October rolled by quickly, but not before I gave a yearly check-up to one of my favorite food towns, New Orleans. The climate in New York has been whacky, what with the lack of seasons. October is just about the time NOLA is tolerable, warm, but not balmy or humid, sunny, appetizing, and thirstworthy.
I usually over plan, scheduling three solid meals, leaving room for street fare and oysters in between. Upon Saturday arrival and an early Monteleone check-in, I made a b line for a new joint, Sylvain on Chartres St. A quaint resto with outdoor seating, clearly a place where cocktails are taken seriously. My eating companion Michelle and I tried the aviation, aunt rose, pressure drop, mojito, and bloody mary, all delicious and well concocted. The menu, albeit limited for brunch, still stood up to the bar skill. The meal started with an app of bright smoked salmon rillettes, pickled beets, and a warm potato soup. We split a large plate of pan fried pork shoulder and grits, tender and crispy. After watching the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich parading around the room, I had to order that too, overkill, but worth it. I am certain the nightlife there must get hot and sweaty, and is duly noted for my next visit.
After an obligatory siesta at Café du Monde, and a few beignets, a walk through the French market was warranted along with a little shopping and enough time for a nap and a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Carousel. We walked to my favorite street pronunciation, Tchoupitoulas, to have a grand meal at August, chef John Besh’s upscale financial district restaurant. We had drinks at the bar, which serves as a rather gloomy waiting room dressed in dark wood sans any NOLA charm. Inside the dining area was another matter entirely. High ceilings revealing towering bouquets and bright crystal chandeliers, solid brick set against soft hues, an inviting atmosphere indeed. There is a connecting cellar room, which is extra cozy and romantically lit, juxtaposed to another room with tall banquettes. We decided to sit surrounded by the steep and narrow wine staircase library above us.
It was difficult to make choices because many of the menu items sounded very tasty. But the staff is very southernly hospitable, and the sommelier really knew her grapes. The focus of the menu was clearly farm to table with a foundation on Louisiana roots. First course a lemonfish crudo, bright with citrus and clean. A consommé of gulf shrimp and bacon Ramen was next, surprising in its flavor profile versus everything else on the menu. The noodles were tight, the yard egg a real zinger. Crispy zucchini blossom filled with sweet corn and heirloom tomato was a satisfying winner. The Pfeffingen 2006 riesling paired nicely throughout. Apparently everyone orders the gnocchi and who could argue with accents of black truffle and bluecrab elevating the pillowy creamy clouds of gnocchi. The topper was a Mangalitsa pork tenderloin, crispy and tender, accompanied by cheek raviolo, sweet corn, purple plums, and chanterelles. For sweets, we had the exquisite banana rhum cake and the napoleon nougatine, a real treat, paired with a glass of Chateau Laribotte and macchiato, splendid way to end a great meal.
We had enough steam to grab late nite cocktails, but surprisingly, the Hermes Bar and French 75 Bar were winding down. Maybe a sign to pack it in. The next morning we ambitiously but foolishly tried to walk to City Park from the Quarter, when a streetcar ride on Canal would do. Live and learn. The brunch destination was Ralph’s on The Park, a convivial brunch place across from the park with a piano player (although he played in the adjoining room away from the diners). Ralph’s offers various types of bloody maries, from mild to spicy with twists such as basil. As turtle soup is not a standard in NYC, we had to share a bowl of that with the obligatory sherry, as sherry improves just about anything from a dish to a bad mood. The biscuits were recommended and worth it, dense and flaky all at once. Perhaps the unnecessary splurge was the pigs in the blanket, but I had A Confederacy of Dunces in my head. Chicken and waffles did not disappoint, and neither did a very rich plate of slow cooked lamb and eggs, knocking us right on our NYC behinds. The bonus was walking through City Park, with its majestic and stately trees, solemn air and various bridges, all the way to the NOMA (museum of modern art), nice if you have the time. The real attraction is the sculpture garden, which is not to be missed. Streetcar back to the Quarter in time for oysters and football game. Alas, the Saints lost.
We took a long cab ride way out to Feret Street to try the libations at Cure. We started with the classics, a Manhattan and a sidecar, bourbon (I prefer bourbon). Proper and civilized, we moved on to the punch and the Angel drink, got hungry (surprise) and noshed on the meat and cheese plate (lacking in ham), stuffed dates, Jamaican meat pie, and banana and black rice. Pretty good, if not strangely eclectic.
I was anxiously anticipating Monday lunch at the famous Parkway Tavern. Heaven in a Po’boy. Roast beef, fried shrimp, lots of gravy, sweet potato fries, Barq’s in a bottle. Picnic benches out back. All walks of life setting there, enjoying the moment. True NOLA.
More oysters, the JETS game, and Cochon for dinner. Rabbit Livers with pepper jelly, alligator, wood fired oyster roast, gumbo, chow chow shrimp, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, chicken thigh washed down with a Kurt Darting Riesling. I know it’s a crime but no room for the cochon or smoked ham hock (at least I had it last year). Room for upside down pineapple cake though. Superb. My kingdom for a Cochon in New York. Some more cocktails at French 75 bar, followed by a great discovery of an upscale dive bar called Bar Tonique on N. Rampart St., which featured a $5. Pimm’s cup special, and five dollar specials every night. Proper.
Breakfast Tuesday morning at Cake Café Bakery, a sleeper of a joint with great cupcakes but solid breakfast and lunch fare, such as shrimp and grits, or egg salad sandwich. Serve and seat yourself, and this place grows on you by the cupcake. Locals only it seems. Try to dress the part. Pre-flight drinks next on the list, but not before a stop at Central Grocery for a muffelata for the plane ride back and late nite snack. We headed to the Roosevelt Hotel for another take on John Besh’s Italian fare at Domenica, which has a fabulous happy hour from 3 pm to 6 pm of half priced pizzas and wines by the glass. Best deal in town, and we New Yorkers are pizza snobs/fanatics. There some crazy large 900 degree oven churning out those bad boys with great crust, excellent toppings and serious wine program. Leaving that bar was tough.
Back in NYC with NOLA blues, Spotted Cat still on the brain, great cooking still on the palate. Until next year, adieu New Orleans.