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Journeys When in

When in New Orleans

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For the true foodie, New Orleans is not to be missed. Sure, you can take a day trip and go visit nearby plantations or a swamp tour to catch sight of alligators. People who like antiquing will find themselves blissfully surrounded by gems and relics. Heck, I even found an incredible garnet pendant that spoke old world with new world prices during my last foray though it was not meant to be. Walking the French Quarter, taking a street car through the Garden District, even visiting the historical cemeteries and walking tours are all great ways to pass the time. Sneak in a music show at Preservation Hall while you’re at it and sip a Hurricane or Mint Julep at Pat O’Brien’s for more traditional ways to enjoy this classic grand dame of a city.

When in New Orleans

Or stroll down Pirate’s Alley and order up some early morning beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde– the fried dough drenched in confectioner’s sugar, the coffee bitter and strong. While I was in town, it seemed like all roads led to Cochon, but knowing that I was pretty much trying to avoid the le cochon (the pig), I decided against it and went with a few standards and a few new to me restaurants. As this is not a restaurant review per se, think of this as spending a weekend with me in New Orleans, doing what I believe this city applauds… eating your way through it.

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Muriel’s

On Jackson Square Park, right off of Chartres is the charming restaurant that is Muriel’s. Recommended originally by a friend from Baton Rouge as the place they go when in New Orleans, it’s become a main-stay in my restaurant list. This might be due to the quaint decor of old plates on the walls and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It might be the notion of several people attending you, but there is a definite sense of being in someone’s home. I ordered the Shrimp Remoulade, a traditional favorite of mine that they served with shredded boiled egg that played well paired with the savory Gulf Coast shrimp, cool crispy greens and spiced remoulade sauce.  Piquant and refreshing. Next came the Pecan Crusted Puppy Drum. The fish rested atop wilted greens smattered with roasted pecans and Louisiana crab meat with the edges of the plate enrobed in a lemony butter sauce. Dessert came next- a black bottom butterscotch pudding with mini praline oreos. Of the entire meal, you might hear me oohing and aahing over the shrimp remoulade. Muriels also has gluten free options too. This meal reminded me of talking with a friend you see infrequently.

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August

Chef John Besh circulated around this eponymous restaurant at the end of my meal. I don’t usually start with the end first, but this point needs to be underscored. Seeing a celebrity chef come out of the kitchen in their chef whites these days is a real treat, as many chefs seem to be leaving the kitchen behind for other opportunities. My experience at August was superb from start to finish. The dining room consists of crystal chandeliers and brick walls with tables outlaid in white tablecloths. This is the kind of restaurant for celebrations or swanky business lunches as happened near my table. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and attentive without being overbearing. I started off with an amuse bouche of a seafood custard served in an eggshell cup topped with roe for a creamy, delectable two bite precursor. The organic green salad description intrigued me as it boasted a pumpkin seed brittle, Pt. Reyes blue cheese and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. The presentation of the salad was striking and it was fun to break the brittle with my fork, just like it’s fun to break the crust of creme brulee. Then onto the day’s special appetizer of Maque Choux. Oh. my. goodness. This might be the best bite put into my mouth in New Orleans on this trip or any previous trip. While this might sound dramatic, the flavors of the maque choux were complex and nuanced, the textures varied. Farro kernels mingled with chopped baby corn and edible flowers. Two jumbo Gulf shrimp lay atop and this “appetizer” portion was perfect for lunch. At this point, I knew dessert was on the menu and feasted on a Celeste Fig and Almond tart paired with bourbon ice cream. The tart came to the table warm and inviting. I relished each bite along with a lively conversation with Matthew in the wait staff and the front-of-house manager. If you’re in Nola and looking for fine dining, August was mighty fine indeed.

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Sylvain

One evening a bunch of us crowded into the front tables of Sylvain. Located on Chartres, this eatery has classic Southern fare with a cosmopolitan twist. Their Ginger Ale featured housemade ginger syrup with pulp and a medium degree of heat at the finish. We ordered the Chili Roasted Almonds, which eventually made their way to our table (and made great airport snack leftovers the next day). We split the shaved brussels sprouts with apples, pecorino and hazelnuts. This salad was cool, crisp with flavors that worked symbiotically. We also tried the Heirloom tomato salad with ricotta salata, maras farms sprouts and basil vinaigrette and for a main dish tried their fish special of flounder with sautéed eggplant and kale. Sylvain made for a fun Saturday night out with friends.

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Johnny’s Po’ Boy

When hankering for a po’boy, Johnny’s will do you right. Walking in with a menu board boasting at least 12 variations of a po’boy is a good sign indeed and underscored his saying that “even my failures are edible.” This quick casual eatery gives you a lot of food for the money. I ordered the shrimp po’boy and sidled up to the counter along the side of the room flanked with mirrors. It gave an illusion to a larger space, but this popular joint was packed to the gills and I got cozy with my counter-mates. The po’boy was huge and perfect for sharing. My po’boy was fully dressed in a soft roll almost bouncy to the touch- a nice detail. The shrimp battered in a spiced breadcrumb mixture that tasted just right with Crystal hot sauce dribbled atop. A sign on the wall boasts that their muffaletta is particularly good, fair warning for my next trip.

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Palace Cafe

Wandering up Canal Street on a Sunday, I felt drawn in to check out the Palace Café, knowing it was part of the Brennan group. It holds an old world swagger that’s modernized. Without putting a finger on it, you could tell this restaurant is part of a local chain in the same way you can tell with Kuleto’s restaurants in San Francisco. This morning a roving jazz trio worked their way around the large dining room, serenading patrons. When they got to my table, they began chatting with me about where I was visiting from and soon after they began playing “I left my heart in San Francisco”. At the suggestion of the bartender, I ordered their signature dish, a Crabmeat Cheesecake, baked in a pecan crust with a wild mushroom sauce and Creole meunière. He described it as a quiche, but I would go one step further and say it’s more crab than custard. The pecan crust was delicate with good crumb and the mushroom sauce with its savory umami flavors made the dish. A few bites is all you need… Onto sweeter territory, I ordered a serving of Bananas Foster Beignets, drawn in by the idea of banana beignets. These small doughnut-like pockets came drenched in a classic bananas foster sauce of brown sugar, butter, rum, cinnamon and banana liquor. These small pockets of dough were a real sweet treat, especially since I knew this trip did not include a visit to Brennan’s for their eponymous dessert the Bananas Foster. If you’re looking for charm and a restaurant with an old feel, keep looking. But if you’re looking for good food, head to the Palace for brunch and order a Rum Milk Punch.

Categories
Sharing our Strength Spirit

If these doors could speak- a photo essay & a challenge

When the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury upon the city of New Orleans, I watched on like most of you did, to the TV reports and the flood of articles inundating the web. The same convention center I had visited for a coffee and tea show mere months before became home and unruly hearth to oh-so many displaced New Orleansians.

This past weekend found me in New Orleans on the sixth anniversary of hurricane Katrina at a food conference.  One morning, I spent an hour walking the French Quarter, marveling at the architecture and the details in the structures that remind me of our charming gingerbread Victorians in San Francisco. The bulk of the weekend was spent in seminars and meeting incredible people with a passion for food and stories like myself. But I had to wonder, apart from this section of the city reveling, how much of the city still lies in ruin? How much of it still grieves the vacancy of its former spirit and verve? Chef John Besh talked to our group about staying in New Orleans and about rebuilding. As he talked about his community, his city trying to find its footing again, it led me to think aboout what commitment to your neighbor and neighborhood looks like truly.

Late into the first evening of the conference, I conferred with Brona, a gutsy woman also in the food industry if it would be feasible to eat fresh produce without GMOs on a welfare budget.  At lunch one day, I chatted with a food blogger named Tanya who lives in the 9th ward. She told me that residents in the 9th ward shop for groceries in a convenience store where two aisles are earmarked for food. You can imagine with me that the bulk of the food available is highly processed and missing the nutrients originally in the food. She told me about traveling 30 minutes on the train to go to an uptown market for fresh vegetables. I sat rapt and horrified. There is something so disconcerting and wrong about access to fresh food versus targeted marketing of fast food restaurants when thinking of lower income neighborhoods and families.

I think of Mama and her family, Mexican immigrants eking out a place for themselves in a hostile South Texas town during a time when ethnic diversity was not cool or eagerly accepted. I think about her stories of making do with what they had, about Tita, my grandmother making feasts out of next to nothing. As a wise person said at the conference this weekend, “deprivation breeds creativity.”

I signed up to participate in a hunger challenge September 11-17 and would invite you to join me. Did you know 1 in 5 children, adults and senior citizens in San Francisco and Marin struggle with hunger everyday? For seven days, Beck and I will be living off a food stamp budget of $4.72 a day per person. I consider this venture with a mite of trepidation. Will I be hungry in the evening? Will I be able to balance the meals with all the good knowledge gleaned about proteins and nutrients from vegetables and grains? I consider this challenge with knowing if I feel hunger pangs in my overindulged body that week they will be prayers of solidarity for my neighbor.

I want to believe there is a way my neighbor can live healthfully on little.

I’m going to post the week’s menu after it’s over and check back in with a report, but seriously give it a thought. There are far too many hungry people in the world and though I can only feed some, I want to learn what it is to love my neighbor as myself. And perhaps let that involve an organic apple.

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors