Monday, November 13, 2006

New Orleans gastronomic adventure

Natalie and I headed down to New Orleans ahead of a conference I was attending. She had never been and I hadn't been back since Katrina. The city seems to be making great strides toward normalcy in terms of infrastructure, especially in the touristed areas. The St. Charles streetcar isn't running yet and there are some large hotels still closed, but we found the city to be largely operational and the people there hungry for tourists and anxious to share their Katrina-related stories. Without prompting nearly every conversation with residents there inevitably turned to Katrina, which is understandable. The prevailing consensus though was that for the city to truly rebound people need to come back to visit — to enjoy the fine dining, the great music, the hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's, etc. We found a great deal for the hotel on Hotwire — staying a few blocks from the French Quarter at the Intercontinental.

Since Natalie was only there for a few days, we really went all out on the meals. I pretty much had every meal planned long before we visited. Within an hour of stepping off the plane Thursday night, we were dining at Antoine's, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the city. This is old, grand New Orleans at its best. Since they invented the dish there, we split oysters Rockefeller. It wasn't what either of us thought it would be, but it was quite good. More of a spread than oysters by themselves. We both had trout for our entrées — mine fried, Natalie's grilled. You have to order vegetables on the side and we enjoyed very fresh asparagus with butter and their souflée potatoes which they somehow manage to inflate little potato puffs that are light but very satisfying. We had a nice California Sauvignon Blanc (Markham I think) that was typical but appropriate for the meal. Instead of dessert, we just had café au lait before heading to Pat O'Brien's for a couple of hurricanes (tropical rum punch).

Friday was going to be our culinary overload day. We skipped breakfast and started with the most amazing lunch (at Restaurant August) I've had since our honeymoon (da Galetto in Camigliano, Italy). Restaurant August is in the central business district and is fine, fine dining. We had a noon reservation so we had the chance to say hello to the chef, restauranteur John Besh. Everything was perfect — from the setting to the dining room to the service. The food was out of this world. They have a great wine list and we had another Sauvignon Blanc, this one French, I forget the vineyard. They started us with an amuse bouche, not lagniappe as Natalie noted, of a truffle-seafood zabaglione with Louisiana caviar served in an egg shell. Very, very rich, but such wonderful flavors. For starters, I had the organic greens with Point Reyers bleu cheese with a pumpkin oil vinegarette and pumpkin seed brittle. Natalie had the fried oysters with a bleu cheese dressing. For our main courses, Natalie had the redfish with califlower slices forming a tower with a califlower foam at the base surrounding with crab hiding in the foam. I had the trout with brown butter sauce on a celery root purée and celery green salad on top. We finished with a buttermilk panna cotta with berries cooked in red wine and white chocolate cornbread biscotti. Stunning meal.

We continued the over the top theme with dinner at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. I have long been a fan of K-Paul's and they didn't disappoint. I had the rabbit appetizer with the creole mustard sauce and the stuffed pork chop. Natalie had the blackened beef tenders in debris sauce. We had a zinfandel, again can't remember which, that went well with the meal. We waddled out of there and hit Preservation Hall for some jazz before calling it a night.

More to come...

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