Saturday, I wanted to show Natalie some of the classics of New Orleans eating, not necessarily the top class stuff. We had breakfast at Café du Monde with beignets and café au lait. I think Natalie was initially unsure about the massive amounts of powdered sugar and questionable cleanliness. I think she enjoyed her mounds of fried dough and sugar though.
After doing a spot check for powdered sugar (we did pretty well), we headed out to explore a little bit. We walked through the French Market, checking out Aunt Sally's pralines. I managed to try a dime-sized sample even though I was experiencing minor sugar coma. They are a great gift for people back home, which I ended up doing for my coworkers.
We wandered into a little Irish pub across from Preservation Hall and having a few drinks (Abita for me, bloody marys for Natalie) before heading the the mecca of muffalettas — Central Grocery. Located on Decatur, not far from Café du Monde, by 12:30, there was already a long line out the door and up the street for their signature sandwiches. The line moved pretty fast and was infinitely more satisfying than any roller coaster or other attraction where you wait more than a half hour in line. After only about ten minutes outside, we made our way through the door and into the old-school Italian market. It was kind of fun to spot gourmet imports we recognized and check out unusual new ones. They have a little counter in the back and you can buy soda or beer, so we snagged a seat to go with our whole muffaletta. A whole sandwich is more than enough for two people and could probably feed four if you add chips. A muffaletta is a salami, ham, mortadella sandwich served on a round, flat Italian loaf with a piquant olive salad slathered on. It's got to be the best sandwich going.
A muffaletta can take it out of you, so we headed back to the hotel to rest/allow me to watch the Tide get destroyed at home. Later on we went to Harrah's Casino before we went to dinner. Harrah's took our money, but it's a fun atmosphere and much bigger than other non-Vegas casinos that I've visited. They actually have a bit of a culinary draw in Todd English's new restaurant, Riche, and a John Besh Steakhouse.
Going to Galatoire's for dinner put us in the same grand dame mode as with Antoine's. The jacket-required dining rooms smell of old money and southern gentility. The food was very good as well. I had a veal chop with marchand de vin sauce and their version of the souflée potatoes (Antoine's was better on that account). Natalie had fish and said that she preferred Galatoire's preparation. We split a banana bread pudding for dessert that was light and incredibly rich at the same time. We drank a nice Morrelino di Scansano from southern Tuscany (it was something like Pezzole I think).
Sunday, Natalie had to head back home and we missed our brunch reservations at Court of Two Sisters. Unfortunately, finding coffee after 11 in the CBD was not easy and we ended up grabbing a bit at a dive around the corner from Canal.
That night I ate at GW Fins with business associates. It was very good with a good Coppola Claret and I had the John Dory meurniere with crab on top and a decent restaurant caesar salad. Forgoing dessert, instead I ordered a nice grappa di moscato.
Monday evening, I ate at one of my favorite lower end NOLA restaurants — Acme Oyster House. I always get the same thing: smoked sausage poor boy (po boy) with hush puppies. Good as ever with a cold Abita seasonal beer (they called it harvest I think).
The remaining standout meal came dining solo Tuesday night at Peristyle on the edge of the quarter. It was quiet to say the least that evening, other than the raucous table of four elderly men telling cheesy off-color jokes, but that contributed to the tableau. I ordered a glass of a nice French syrah and the wild mushroom tarte to start. The tarte had a base of cheese (parmigano I think), carmelized onions and a nice variety of sautéed wild mushrooms. The tarte itself was not overly buttery, but had more of a rich pizza crush consistency (I considered this to be a good thing). The plate had a circle of pesto on the outside rim, which was a nice dipping sauce. For the main course, I had a muscovy duck breast with a red wine reduction sauce and sautéed kale with friséed carrot shreds and a pear hockey puck stuffed with Point Reyes bleu cheese and bruléed to perfection. This meal, more than any other, has inspired me since my trip to NOLA.
To me, New Orleans is America's pre-emminent culinary capital. Like Bologna in Italy, New Orleans cooking exemplifies the terroirre while incorporating flawless techniques. There are many great restaurant cities (Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas come to mind) and many great regional cuisines (southern/midwestern barbeque), but no other can combine the variety and high skill of New Orleans. The city needs our help to survive. Our waistlines may suffer (though with the walking you'll do this is negligible), but our palettes and memories will be all the richer.