January 23, 2005
I went to New Orleans a few weeks ago, tagging along while Scott attended a conference. My friend Herman lives there, so it was an opportunity to visit him as well. I really like the town, but I think it will always be a place for me to visit. Like zydeco, a little Nawlins goes a long way for me.
I wasn't quite so armed with reference material as I was last year - maps, guides, etc. But I cobbled together enough from brochures, and one resource that was truly helpful came to me at the spur of the moment. That would be John & Daniella's Guide to New Orleans, courtesy of the lovely Daniella, who was sweet enough to overnight one of her spare copies directly to my hotel, the wonderfully named Queen & Crescent. An amazing, excellent resource, punctuated by sweet details of John & Daniella's courtship. (The guide had been prepared for guests of their recent wedding.)
Having been to Nola before, my goals this time were more modest. When I'm on vacation, I swing between cramming as much activity into my schedule as possible, and complete utter slothdom. So I tried to take it a little easier on this trip. I slept in, ventured out, came back to the room and took naps. I often overwhelm myself because I try to consider all the possible things I could do, when really one has to pick and choose, and not give thought or regret to other options once a decision has been made. (This has always been a problem, never more so than when I lived in New York.)
The weather was fairly warm, so I didn't pack a coat. Not the wisest move, seeing as I became sick the next week. Wandered around the French Quarter - one map I did pack, a crinkled, worn flier really, of the Antiquarian & Second-Hand Bookshops of New Orleans. The bookshops I like best: Librairie Books (823 Chartres St.), Dauphine Street Books (410 Dauphine St.), Kaboom Books (915 Barracks St.), and Crescent City Books (204 Chartres St.).
Stopped by an excellent music shop - Magic Bus Records & CD's (631 Toulouse St.). Found some used stuff I'd been looking for, such as albums by Divine Comedy, Swing Out Sister, and Stars.
One possible subtitle for this post: The Crumpet Who Ate New Orleans. Having good food was important. This included oyster & artichoke soup, followed by crawfish and pasta in tasso cream at Gumbo Shop (630 Saint Peter St.), washed down with a glass of rosati. Not one, but two visits to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. Walking uptown to Uglesich's (1238 Baronne Street), which is only open on weekdays. We got there around opening time, around ten-thirty in the morning, because Herman had warned me that going around the normal lunch hour would result in an hour's wait in a line around the block. Had the divine shrimp and grits - the grits were served as a cake, cooked like a crisp but chewy polenta, and the shrimp was dressed with a creamy, spicy sauce that had to be completely sopped up to be appreciated. Also the Shrimp Uggie ("Marinated in vegetable oil, crushed red pepper, hot sauce, onion, bell pepper and sauteed. Spicy. Served with new potatoes") and a dish called Muddy Water ("Pan fried trout, topped with muddy water sauce, chicken broth, garlic, anchovies, gutted jalapenos, and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Not hot or spicy."). Bottles of both the dark and amber local ale, Abita. I felt somewhat decadent for having a beer before noon.
Herman was able to get reservations at Emeril's (800 Tchoupitoulas St.), so we went there to see what the fuss was about. We all sampled each other's plates, which included:
- Homemade Andouille & Creole Boudin Sausages with Beer Braised Onions, Mustard and Homemade Worcestershire Sauce (Note: boudin is a blood sausage, and it was incredibly tasty. It had the texture of a fine stuffing, which I did not expect)
- Warm Wilted Spinach Salad with Three Nut Crusted Goat Cheese and Emerils Homemade Andouille Sausage Vinaigrette
- Crispy Blackberry Scented Quail with Lentils, Frise, Serrano Ham and Maytag Blue Cheese (this was my selection, mmmmmmm)
- Grilled Double Cut Snake River Farms Pork Chop Tamarind Glazed and Served over Roasted Sweet Potatoes with a Green Chili Mol Sauce (the pork chop was the size of a small loaf of bread)
- Roasted American Rack of Lamb with a Creole Mustard Crust, Rosemary Creamed Potatoes, and a Rosemary Lamb Jus
It was all very good, and we were all very full. Herman and I also split a bottle of an Italian red, so I also got the warm and fuzzies I get when I am well-plied with drink. Alas, we had no room for dessert, but it was a pricey meal as it was. Delicious, but not something to do on a regular basis.
Excellent pastries and outstanding coffee can be found at La Boulangerie (625 St. Charles Ave., among other locations). I had the French breakfast blend and drank it black without realizing it at first. Once I did, I still drank it black, the coffee was that good without my usual cream and sugar.
Venturing uptown, both on foot and by streetcar, we eventually made our way to the Camellia Grill (626 S. Carrollton Ave.). I had heard of its excellent omelets and burgers - and this also had the benefit of John & Daniella's recommendation. It's a tiny diner, situated in a modest little house that could use a fresh coat of paint. It's completely counter service; the counter winds around the room. People waiting for seats get to sit on banquettes along the wall, or wait in line outside. This isn't the place to wear low-rise pants, as several women revealed a lot more about their choice of underwear than they probably intended. I probably should have gone for a straight omelet, but I was intrigued by the omelet served with chili. The egg is light and fluffy and seems to melt in your mouth. I have it on good authority that the burger was excellent as well.
Although I walked about with my digital camera, I didn't really come away with a photo record of my trip. However, I wish I had whipped out my camera in time when I spotted the bright-orange General Lee passing by me on the street near my hotel (apparently a chase scene was being filmed for the Dukes of Hazzard movie).
Going to and from New Orleans resulted in TSA checks. In Atlanta the staff is polite but brusque. The woman who wanded me left me standing with feet splayed and would have forgotten me if another security person hadn't asked her what was to be done with me. (Fortunately it was not straight to Guantanamo.) In Nola, the TSA folks were much friendlier and apologetic for pulling me aside and swabbing my carryon bag for dangerous substances. I bore it all, with fortitude, and some nervousness, but so it goes.