Travel Report: New Orleans

Two weekends ago Mr. Darcy and his business partner, Mad Hatter, attended a work-related convention in New Orleans.  Mad Hatter’s wife, CR, and I tagged along, because even in the depths of humid, sticky, sweltering, and super sweaty August, who wouldn’t want to go to New Orleans?  It’s one of my favorite cities in the world with no end for exploration of great food and craft cocktails.

We arrived on Wednesday late afternoon and after checking in to our hotel, ate at Sylvain in the French Quarter.  Culinary magic, I tell you.  Read about our night at Sylvain here

Thursday morning the guys attended the trade show while CR and I headed off to tour some old plantation homes.  Nottoway Plantation held not only a spectacular history and house tour, but it is also home to a fabulous restaurant.  After devouring the dense and crumbly cornbread, CR and I shared the Blackened Shrimp Salad and the Fried Oyster & Brie BLT on Rosemary Ciabatta Bread.  Yes, you read correctly – Fried Oysters.  Brie.  Bacon.  Lettuce.  Tomato.  Rosemary Ciabatta Bread.  My taste buds were on full overdrive.  Other than moaning in delight, the sandwich left me nearly speechless it was so good.

Thursday night we had dinner at Coop’s Place, a crowded bar near the French Market, so reputed for their gumbo that there was a line outside.  I liked their gumbo very much, but have learned that I’m more of a jumbalaya kind of gal.

Friday morning we had the requisite breakfast at Café du Monde for iced café au laits and piping hot beignets.  Delicious, as usual.

The four of us drove outside of NOLA proper to take in a swamp tour.  To fuel us up for the tour, we took lunch at a random gas station on River Road.  Look at the size of this chicken leg! 

Why does fried chicken taste so much better when you’re riding in a car?  In the South?  The skin was light but extra crispy with tons of flavor including a little bit of heat.  The meat was as juicy as you’d expect for roadside gas station fried chicken.  We actually had to wait about 10 minutes for the chicken since there was a line in front of us.  Fried poultry perfection.  If you’re looking for this gas station, it’s just up river from the San Francisco Plantation; there are two gas stations side-by-side and the chicken is from the gas station on the left.

While a swamp tour sounds a little touristy, it was really fun.  Plus in 98 degree heat + humidity, riding super fast in an air boat is a joy.  Our swamp guide’s family has lived on or near the bayous since the early 1700′s and he gave us a ton of information on the history  and the ecosystems of the swampland.  We saw a bunch of alligators and a few banana spiders too.  Those things are frighteningly huge, absolutely dwarfing the wolf spiders we have here in the Northwest.  (shudder)

Our hotel, the W Hotel French Quarter, was temporarily without a restaurant/bar.  To make up for this to guests we received either a split of wine (check!) or a couple of bottles of water upon check in.  They also brought in a mobile bar to their lovely courtyard for the weekend. 

After our super hot and humid swamp tour nothing sounded more refreshing than a cooling cocktail.  The guys brought our drinks over and Mr. Darcy dared CR and me to guess the price of each.  Not $8, not $10, but $13.  Each!  For a cocktail in a plastic cup!

Crazy.  Needless to say we didn’t imbibe in that courtyard any longer.  We instead went to the Chart Room, just three doors down from our hotel.  And were SO GLAD we did.

The Chart Room is the best kind of bar:  small, dark (even though its got windows on two sides), old, packed with what looked like half the chefs, waitstaff and locals from the French Quarter, and very welcoming to tourists like us.  Our first round of four cocktails came to $14 total.  And they were stiff as all get out.  Stiff enough that CR needed more cranberry juice.  This is what she received from the bartender when Mad Hatter asked for more (read the cup):

And this is what she got with her second drink:

So they have a sense of humor too.

We chatted with some locals and even ran into Punkin Head who was tying one on in the Big Easy (Ironic, yes? He should be called the Little Easy).  The Chart Room is a great bar.

Dinner Friday night was in the Garden District at a lovely neighborhood restaurant called Patois.  I had read good reviews about Patois on a couple of travel sites, and it was one of first restaurants that the owner of Sylvain had mentioned when we asked him what his favorite local haunts were.

We started with a round of shared appetizers – 24-hour roasted bone marrow with olive tapenade crostini and shaved shallots (depth of flavor just amazing), and hamachi with fried ginger, cucumber and a white soy glaze (delightful and perfectly balanced) – and a bottle of Gini 2009 Soave Classico. 

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently on Soave.  Evidently Seattle ranks third in the States for Soave consumption, however I rarely see Soaves (or haven’t looked for it specifically?) in the wine departments of the grocery stores I haunt.  Perhaps that’s the issue – I need to find a wine shop I like that’s closer to my home.  But that’s another issue in itself. 

This medium-bodied Soave was the perfect compliment to our appetizers.  Its slightly floral brightness paired well with the hamachi, and was at the same time a nice foil to the richness and intensity of the bone marrow.  While obviously we paid more for the bottle since we were in a restaurant, I’ve tagged this post with “wines under $20″ since I’ve found it on a few online wine shops for around $17.

For entrées we tried their Panéed Rabbit, Grilled Hangar Steak, and Gulf Shirmp & House-Made Fettuccine.  Each fantastic in their own right. 

We left Patois without dessert (stuffed!), but soon found ourselves at the Green Goddess restaurant back in the French Quarter just steps from our hotel.  I had read in a local magazine that Green Goddess had a tempting sundae.  The nice thing about ice cream, of course, is that when you’re full it just melts down in your stomach and fills in any remaining gaps. So there’s always room.  And this sundae was delish.  Get this, straight from their menu:

Our “Notorious” Bacon Sundae – Pecan praline ice cream with a creamy bacon caramel sauce carrying a bit of both Pink Himalayan & Black Lava Salts, & micro-planed Nueske’s Applewood Bacon, layered with whipped cream, of course!

Shut. Up.  Seriously?  Was this for real?  YES!!  And I am a happier gal because of it.  Ice cream and bacon.  Mmmm.

So with just one full day left and the guys out red fishing and CR sleeping off the effects of another night at the Chart Room (like I said, stiff pours), I made my way to Central Grocery Deli for a half Muffuletta sandwich for lunch.  I feel like Central Grocery is a lot like Café du Monde – when in New Orleans, they’re a must if you’ve never tried them before.  But once you have tried them both, you’ll keep going back for more.

Again, the short line was worth the wait.  The sandwich was big (I could only eat a quarter at the deli and took the rest back to my hotel for a snack later in the afternoon), and bright.  I love the mixed vegetable-olive salad – super tangy.  What’s not to love?

The four of us wandered around the French Quarter for awhile and ended up at MRB Restaurant & Bar for dinner.  Much like the Chart Room, it’s got a quiet, locals’ feel to it.  Granted, August is not a high-tourist time of year, but we liked it all the same.  A little on the gritty side (in a good way), their menu is NOLA bar food.  CR and I shared the pulled pork nachos, which were out of this world, while Mad Hatter had the steak and brie sandwich, and Mr. Darcy had the crawfish ravioli. 

I think the pulled pork nachos were the star.  Or maybe we were all just too full from the heat, the humidity and four days of eating New Orleans-style.

In any event, it was quite a trip.  I hope that I can get back to NOLA soon as I don’t feel like we even scratched the surface on places to eat and drink.  Do you have a favorite restaurant in New Orleans?


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2 Responses to Travel Report: New Orleans

  1. LOVE New Orleans!!! You made me so hungry!!

  2. Teri says:

    What a culinary adventure! That sundae sounds especially divine and that chicken has my mouth watering! So fun!

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