I know Sarah promised a Garden District tour next, but we’re going to skip ahead to food for a hot sec because that’s my (Ben) favorite and I’m pumped to write this post. That being said, this is a LONG post; prepare to get hungry! (Also, as it turns out, we didn’t take a lot of photos of our food- epic fail! We’ll do better next time…)
When you get down to it, New Orleans is most known for 3 things: Mardi Gras, jazz and FOOD. Since we didn’t have the chance visit in February or while a jazz concert was in town, we’ll discuss the food, one of my favorite topics!
It was, In a word, incredible. We had some good food, we had some great food, and we had some downright weird and exotic food while we were down there. New Orleans, at the intersection of the Mississipp and the Gulf of Mexico, has access to a ton of fresh seafood, and it is a staple in the region’s cuisine, as you’ll notice in most of the descriptions that follow.
A really neat regional practice that we picked up on was that at every restaurant we enjoyed, we were served by a team of waiters. Back home in Richmond (and mostly anywhere else in the states that we’ve visited) restaurants assign one waiter/waitress to an average-sized table. In the Big Easy, we were always served by at least 2 waiters, which gave every meal a fun, tag-team feeling. It was really unique and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the servers ‘play’ off their partner’s personality.
Anyway, here’s a quick chronological tour through our restaurant foray in the Big Easy, starting on a Tuesday night and going through Friday morning’s pre-departure brunch.
Palace Cafe, 605 Canal St
This was our first stop as it was right next to our hotel and I had eaten there before. I thought it would be a great choice for good food after a day of traveling. Palace Cafe is one of Dickie Brennan’s 3 restaurants in New Orleans and ended up being my personal favorite of the trip.
- Chicken and Sausage Gumbo – great flavor with enough kick to tell it’s gumbo but not enough to stop you from eating! This one, along with the corn chowder, has my favorite presentation of all the dishes, served warm in a silver cup and flipped into your bowl after the waiters bring it out;
- Corn chowder – this was the great soup Sarah ordered, and I tried. It was a little sweet, in a cream based broth with full kernels of corn and other vegetables. Again, it had fun presentation, as described above;
- Diver’s scallops (with crab meat) – I cheated by putting this one on here because I didn’t actually eat this dish during the trip. I had it 3 weeks prior when I first visited New Orleans and stumbled upon the Palace Cafe. I had to mention it because the scallops were huge and fresh, and the lump crab meat on top was prepared to perfection. This dish comes as a special every so often, but the diver’s scallops are on the every day menu;
- Tuna tchefuncte – this might be considered cheating, too, since I (nor Sarah) didn’t taste it, but it came highly recommended by my co-workers. Both loved the flavor of the tuna (sushi-grade, rare) and the presentation was nice, on a bed of greens and other things, that were also well cooked; and,
- Banana’s Foster – the second best presentation of the night, and maybe slightly more impressive for the daredevils out there, was the Banana’s Foster, prepared table side as your waiter heats it, stirs it, cooks it and serves it right in front of you, with a flourish of fire as the rum heats the ingredients. It also tasted incredible, light but still sweet enough to know it’s dessert and you will be sorry when it’s over. (See photos of the display here)
What’s not: Nothing in my mind – everything we ate here was fantastic.
Things to consider: We did not experiment much with the wine, but there was a pretty decent selection. Also, there is a little bag on each table that contains bread. Don’t confuse this bag for decoration… eat the bread! Also, the decor of the restaurant was very classy and French-inspired, something we came to love while in New Orleans.
August, 301 Tchoupitoulas St
This was our second dinner restaurant of the week, suggested by a co-worker (it’s her favorite in New Orleans) and only a quick walk from the hotel. August has a much more sophisticated ambience compared to the other restaurants we went and quickly reminds you of an Old World French restaurant. The lighting was dark and the wood was darker, a very fun, moody place to eat dinner. It had great architecture, including an exposed brick wall in the “room” we ate in and a second story wine gallery.
- Pralines – we have to skip straight to dessert for this place because I’ve never tasted a dessert made with nuts that you don’t have to chew. The pralines here literally melt in your mouth before you get a chance to bite down, and it has a wonderful sweet and smooth taste. Incredibly well made;
- Dessert sampler – the pralines got their own line because they were just that good, but the rest of the dessert sampler deserves mentions. It had everything from spiced jellies to pralines to rich chocolate bon bons, all bite size and enough to quench the sweet tooth of just about anyone. I’m pretty sure they give this out after every meal, so if you’re too full for a whole dessert, you can still get something sweet out of the night;
- Seafood mousse – this was not actually on the menu but rather a “gift” from the chef to start out the evening. It was a very interesting treat, basically a bunch of seafood whipped into a cream and served in the shell of an egg and topped with caviar. It was a fun surprise and tasted surprisingly good, if you can get over mousse tasting like seafood! The presentation expressed a lot of time and effort into this one small serving, which made it feel special for those around the table; and,
- Wine selection – very wide selection, and the Malbecs we tried were very good. You could probably get lost in all the options, so I would certainly suggest people explore what it has to offer.
What’s not: Head cheese.
Things to consider: Make sure you know French or ask for a description of the food you are ordering. See Head Cheese (a.k.a. fromage de tete) above. I saw ‘fromage’ which I know means cheese and thought I was safe with that appetizer. Wrong. Also, this place is a fun place for food, wine, and ambience, and it’s reflected in the prices. Be aware if you are on a very tight budget; otherwise, take a night to splurge!
Nola, 534 St. Louis St
Our third and final dinner destination had a wonderfully fun atmosphere and was the most relaxed of all the dinner locations. The wait staff did a good job at making our whole party feel at home, and they were very well versed with the menu options, willing to make good recommendations while joking around with other waiters and the soon-to-be eaters. This is one of Emeril’s own restaurants and came highly recommended from another coworker.
- Jalapeno corn bread – a great complement to the normal rolls served as your bread “course.” A little spicy with a nice, sweet corn flavor that I love. Don’t be shy, and ask your waiter for more; they are more than happy to oblige;
- Barbecued Gulf shrimp – this appetizer came with the “Emeril” stamp in the name, so you know it’s going to be good. A very nice, spicy but mellow barbecue sauce flavors large, meaty shrimp, which is a great way to start a meal in New Orelans as the seafood is always superb;
- Fried green tomatoes – served with arugula and soft remoulade, this appetizer is creamy, southern and good for the soul. This is actually the appetizer Sarah got, but I enjoyed the bite she shared with me. It was too good for her to let me have more!
- Grilled Atlantic salmon – also, this wasn’t one that I got, but I did try. It was very fresh and flavorful. The sweet corn succotash was delicious and very well prepared.
What’s not: Sazerac. Well, maybe it’s more of an acquired taste, but it was like a weird kind of Manhattan to me, one I didn’t like because normally Manhattans are good.
Things to consider: Fun atmosphere that is almost jovial. The waiters are great, lively, and engaging. Also, Nola is not a far walk from Bourbon St, so if you are planning on a late night excursion, it’s a pretty easy jaunt to land you right in the middle of a street party.
Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur St
The Cafe was the last place we ate in New Orleans, a midday bite to eat before heading on the plane to Atlanta then Richmond. This restaurant was the one mentioned by more people than we can count when we told them we were going to New Orleans. It’s a great French style cafe with lots of seating and a modest menu. It’s a fun, relaxed environment and should be enjoyed as such.
- Beignets – this is an absolute necessity when going to the Big Easy, even if it is just a fancy word for funnel cake, which is really all I consider it. That said, it is delicious and what better way to eat fried dough in the morning, than with a pound of confectioner’s sugar on top! Be careful not to inhale, for your lungs’ sake, or exhale, for the sake of those around you, while eating.
- Cafe americano – I normally don’t like coffee, but I really enjoyed the way this looked and tasted. I add a little sugar and cream to mine, but it had good flavor. It also wasn’t served scalding, lava hot, so I could enjoy it quickly (I’m impatient and frequently burn my tongue on hot food and drinks). Kudos to the barista for making it easy on me.
What’s not: Service. It took us forever to meet our waiter, and even longer to get our food.
Things to consider: This cafe is a cash only affair, so make sure to bring some unless you want to leave your friends to cross the street to pay $3.50 to pull money out of an ATM. Also, this place will get crowded, and as mentioned above, the service might be pretty lousy. I recommend going when you have time to kill or aren’t in a rush for anything. It’s also very close to the Mississippi and on the corner of Jackson Park, which is a nice green area with a plaza at the back where you can find local musicians and artists on Friday afternoons.
Leftover Beignet Sugar
To summarize, you can hardly go wrong with any food items in New Orleans, unless you mistakenly order a terrible cheese made of leftover “meat” products. That said, almost everything we had tasted uniquely “New Orleans” with a flavorful blend of spices, fresh seafood, lively atmospheres, and abundant character. Should you ever get the chance to visit, we hope this post will come in handy. In addition to the place listed above, we plan on enjoying the following restaurants when we return:
- K-Paul’s – highly recommended by a friend as the best restaurant in New Orleans
- Bon Ton Cafe – a great lunch spot where the crawfish etouffe is the hit on the menu.
Thanks for reading! Bon apetit!