“They’re firah baals”, one of my new Louisiana friends yelled over the 80’s cover band deep in Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. The 9 of us downed the cinnamon whisky shot, made the obligatory wrinkle face and got back to the slam dancing. I wasn’t supposed to end up on Bourbon street this trip. I wasn’t supposed to do shots. And, I definately wasn’t supposed to ride a mechanical bull. Luckily that third one didn’t end up happening.
I know, not the best headline for a food blog BUT, as you’ll see, this story couldn’t be titled anything else. Let the road to debouchery unfold. The weekend started as “40 year old” mature as you can get. Missus Tasty and I were in NOLA for a small wedding of one of her best friends. We arrived early. Checked into the Waldorf Astoria and then hustled our way out to the warehouse district for lunch at Cochon.
The Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins, along with the braised beef short rib with horseradish potato salad were much welcomed as I pondered whether the New Orleans food experience would hold up since my tongue last tasted this town 10 years ago. Both dishes were exceptionally flavorful and tender. The accouterments were perfectly paired. The carrot, cauliflower and raisin salad with curry mayonnaise and pecans was our primer. It kicked everything off with what I remember of Crescent City food; A unique bite that makes sense on my tongue. I was already feeling the mellowing effects of my Bertrand Road, a $9 cocktail heroing cana brava rum shaken with some king’s ginger, xocolatl mole bitters, rosemary simple syrup, cucumber and lemon. Happy and satiated we took a walk back to the hotel and prepared for our second meal.
We started at the Foundation Room, The House of Blues private club that whisks members off the Bourbon Street pandemonium and into a space that is far more zen then I ever expected. Respectably, I started with a few negronis as the wedding guests all got to know each other (as it always happens in pre-wedding parties). An hour or so later, once well acquainted and fairly well lubricated, we left the quiet embrace of the club and meandered our way a few blocks through the French Quarter to Bayona, an virtual icon that is pure New Orleans but pulls influence from the Mediterranean, Asia, North Africa, France, Spain, Italy, and all around the United States. Another round of drinks was our first priority and some how I wound up with an “energy drink”. Turns out “energy drink” equals bourbon on the rocks. I should have seen the irony and foreshadowing at this point but frankly my senses were tuned to the “Only-in-New-Orelans” menu descriptions.
My app was one of their signature dishes, veal sweetbreads with lemon caper butter. A simple, deep fried preparation with a gentle drizzle of acidic sauce to punch up the sweetbread flavor was a welcomed and enjoyable beginning living up to its “signature” status. My entree is where I really felt the nostalgia of my previous NOLA experiences. I chose the sausage stuffed rabbit roulade with porcini-dusted spätzle leg. Take that in a minute. Anywhere else in this country that would SUCK. It would be some over zealous chef trying to pack everything into one dish to get patrons feeling like they are getting bang for the buck and bragging rights. Thing is, the taste never holds up. Well…Not here. Not in New Orleans. The dish was perfectly balanced and not over done. Portion size was controlled. The sausage made sense inside the rabbit loin. The “extra” leg was a welcome addition to allow me to taste a different part of the rabbit. Some hen of the woods mushrooms and swiss chard completed the plate in holding the au jus and added a light bitter note to the savory protein. The night ended with a round of desserts for the table and we retired back to our hotel by 1am. So far, we’ve kept this pretty, damn adult and I am loving the company and flavors of New Orleans.
Wedding Day and Still Adult
The next day starts out as mature as yesterday. We scored a reservation at Le Petite Grocery for lunch, one I had been very much looking forward to. Little did I know these were going to be the best bites of the trip. We sat dead center in the back section of the restaurant. The attentive staff quietly moved around us while the giant windows cast warm sunlight across our backs with that relaxing, long lunch feeling you only get when you’re on vacation. Again the ingredient profiles in each dish seemed off. Disconnected even. But, in every bite they brought incredible flavor eradicating any doubt the ingredients shouldn’t share a plate.
Garlic soup with black truffles
Bucatini turtle bolognese with a fried soft boiled egg
Blue crab beignets with malt vinegar aioli
Cardamom-Mascarpone cheesecake with rose caramel, fried hazelnuts & cherry-fig sorbet
After lunch we strolled the garden district to digest and then headed back to the hotel to dress for the wedding. It was taking place at 5pm in the Foundation Room. The eight of us gathered in one of the private rooms for a short ceremony while sipping on our first round of drinks. A bottle of champagne and some cake followed. By 7pm we were sipping old fashioned’s at the bar of Restaurant R’evolution, the place of the lovely couples reception dinner.
My first unexpected twist of the night came with a tap on my shoulder. The hostess waved us to be seated. The 9 of us started single file through the dining room, a large, high ceiling, gold leafed decorated parlour. We headed through the next dining room adorned with equal design extravagance. We then turned towards the kitchen. The doors were propped open, servers and sous chefs standing at attention along either side waiting patiently for our parade to pass. Through a second kitchen were cooks feverishly in prep. They paused and looked with the same respect we’d been given by the other servers. Finally we arrive in the last kitchen, this one the largest of all. At least 20 chefs were working in the stainless steal cavern. We were shown through a ornate, wood, door and into a small, private, room that was lined with book shelves on three walls. A private bathroom was off to the right and on the fourth wall, windows that looked right into the kitchen.
We were informed that the glass was only one way so they couldn’t see us but we, of course, could see them. If that wasn’t enough, a television hung in the corner of the room. On it was CCT of the other kitchen. An overhead, wide shot of the “pass” allowed us to watch the final prep and presentation of nearly everything that went out to the dining room. Not just ours, EVERYONES. Needless to say, my voice had reached those high octives that signify my utter excitement about the situation I found myself unexpectedly in.
Once seated, the groom gave Max, Tim and I the nod to take care of the room and make a proper order. The wine came quick and never stopped. I personally enjoyed at least 5 glasses. In between sips we destroyed the longest charcuterie board I’ve ever had at a restaurant complete with a series of terrines including; Hog’s Head Cheese, Daube Glacé, and Torchon of Foie Gras. We were off to a great start albeit dangerous.
Next up was a round of sheep ricotta gnocchi with lobster, their signature strawberry salad and Death by Gumbo. A quail stuffed with rice and then doused in gumbo broth table side. I guess this is a good time to explain a bit about why R’evolution is called revolution. Although, don’t ask me about the apostrophe. I have no idea. The restaurant, as my dining room explanation illustrates, is about luxury ingredients, luxury preparations and luxury decor. All in, that equals luxury experience and “over-the-top” is the name of the game at every turn. Pillow fresh lemon ricotta gnocchi? Not lux enough add LOBSTER. Salad of strawberries? Add very specific, rare strawberries. GREAT. And, on it went at every turn. Including when I ordered a double cut, tomahawk, bone-in ribeye to share with my new buddy Chris.
I’ve been to lots of restaurants, as you know, but have never seen a meat accoutrements menu. I love a good “new and next” so you can imagine my excitement when Chris took it upon himself to order up three of theses sauces and a slab of fois gras for good measure.
42 Steps to Mayhem
Before I realized it we were finishing up dessert in hysterics about some story of “courting” as the conversation had turned to how the couples had met. I thought we were still keeping it pretty adult. Little did I know that we were about to head off the rails. From the door of the restaurant I could see the impending kryptonite. 12 steps from the front door (across a street and through a doorway with no hinged door) I was holding an absinthe at The Old Absinthe House. Twenty minutes and 30 more steps later I was in Bourbon Cowboy holding my first beer and watching a 20 something girl try desperately to stay on a wood and black vinyl bull without anyone seeing up her skirt. I think it’s safe to admit, this is where it fell off and the title of this story starts showing. Let’s recap real quick. a Negroni, an Old fashioned, almost two bottles of wine, an absinthe and a beer. Yeah, oh shit is right.
The infamous “to-go” cup available at any bar or restaurant so you never have to stop drinking as you make your way to your next destination.
Out into the debouchery of Bourbon Street we ended up on the far east side of the quarter in a bar with an eighties cover band, giant beers and the infamous fireballs. Fireballs, as I learned, are cinnamon infused whisky usually poured in shot form. Two massive beers, some shooting tequila, a couple Jägermeisters and plenty of fireballs later the only thing that mattered was would we hear classic Van Halen next! I’ve been in this state of mind plenty of times in my 40 years so I know it well. The thing was, I had not anticipated I’d be there tonight. Obviously I was misdirected by myself. This is when I remembered my old rule of EVIL STREETS; Las Vegas Blvd., Ocean Avenue, and Bourbon Street beware. The evening ended with a all of us stumbling in different directions, losing each other and finally finding ourselves on our pillows. That difference for me was, my pillow was made of porcelain.
Recovering with Coquette
The next morning, needless to say, I was useless. I did enjoy a lovely day laying in my cozy Waldorf Astoria bed and watching bad cable TV movies in and out of rehydration slumber. That night we kept our reservation at the famed Coquette and enjoyed another stellar meal well worth the fanfare and press this garden district restaurant has received.
One of the garden Districts famed mansions near Coquette.
The next morning we prepared to leave but not before one more hit on the list. Fully recovered, at least as far as eating was concerned, we stopped for the obligatory beignet at Cafe du Monde, the only bad bite we had in 3 days. Haters hate, but I can’t get behind these, soggy, chewy, overly dense rectangle, bad zeppoles. They were quickly forgotten as we stood online at Cochon Butcher debating the sandwich selections. Torn between so many amazing, mouth watering options I asked the opinion of the counter man. “The roast pork special, muffuletta, Gambino or Le Pig Mac? I only have one shot at this because I get on a plane in 4 hours.” I caveated in my ask. “PIG MAC”, came his instant response.
With out a doubt the most unique sandwich and the right choice. Earlier that morning my friend Jeff texted me the same reco realizing I was in his favorite town. As you’d assume Le Pig Mac is an ingredient-by-ingredient recreation of a Big Mac with two big differences. The beef patties are replaced with double thick pork patties and every other ingredient is homemade right down to the brioche bun with sesame seeds on top. Each bite takes you back to being a kid and simultaneously keeps you squarely in the present New Orleans gastro-explosion.
Since my last visit, New Orleans has changed a ton and not changed at all. I stand behind my claim that NOLA is the best bite-for-bite consistency in America. Having went through hell and back with Katrina, the polite, fun loving, food obsessed locals have not changed. The only thing that was noticeably different and disturbingly out of place was me expelling my double cut ribeye into a toilet. I guess there’s a first for everything even after you turn 40.
Eating New Orleans Map
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