cup (the perfect drink after a long night at one of the largest St.Patrick’s parties on the planet) and some much needed food. Chef Alex Harrell, is a proponent for using local and seasonal produce thus staying true to his Southern roots in bringing the best and the freshest ingredients into his original dishes. His love for all things pickled (which are done in-house) and house made vinegars were decidedly highlighted in the menu and drink selections. The bloody Mary with a touch of homemade vinegar and pickled okra, affirmed a freshness and tang that liven the sleepy taste buds. We managed to try a few things on the menu but the dish of the day came as the special of braised short ribs with a cauliflower puree. The meat was falling off the bone tender, flavorful and hearty and just the right thing to eat after a night of dancing and people watching. www.Angelinenola.com
After saying our farwells to the kind Chef Harrell,we met up with Marita Jaeger, a lovely tall Germanic woman who has taken the more mystical approach to drinking with a members only bar scene. After several visits Marita fell in love with New Orleans and finally made her way into the gritty and gregarious world of the French Quarter to begin her own business. Being inclined to relay on her intuition and years of marketing experience, Marita knew an opportunity when she felt one and destiny coincided with opportunity when a wine brand named Vampire entered her life 14 years ago. After finding good success with sales and marketing the brand for International Wine and Spirits Distributing, Marita decided to open a Vampire themed shop; Boutique du Vampyre which is the only true Vampire themed store in the country that features locally crafted vampire themed gifts such as vampire soaps, fortune candles and soon a magic wand that can turn all your electronics on with one wave of the hand. “There’s so much opportunity and people love things like that here and we are in a tourist town”, said Marita. Since opening in 2003, she has expanded into tarot readings, escape rooms, Vampire Adventures and most recently she and her partner have now opened a hidden speakeasy, which members only can access with a secret password (enquire at the boutique for membership information). We had a few minutes to whisper the password, walk up the winding rickety old stair case to enjoy a glimpse at this upstairs hidden mystical haven where three violet painted rooms and ample group seating allows members the ability to mingle, enjoy Vampire spirits and wine based cocktails such as the Blood Drop Martini, or the Southern Spell while playing a lively board game or having a tarot reading. We enjoyed a few imaginative cocktails with Marita and thanked her for her interesting and intriguing story as we made our way out onto the bustling cacophony of Bourbon Street.
As the day darkened into twilight, we were eager to venture to one of the most renowned restaurants in New Orleans, Emeril’s New Orleans. Even the cynical CNN correspondent Anthony Bourdain, deems Emeril’s as one of the top 10 restaurants to visit in New Orleans. We were glad to take this lead, and enjoy yet another note-worthy meal. As it was a Saturday night on a holiday weekend, the restaurant was in full tilt as we made our way into this New Orleans dining icon. General manager, Kevin Delaune greeted us with cordial southern enthusiasm and quickly introduced us to our friendly server who ushered us into yet another lovely dining extravaganza. Sommelier Ray Gumpert engaged us with a glass of bubbles from the beginning of the meal, setting the tone of true southern hospitality that Emeril’s organization does so well. The chili butter glazed lobster skewers of tantalizing tender golden lobster, accompanied by local pump Louisiana blackberries; shaved celery were judiciously riddled with blue cheese crème fraiche composing the perfect beginning bite of savory and sweet. For the main course we choose the local Andouille crusted Gulf Drum fish, grilled local veggies, shoestring potatoes and sweetly glazed crunchy pecans nestled on slightly spicy Creole meuniere. No wonder the locals and tourists keep coming back again, year after year as each bite spoke volumes of New Orleans love affair with Emeril’s texturally rich, inventive and well executed dishes. It’s always a pleasure to begin and end our trip with some dazzling New Orleans dishes and Emeril’s did put the period on the dining destinations sentence. www.Emerilsrestaurants.com
How were we going to end this three day celebration of dining and celebrating New Orleans style? Sobou was just the place to experience the “Leggs and Eggs” Burlesque brunch that only the Commander’s Palace group of restaurants could do with elegance, flair and a whole lot of fun! As an added bonus, Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez was just named the best Chef of Louisiana by the American Culinary Foundation of New Orleans, so we knew the food and the entertainment were going to both eye-catching and palate pleasing. Bella Blue and Dapper Dandies were ready to get the party started again for all the post-St. Patrick’s day vacationers. The diminutive Native Burlesque queen Bella Blue, meandered, dipped and wove her way along the diners with giant feather fans flashing just a hint of her scantily clad figure. As we sat down at the table, Bella’s rhinestone brazier landed on the corner of my menu but the distraction did not keep us from ordering the Leggs and Eggs dish of crispy chicken legs, corn and bacon succotash with a smattering of smoked corn cream accompanied by the Sunset in the Courtyard, a Sobou classic cocktail that comes with your very own pair of pink SoBou sunglasses. With an expertly prepared comfort food dish, a trusty cocktail in hand, and of course live and lovely entertainment, we knew that this is what keeps the good time rolling or as the locals aptly state, “Laisser les bons temps rouler.” www.Sobounola.com
Brunching with a beautiful burlesque dancer was just the beginning of our last day in New Orleans but after a stroll through Jackson Square and a much needed afternoon nap we climbed into to our Uber car for our final dining experience at local gem, Cavan. We eagerly stepped up into this stately remodeled manse turned restaurant for one last good New Orleans meal.
Chef Nathan Richard took the helm a week prior so we were interested in his plans for the future. “Everything is taking its course and I probably won’t change the menu until mid spring, “said Chef Richard. “I want to spend my time learning everything but of course, there will be some specials.” The chili-garlic clams with smoked garlic and sweet potatoes, was by far one of the most innovative dishes during our visit. Just the addition of tiny golden nubs of sweetness in the white wine broth, brought another layer of flavor that lent to yet another great meal in New Orleans and the end to a very festive and equally delicious weekend. As we pondered delightful meal and the faded grander of this classic and reportedly haunted dining area, we thought of the many lives that passed through this home and through the streets of New Orleans; the families, the adventures and the tales they told and the meals they shared and of course, we now had our own New Orleans stories to tell of our own. www.cavannola.com