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New Orleans Food Reviews

3 Jan

New Orleans Food Reviews

Have I mentioned I attended undergraduate university at Tulane University in New Orleans?  Probably.  If I haven’t, I did.  And I loved it.  And I love New Orleans very, very much.  I hadn’t been back since I graduated, so I certainly know what it means to miss New Orleans.  This past week Zak and I took a vacation to meet my college roommate/best friend and her boyfriend as well as Zak’s sis, so I knew we were in for a good time.  Which it was.  However, since this is a food blog, I will focus mostly on the eating aspect of the trip.  Which is mostly what we did anyway, so it works out.

I have never eaten so much delicious food in such a short period of time.  Or just so much food, period.  Despite the fact that I love food, I am not the sort of person to keep eating once they are full or to eat a meal just because it’s meal time.  The past week in New Orleans was a paradigm shift for me in that sense.  I ate past the point of being full nearly every meal, ate dinner despite being full from lunch, and genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.

I’m just going to give a brief run down of the places we ate and what I ordered, mostly for my own edification.  If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans and want a few suggestions, these are a good place to start.  There was a whole lot of sharing going on at our table, so this is not (by far!) an exhaustive list of what I ate.  I included the restaurants in the order in which we ate them, including the link to the website (if available), the location, a brief synopsis of my impressions of the restaurant, and what I ordered along with a description and my feelings about each dish.  I did not include pictures, but if you look at the websites, you can find many of these dishes pictured there.

Felix’s (Lunch):

Location: 739 Iberville Street, French Quarter

Felix’s is reasonably priced for it’s location (just off Bourbon Street) and has a lot of authentic New Orleans dishes.  We were chomping at the bit to grab some raw oysters and get some grub in our tummy’s after getting off the plane and Felix’s is a well-known oyster spot, so it’s where we ended up.  It’s a tad overpriced and quite touristy but the oysters are delicious and the po-boys are pretty darn good, too.

To Start:

1/2 dozen raw Louisiana oysters – Louisiana oysters returned to the New Orleans dining scene not too long ago, and I’m glad our trip didn’t occur until they were back.  Fresh raw oysters on the half shell are absolutely delicious.  I know some people have a problem with the texture of raw oysters, but I am not one of them.  I could have eaten a few dozen of these myself, but I managed to have some restraint.

Entree:

Cup of Seafood Gumbo and 1/2 Crawfish Po-boy –  Although pretty good, this was probably my least favorite gumbo I tasted on the trip.  The flavors were there, but every other gumbo dish I ordered and tasted had a lot more depth and pop to it.  The po-boy, on the other hand, was very good.  I’m glad I ordered it, because our favorite po-boy place, Domilise’s, was closed for the holiday.  I absolutely love crawfish and this was the only time I ended up ordering it.  The fried crawfish tails were plump, juicy, and delicious and the bread was fluffy on the inside and crunch on the outside, just like a good po-boy should be.

Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar (Dinner):

Location: 300 Poydras Street, adjacent to the Arts District

Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar is located in the Loew’s New Orleans Hotel.  Unlike many hotel restaurants that have a distinctly “touristy” feel, Café Adelaide is a place where you will find a pretty decent mix of both locals, in-the-know tourists, and tourists who are lucky enough to stumble upon this historic bar and wonderful restaurant.  Like a few of the restaurants on this list, this is a Brennan Family restaurant.  The Brennan Family is a powerhouse of New Orleans cuisine and they own a decently sized chunk of the better restaurants in the city.  Be sure to grab a drink at the famous Swizzle Stick Bar, which is adjacent to the restaurant, either before or after dinner.

To Start:

Andouille and Turnip Bisque –  This soup really wowed me, especially the texture.  It made me long for a food mill.  It was absolutely silken and delicious but had a myriad of layers of flavor – creamy from the turnip, spicy from the andouille, and perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper.  It was served with some sautéed pancetta that added a really lovely bite of texture to dish.

Entrée:

Olive Oil Poached Black Drum – I love a really well-prepared piece of fish, and this fillet of drum was right on the money.  It was uniformly cooked thanks to the poaching process.  The soft texture of the fish and celeriac brandade played really well with the crispy kale.  The clean flavors of a Venetian sauce (tarragon vinegar and white wine with herbs) really brought out the lovely olive oil flavor of the drum and the delicious flavors of some well-cooked Gulf shrimp.

White Chocolate BISCUIT Pudding – To be completely honest, I can’t remember a whole lot about this dessert.  I do remember people commenting that it was really good and unique.

Brennan’s (Brunch):

Location: 417 Royal Street, French Quarter

I’m going to start off my recap on Brennan’s by giving you a warning: this is one rich brunch.  I mean, my god.  I have never been so full in my life.  Never.  Hands down.  Brennan’s (especially brunch) is a New Orleans classic, and you are as likely to see New Orleanians dressed to the nines as tourists in t-shirts and shorts.  The servers are dressed in tuxedos and they do wonderful table side presentations for the famous banana’s foster dessert (I did not order it, but Zak did).  The servers are amazingly professional but very friendly.  Combined with the fact that neither I nor my roomie had been to Brennan’s before, we decided to go because a good college friend of ours is working as a server and we wanted to stop by and say hello.  It was definitely worth it just to see him in a tuxedo.

Brennan’s is quite pricey, especially for what boils down to poached eggs with hollandaise sauce.  However, the atmosphere is unique and it really is an eye opener into the incredible decadence of New Orleans’ fine dining scene.  Everyone at our table ordered the three course prix fixe breakfast, which translated to a lot of food and a lot of money, but also a lot of enjoyment.

To Start:

Creole Onion Soup – This was one of the better onion soups I’ve had in my life.  I’m not sure what made it “creole,” but if this is what creole onion soup is, I’m in.  The onion flavor really shone without overpowering the rich flavors of the beef-based broth.

Entrée:

Eggs Bayou La Fourche – This dish was basically Eggs Benedict with the English muffins replaced with slightly lighter Holland rusks and the ham replaced with a very thick butterflied andouille sausage.  This dish was decadence to the extreme – spicy, rich, filling, laden with calories and saturated fat, and plate-licking good.  I really enjoyed it since andouille sausage is a huge favorite of mine.  I especially love it with poached eggs, as the creamy yolk cuts through the heat of the andouille.

Dessert:

Louisiana Chocolate Pecan Pie –  This was, hands down, the best pecan pie I’ve ever had.  The combination of pecan and chocolate was perfect.  Pecan pie is one dessert I can’t get enough of (along with crème brûlée), so if I’m an authority on any dessert, it’s this one.  And it was really good.

Rio Mar (Dinner):

Location: 800 S. Peters Street, Warehouse District

If you love seafood, Rio Mar is a must on any trip to New Orleans.  The dishes are prepared with a Spanish and Mediterranean flare, which is a nice change of pace from the French and Creole preparations you are likely to find elsewhere.  Every single type of seafood is prepared perfectly and beautifully highlighted by the flavors of Spain and the Mediterranean.  The food is light and delicious and the chef showed a respect for his ingredients I found admirable in the highest.

Entrée:

Zarzuela de Mariscos – This dish, very much like a bouillabaisse, had a beautiful, savory saffron broth and featured a myriad of seafood – white fish, mussels, clams, shrimp, oysters, and a few other things I’m probably forgetting.  Despite the fact that I was still almost uncomfortably full from brunch at Brennan’s, I was able to eat every morsel of perfectly cooked seafood out of this dish and soaked up as much broth as I could with bread.

Herbsaint (Lunch):

Location: 701 St. Charles Avenue, Central Business District

My roommate’s boyfriend attended Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and consequently knows a lot of people in the culinary world, including one of the chefs at Herbsaint.  I will be eternally grateful for the numerous extra courses she sent our way, especially because some of them really, really wowed me, as I will outline below.  I starred the dishes she sent out to the table above and beyond our orders.

Herbsaint is located in the Central Business District on St. Charles Avenue, a short walk or very short cab ride away from the French Quarter (we did a lot of walking to work off all of the calories we consumed).  The interior is modern with a beautiful open kitchen.  This was one of my favorite meals, and if you’re looking for a light lunch, consider sharing some small plates with your party, because they were all incredibly impressive.

To Start –

Gumbo of the Day (Sausage and Duck) –  Of the many gumbos I tasted on this trip, this was far and away my favorite.  I loved the smoked sausage and duck.  Though I can’t be sure, I’m fairly positive that the restaurant used a dark roux rather than a filé or other common preparation.

Gnocchi with Pancetta and Oven Dried Tomatoes – These gnocchi were creamy, soft, and pillowy on the inside but crispy and buttery on the outside – just the way I like them.  They were so light and fluffy they melted in your mouth and worked beautifully with the pancetta and tomatoes.  I would kill to be able to make gnocchi like this (maybe not another human, but definitely a really big bug at the least).

Antipasto Plate* – This plate included several smoked meats, including a cured duck and house made sausage I could not get enough of.  I absolutely love charcuterie plates in general and am very happy to see them increasingly included on restaurant menus.  This one was especially delicious.

Cornmeal Fried Louisiana Oysters with Cole Slaw and Hot Sauce* – The coating on these oysters was a dusting of perfectly seasoned cornmeal that really allowed the flavors of the fresh Louisiana oysters to shine.  I also could not get enough of the house made hot sauce, which packed quite a punch without overwhelming the rest of the dish.

House Made Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried Poached Egg* –  This is one dish I can’t get out of my mind, nor could my companions.  We discussed this deep fried poached eggs at least a half a dozen times over the course of our trip, trying to figure out how in the world they were able to preserve a molten yolk in a breaded exterior fried to perfection.  I still can’t figure it out, but I do know that this deconstructed carbonara dish was heavenly.  The house made pasta was perfectly cooked and the cream sauce was deliciously decadent.

Entrée:

Grilled Tuna Sandwich on Olive Oil Bread with Lemon Pickle Aioli – This is one of those dishes that goes to show you how important it is to use fresh, high quality ingredients.  The tuna was so fresh and perfectly cooked, the olive oil flavors really sang in the bread, and the lemon pickle aioli brightened up the whole sandwich.

Sides:

French Fries with Pimenton Aioli* – Yeah, yeah … how good could French fries be, you ask?  Pretty damn good is the answer.  These were thin hand cut fries perfectly seasoned with a wonderfully spicy aioli accompaniment.

Dessert:

Warm Ginger Bread Cake with Cafe Au Lait Ice Cream –  I love ginger bread and I love cafe au lait, and paired together, this was a perfect dessert.  You could really taste the molasses in the ginger bread cake, which was soft and crumbly and melted in my mouth.

Banana Fosters Tart –  To be honest, I’m not sure what our second dessert was, exactly.  The fact that I was able to manage several bites of it after all of the above really says a lot, though.  The bananas that topped this were beautifully brûléed.

Bayona (Dinner):

Location: 430 Dauphine Street, French Quarter

Tucked away in the French Quarter in a homey environment, Bayona is truly one of New Orleans’ gems.  Chef/Owner Susan Spicer manages to marry classic New Orleans with a modern Mediterranean twist in a way that makes every dish shine.  The restaurant itself is cozy and beautiful, painted in warm colors with closely nestled tables.  Bayona is known for its sweetbreads, which are a must.  Put them on your bucket list.

To Start:

Veal Sweetbreads with Sherry Mustard Butter –  You also have the choice to order these with the lemon caper butter sauce, which is equally as good.  Either way, I cannot rave about this dish enough.  It is also served at Bayona as a main course.  These sweetbreads are so tender and rich and delicious and heavenly.  Heavenly, I tell you.  My mouth is watering thinking about them and I’m not even hungry.  It is worth the round trip plane ticket just to eat these sweetbreads.

Entrée:

Chorizo-Stuffed Rabbit Roulade and Paneed Leg, Toasted Angel Hair, Escarole, Sherry Garlic Sauce – I love rabbit, I love chorizo, I love angel hair pasta, I love escarole, I love sherry, I love garlic, and I love sauce.  So this dish was an obvious choice for me.  The rabbit was beautifully prepared – not at all gamey and fall-off-the-bone tender.  The bold flavors of the rabbit held up really well against the heat of the chorizo.  The angel hair was absolutely addictive, served with some finely minced parsley and mint and lightly toasted to add a beautiful touch of texture to the plate.

Camellia Grill (Breakfast):

Location: 540 Chartres Street, French Quarter or 626 S. Carrollton Avenue, Uptown University Area

I was happy to learn that Camellia Grill, an uptown classic, opened a location in the French Quarter.  Though the original location is definitely worth the street car ride up St. Charles and down S. Carrollton Avenue (near Audobon Park, Tulane University, and Loyola University), the food was every bit as authentic and delicious at the French Quarter location.  If you aren’t in the mood for one of their ginormous and delicious omelets or another breakfast item, they have an array of burgers and sandwiches to serve every craving.  The service is fast and the servers and cooks interact with you as you eat at the counter.

Pecan Waffle – This thin waffle riddled with crunch pecans was a beautiful light breakfast.  They serve the waffle with freshly melted butter in those little pour-y syrup thingies.

Cafe Du Monde (Snack):

Location:  800 Decatur Street, French Quarter near the French Market (or various other locations)

This wasn’t really a meal and to be honest, I hate about half a beignet, but Cafe du Monde near the French Market is such a New Orleans classic I had to throw it on here.  You can order to go or sit in the spacious covered patio and have a waiter serve you from their limited menu – coffee, cafe au lait, hot chocolate, and beignets are about everything on the menu.  That’s really all you need, though.

Cafe Au Lait and Beignets – Cafe Au Lait is half hot milk and half chicory coffee and 100% delicious.  I normally drink my coffee black, but the coffee in this is so strong that it satisfies even my strongest coffee craving.  Beignets are light, fluffy bits of fried delicious goodness topped with copious amounts of confectioners sugar.  It’s like the best elephant ear or funnel cake you’ve ever eaten times a bijillion.

Oak (Pre-Dinner Drinks):

Location: 8118 Oak Street, Uptown University Area

We didn’t eat here, but we did grab a drink with local New Orleans newspaper legend Angus Lind and his wife Anne, who happen to be very good friends of my bestie’s parents.  I’ve spent a decent amount of time with he and his wife over the years and they are the nicest, sweetest people.  I didn’t write this up to name drop, though.  Oak was a really great wine bar that is relatively new.  The decor is modern and trendy and the crowd was a mix of all ages.  They had an extensive wine list from very inexpensive to extravagant, and the staff was knowledgeable and friendly.  I also perused the menu and would have loved to snack on some small plates if we hadn’t had dinner scheduled within the hour.

Elizabeth’s (Dinner):

Location: 601 Gallier Street, Bywater

Elizabeth’s is off the beaten track but revered by locals.  The neighborhood is not the greatest, but I’ve never felt unsafe walking a few blocks from my car or a cab to the restaurant.  It’s well worth the cab ride, though, especially if you’re looking for a delicious meal for a fraction of the price of many of the other restaurants listed here.  Elizabeth’s does real New Orleans food really well, with classics like fried chicken and fried green tomatoes.  The interior is comfortable and laid back and the atmosphere is casual and fun.  The food is very simple but very solid, with large portions for the price.

To Start:

Praline Bacon – Sounds like a weird combination, right?  Well, it’s delicious.  If you’ve ever had maple bacon, it’s a similar flavor profile … but better.  The praline caramelizes on the outside of the bacon and creates the perfect crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet, bacon-y, praline-y goodness.  I could have eaten a whole order of this myself, although we ordered it to share for the table.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Remoulade and N.O. Boiled Shrimp – This is a very classic New Orleans combination and I thought it was done particularly well at Elizabeth’s.  The remoulade sauce was particularly flavorful with a nice bite from the vinegar and green tomatoes with the creamy texture of the shrimp.

Entrée:

Calf’s Liver and Onions with Brown Gravy – I’ll go on the record saying that I love liver and onions in any form and rarely get to have it, but this version was particularly good.  I was a little worried that the fact that these were battered and fried would overwhelm the delicious flavor of the liver, but it certainly did not.  Pieces of the calf’s liver were fried up to about the size of a Chicken McNugget along with some chopped up onions and paired with a delicious dark brown gravy.  The whole dish was sumptuous, rich, filling, and fulfilled all of my liver and onion cravings.

VooDoo BBQ (Lunch):

Location: 1501 St. Charles Avenue, Lower Garden District (or various other locations)

Although VooDoo BBQ is a chain, they serve really good barbecue and the lower prices were a welcome change from some of the other places on the list.  My best friend and I used to go to VooDoo quite a bit, as it was a short ride from campus up St. Charles and often on the way to and from errands.  VooDoo has a great selection of barbecue items and their signature barbecue sauces are delicious.

Slow Smoked Pulled Pork Platter –  I always have ordered either this pulled pork platter or the graveyard platter, which is a mix and match of the different kinds of BBQ offered at VooDoo.  You sauce your own platters and choose two sides.  I chose the macaroni and cheese and rattlesnake beans, both of which were immensely satisfying and tasty.

Cochon (Dinner):

Location: 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, Central Business District

Cochon – which means pig – is a very meat-centric restaurant focusing on the distinct Cajun flavors of New Orleans.  The interior of Cochon is both modern and warm with a spacious open kitchen.  Cochon utilizes in-house boucherie (sausage making) and features many items that are made in the large wood-burning oven.  Chef and co-owner Donald Link is definitely one of the shining stars of the New Orleans dining scene, and also serves as the chef at Herbsaint.  The fact that Chef Link is a James Beard Award winner is no surprise once you eat his food and dine in one of his restaurants – the experience is both delicious and inspiring.

First Course:

Paneed Pig Foot with Pickled Green Tomatoes, Beets and Horseradish Cream –  This dish was as far from the grossly pale pink pickled masses you see floating in jars in the grocery store aisle as could be imagined.  The pig foot was lightly pan fried with a crunchy coating. The pig foot’s sumptuous richness paired well with the vinegar flavor of the pickled green tomatoes, the sweetness of the beets, and the heat of the horseradish cream.

Second Course:

Cauliflower Soup with Tasso, Chile and Chicory –  This soup was light and flavorful with just a hint of spice.  I was skeptical that the cauliflower would be detectable with the strong flavors of tasso, chile, and chicory, but I was happy to see that it was the true star of this light and creamy soup.

Third Course:

Roasted Pork Shank with Braised Red Cabbage and Green Apple Slaw –  This was the hugest entrée I have seen in my entire life.  I mean, wow.  I saw a server set it down at a table near us and began to have second thoughts about ordering it.  The shank was about as big as my head – certainly as long, almost as thick.  But my goodness, was it ever delicious.  The pork was falling off the bone.  It had a delicious crispy crust and the meat inside was dripping with juices and unbelievably tender.  Paired with the slight tang of the vinegar from the braised red cabbage and sweet and sour bite of the green apple slaw, the pork really sang.  I loved the idea of taking simple, familiar flavors of pork, cabbage, and apples and combining them in a way that was both comforting and unique.

Dessert:

Fresh Ponchatoula Strawberry Cream Cake –  After my dinosaur sized pork shank, I didn’t have a whole lot of room left for dessert.  The strawberries were wonderfully sweet, though, and the cake and cream were light and airy enough that I was able to eat most of this.

Mr. B’s Bistro (Lunch):

Location: 201 Royal Street, French Quarter

Mr. B’s is one of my dad’s favorite stops when he visits New Orleans. He has lots of funny stories from grabbing lunch at the bar and running into one character or another, although Mr. B’s is known more for its power lunch crowd than its colorful clients.  Another Brennan Family restaurant, Mr. B’s Bistro is an upscale bistro famous for it’s barbecued shrimp.  Now, when you order BBQ shrimp in New Orleans, you may not get what you are expecting.  BBQ shrimp is not shrimp grilled or served with a classic BBQ sauce – rather, it is whole shrimp served in a beautifully spiced butter sauce.  Anyhow, Mr. B’s is a bustling spot great for lunch and dinner and I’ve never been disappointed.

To Start:

Mr. B’s Luncheon Salad –  Though this salad wasn’t particularly unique, it did have a lovely balance of flavors and was a welcome change of pace from all of the rich, butter-laden cuisine we had eaten to this point.  I especially loved the herb vinaigrette alongside the grana panano cheese.

Entrée:

Mr. B’s BBQ Shrimp –  There really aren’t words to describe how beautiful and perfect these BBQ shrimp are.  Whole Gulf shrimp are smothered with a peppery butter sauce that I could drink straight from the bowl (don’t worry, I didn’t … although I did soak up as much as humanly possible with bread).  The restaurant provides you with bibs, extra napkins, and lemon soaked hot towels when you order this main course, because it is ridiculously messy to eat.  Your hands are covered in butter, your face is covered in butter, your bib is spattered with butter, and your tummy is content.  Yes, it’s messy, but it’s fun to eat and amazingly rewarding.  Be sure to suck the heads of the shrimp – they are filled with the beautiful butter sauce and the delectable flavor of shrimp.  This is another one of those dishes that makes a trip to New Orleans worth it by itself.

Upperline (Dinner):

Location: 1413 Upperline Street, Upper Garden District

I’m very glad that we ended our trip with a meal at Upperline – this has long been one of my New Orleans favorites.  Situated near the corner of Upperline Street and Prytania Street, Upperline is surrounded by the beautiful houses of the Garden District.  I suggest a trip across the street to Creole Creamery if you aren’t too full after dinner.  The restaurant is in a house, leading to a very cozy, homey atmosphere, heightened by the eclectic artwork hanging all over the walls.  It’s location and ambiance are no match for the delicious food, however.  Since it was a holiday weekend, Upperline was offering a four course tasting menu.  I was very impressed to learn that Upperline has only had five chefs over the past 28 years.  I think that really reflects the fact that owner JoAnn Clevenger is a wonderful human being – she acts as hostess, stopping to chat with the patrons and make sure they have everything they need.  She is genuinely happy to hear you are enjoying your meal and it does really feel as if she has invited you into her home.

To Start:

Turtle Soup – Though I have had a variety of turtle soups during my various trips to New Orleans, this one was by far my favorite.  Rich and flavorful classically presented with a table side serving of sherry, this decadent soup set the tone for the rest of the meal.  I really love turtle soup and order it quite a bit, so to say this was my favorite is really saying something.

Second:

Crispy Louisiana Oysters with Two Remoulade Sauces –  These oysters had a very light coating, really allowing the flavors of the fresh Louisiana oysters to sing.  I loved the contrast of the two remoulade suaces – one red spicy remoulade and one tangy white remoulade.  The choice of remoulades added a bit of contrast and surprise to this dish that I really loved, as well as created a beautiful presentation.

Entrée:

Drum Piquante with Hot & Hot Shrimp –  This dish was spicy, spicy, spicy.  I absolutely loved it.  The drum was perfectly cooked – crispy edges, silken and flaky on the inside.  The dish was served with very spicy shrimp smothered in a spicy cream-based red sauce as well as with a side serving of house made hot sauce.  It’s a toss up as to whether the hot sauce was better at Upperline or Herbsaint, but they were both very spicy and very good.  Despite the heat, this dish really allowed the seafood to shine.

After Dinner:

Irish Coffee –  I’m Irish, I like coffee.  Other people ordered a variety of delicious desserts, and I thought I would get an Irish coffee.  This one was perfectly prepared with some very lovely steamed cream atop the black coffee and a healthy serving of good whiskey.  Yummy.

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