Monday, April 21, 2008

New Orleans, Ode to Alyson

I just returned from my trip to New Orleans and I'm slowly recovering and easing back into work. J and I met two friends from home (California) out there and painted the town red while dizzily sipping on hurricanes, hand grenades, Abita beer, and Jameson whiskey. Although it was tempting, we did not spend our entire time at sidewalk cafes, and outdoor bars. We toured the city by taxi, bus and my personal favorite – trolley.

Out of all the sites, sounds, and amazing views in NOLA the best thing about the city was the food. I visited what I consider to be the top restaurants in the city and came away amazed…well 5 times out of 6, which isn’t bad. I am extreemly lucky to have a Louisianan as a close friend. Her love and passion for NOLA has always blown me away but the list she created for me before I headed on vacation was priceless. She sent me to incredible jazz bars like the Spotted Cat, which featured a jazz quartet that played everything from Brazilian jazz to swing the night we visited. She detailed out the best places for Muffalettas, which we enjoyed on a sunny day in Jackson Square, and beignets, which sent us around the French market on a sugar rush after a few bites. Most importantly she recommended that we visit three amazing restaurants in the city – which truly made my trip memorable. At Restaurant August we dined on fine Creole cuisine and met chef John Besh table side, at Mothers we chopped down on Po Boys and gumbo I knew I could never re-create, and finally at Jacque Imo’s we ate fried chicken and catfish among brightly colored walls and beaded lamps.

I also couldn’t recap my trip without mentioning how wonderfully friendly the people of NOLA were. Our hotel, the Quality Suites in downtown had one of the kindest managers I’ve ever met. His thoughtfulness far surpassed anyone I’ve ever met at a hotel front desk. The waitresses (except of course at the famed Emeril’s, the only foodie spot that let me down) were all amazingly friendly and even the cab drivers were overwhelming happy and talkative. It’s an incredible place to visit.

So, since she can do a better job of telling you what an amazing city it is – here are her recommendations. My ode to Alyson:

Now, you know I could write a novel…but here are a few basic suggestions on what to do. This is based on if you have one free weekend:

Friday night – if you’ve never been, you might want to head down to Bourbon St. The locals don’t really hang out there, but if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you’ve got to experience Bourbon. If you decide to go into any bars, I would recommend two places – Pat O’Brien’s (piano bar with great hurricanes) and The Tropical Isle. The Tropical Isle is fun for a few minutes, but you have to order a hand grenade. Delicious fruity drink that tastes like a green jolly rancher and is seriously strong although you can’t taste it. There is also a decent Zydeco bar somewhere along Bourbon St. Shockingly, I can’t remember the name of it since I’m always wasted when we go there – I have to be to endure Bourbon St. to begin with. I’ll ask a couple of my friends if they know the name of it.

On the way home, stop at Café du Monde for beignets. The best thing you’ve ever eaten at 4 in the morning.

Lunch on Saturday: Mother’s on Poydras St. in the business district. Great po-boys, gumbo, jambalaya. And the name is perfect, it’s exactly how my mama cooks. And if you have some people who want breakfast items instead of lunch items they have that too. Complete with grits and good biscuits.

Saturday afternoon: I highly recommend walking around the French Quarter and the French Market during the day. It’s very fun and a completely different atmosphere than at night. You can start at Jackson Square and see the cathedral and the Cabildo (buildings on the side of the cathedral). Then walk passed Café du Monde to get to the French Market. There are local artists selling things and a few great stops along the way.

If you need a snack at that point, stop at Central Grocery for a Muffaletta (you can split a half of one between two people, but it does have meat in it, so not sure if you want that). Stop and have a beer or two at Molly’s. Great place to rest for a bit and wet your whistle. It’s all right there along Decatur St. in the French Market.

For dinner on Saturday: Jacque Imo’s in Uptown New Orleans – seriously the most amazing food. It’s got GREAT character and a very eccentric chef. There is even this weird painted pick-up truck parked out front and there is a table set up in the bed of the truck. It only seats two though. I would recommend making a reservation if you can – great place for dinner.

For Saturday night, head to Frenchman St in the Marigny district (any cab driver should be able to take you here). DO NOT WALK, I repeat, do not walk to Frenchman St. from the French Quarter. It’s not safe and easy to turn down a bad street. I love The Spotted Cat – great live Jazz music. Across the street from there, you’ll find Café Brazil – they always have live music too. And d.b.a is a great hang out bar. I like to get a seat in the windows there and watch people walk down the street - it’s awesome!

I’ve got two recommendations for breakfast on Sunday before you head out of town. The first is the Camellia Grill. It’s a greasy diner and is another local favorite. Last time I was there, I met Harry Connick, Jr. The cooks are all very lively and they sing as you eat and they’ve all got crazy New Orleans accents. Good omelets and cheeseburgers, etc. The other recommendation is a little more fancy (pricey), but it’s classic New Orleans. The Court of Two Sisters has the most amazing jazz brunch. I think it’s one flat fee for everything you want including mimosas and bloody marys. But it’s truly amazing.

Other fantastic restaurants – but if you can’t make it to these places, rest assured that you pretty much can’t go wrong…

Mesparo’s (casual place – great po-boys)
Ralphs on the Park
Palace Café (Brennan-family owned, but a little less pricey)
Restaurant August
Acme Oyster House

Other bars to consider:

Preservation Hall – this is a place to hear classic Jazz music.
Rock-N-Bowl – Zydeco music and bowling…it’s an interesting spot!
Tipitina’s – great classic New Orleans bar

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Watching Dinner

I'm watching J make me dinner this evening, fresh linguini with his own twist on Bolognese sauce, from my nest on the couch. It smells amazing and makes me wish I hadn't forgotten to buy Parmesan cheese today. He makes the most amazing meals from Filipino soups and stews to Italian feasts and some nights, like tonight; I realize just how spoiled I am.