Showing posts with label gumbo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gumbo. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gala Parfait: Mardi Gras

Let's break it down: New Orleans is my jam.
Always has been since the first day I stepped foot on its swampy foundation. Funny then that I've never really been one to celebrate its most iconic holiday - Mardi Gras.
I attribute this mostly to the fact that I have never been in NOLA for the festivities and thus fostered an affinity for it. I know about the plastic beads (and naughty things done to procure said beads), parade floats, excessive liver pickling, Bourbon Street crowds, and garish color schemes... Though for all I love about NOLA, these marks generally excite me the least. But then this year was different. Maybe I miss the dank scent of the Quarter, that high octane slushy daiquiri, and a little night music.

So this past weekend I celebrated the Angeleno way, at the Original Farmer's Market under the shade of the Gumbo Pot where locals claim tables as early as breakfast time on Sunday to have prime seats once the bands start playing and the afternoon beer starts flowing. I joined annual ringleader Lisa early for coffee and beignets, and heavy bead sorting. I stayed until the Zydeco dance floor picked up as the sun went down.

Spotted: Neighborly accoutrement competition.
One fancy kazoo.
Noon = Abita Amber.
The royal Zulu coconut bead.
Spicy Food. Cool Jazz.
King Cake, delivered to your doorstep.
Step 1.
Step 2.
Step 3.
The King Cake baby is found! And thus next year's host selected.

For more on Mardi Gras, and my general love of New Orleans...

Listen to The Table Set: Gimme Some Beads!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Voyager Bien: New Orleans, Day 5

The vampires had crawled back into their coffins, spirits retreated into the swamp, and the pirates set back out to sea... The first day of November brought an even calm to New Orleans, a ghostly quiet in streets on sunny All Soul's Day.
And speaking of haunts, everyone wanted Clover Grill for hangover brunch, though late last night's hubcap burger was definitely still with me. Still, I went along to get the full Clover experience.Just in time to nab the last table before the breakfast wait began, I embraced the greasy air filling the cramped diner. Service is definitely a large factor in Clover's appeal, sassy as you've ever had it, the brash men behind the counter here in the heart of Bourbon Street's gay district serve up a side of camp with your bacon. The unassuming menu even is chock full of laugh-out-loud witticisms.Hubcap burgers grillin'Craving a simple starter, I ordered grits, bacon, and coffee. (Plus I had high hopes for the river cruise jazz brunch party next on the agenda). The guys still needed their hangover fix though and dug in, ordering club sandwiches and burgers.
After breakfast we strolled to the waterfront where the Steamboat Natchez was docked and ready for our chartered river cruise and brunch, the Steam Calliope (a 32-note steam pipe organ) blasting tunes while we waited to board. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day for a boat ride. The sun sparkled on the surface of the Mississippi as bartenders on the deck mixed up spicy bloody marys with pickled okra. We sipped our drinks and watched the massive red paddle wheel begin to slowly turn and propel us out into the river.
After a while in the sun, we checked out the dining room on the main level where local jazz vocalist Anais St. John and the Harry Mayronne Trio were performing. A buffet of New Orleans soul food was being served as well. Still searching for my appetite, I had a tasty bowl of gumbo filé but skipped on the red beans and rice. I did however partake in my first New Orleans bread pudding which was delicious.
We returned to the deck for more warming sun and mimosas. I kicked up my feet on the railing and truly relaxed for what felt like the first time in ages. We enjoyed each others' company and secretly prayed that the dock wouldn't invariably reappear before us. But alas..

Back on land, Michael and I parted from the guys to catch a cab to City Park New Orleans to catch The Flaming Lips perform at one of the city's leading music festivals, Voodoo. No stranger to an outdoor music fest, the setting at City Park was a refreshing change of pace, giant ancient oaks draped in Spanish moss lining the main walk between stages, crisp autumn air, the smell of N'awlins food, and a clear full moon lighting the evening into night.We were in and out within hours, happy and fully satiated from our rather laid-back festival experience, free of mobby crowds, endless lines, and ridiculous parking. We hailed a cab immediately and were back in the French Quarter in minutes.

Definitely feeling hungry as night fell, we tried to decide where to spend our last supper in the city. We referred to a local foodie friend's list we scribbled down a few nights prior, somewhat randomly selecting Mr. B's Bistro, a new spot for both of us.
Mr. B's induces an immediate golden era time warp upon passing through the heavy rotating door. Starched waiters buzz between clothed tables, dark woods and golden hanging lanterns evenly lighting the room in a dim sultry haze. Prepared for the wait we were met with, we moved to the bar and ordered Sazeracs. The adroit bartender showcased his well-seasoned preparation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, capturing the attention of most as he created our perfect cocktails. We literally whimpered upon first taste. Another lovely sensation arrived in the form of a fragrant Creole barbecued shrimp dish to our neighbors at the bar. Oh man, this was going to be good.
Once seated, we didn't waste any time and started with the Gumbo Ya Ya – A rich country style gumbo made with chicken and andouille sausage. This was the most piquant gumbo I had in NOLA, and was so very pleased to find the recipe on Mr. B's site!
Next we shared the Mr. B's Crabcake – A pan sauteed jumbo lump crab cake served with a ravigote sauce. Seriously the hugest and most luscious crab cake I've ever had. Delish.
The fried oysters on the half shell shocked me at how light they were in texture and flavor – fresh mouthwatering cornmeal-battered bites, toothsome in part from the drizzle of bacon-horseradish hollandaise...
For the entrée we had a hard time deciding between the shrimp & grits and the New Orleans barbecued shrimp we had seen (and smelled) in the bar... We decided ultimated against the barbecued shrimp (but bonus: the recipe is on their site here!). The shrimp & grits was an amazing choice – a sauté of applewood smoked bacon wrapped jumbo Gulf shrimp served with creamy stone ground yellow grits and chicory red-eye gravy... We're talking death row last meal kind of good here. I could drizzle this chicory coffee reduction demi-glace on anything.
As tempting as hot buttered pecan pie or bread pudding served warm with Irish whiskey sauce was following the meal, we felt sick with riches and threw in the towel. We took a LONG walk home to work off some calories, and taking in the last stroll under the gas lamps before leaving the following afternoon. Not sure if from the life-changing meal or the thought of leaving, but in better light a small tear may have been seen in my eye.

Clover Grill
900 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116; 504.598.1010
Clover Grill on Urbanspoon

Steamboat Natchez
Toulouse Street and the Mississippi River

Mr. B's Bistro
201 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130; 504.523.2078
Mr. B's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Voodoo Fest pics via flickr &

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Voyager Bien: New Orleans, Day 4

Saturday morning, Halloween, once again the sun was shining - but this guy was not! Extremely hung over from a long night of vodka sodas (I don't even drink those!), getting out of bed was next to impossible... Out on the streets people were already in costume, a bracing excitement among the community for one of the biggest days of the year here in NOLA. The air was crisp and cool, a wintery bright sun overhead, skies clear and cornflower blue. I was praying to be healed by this gorgeous day, not to mention the long night ahead!After seeing a crowd outside of trendy Eat where the other guys were, Michael and I doubled back toward St. Philip and ducked into Café Amelie, set in the lush and beautiful 150 year-old Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House. Dry ice bubbled from the central fountain and the cocktails being delivered by witches and pirates. We were seated between an open set of French doors to the interior in two Queen Ann wing back chairs with a low scalloped tea table and a view of the courtyard. I sighed, taking in the perfection of moment. However I was sadly becoming increasingly aware of how not-well I truly was. Hoping some hair of the dog would cure it, I ordered a bloody mary. It was exactly how I like them, thick with a healthy kick of spice and overflowing with pickled okra, olives and pearl onions. We ordered the soup, a spicy sweet potato and andouille bisque and a cochon de lait (slow roasted cajun suckling pig) sandwich to share. The soup literally blew my mind. It was incredibly spicy, but also nicely sweet with chunks of andouille. The smoky cochon de lait was just as incredible, but after one bite I could not eat anymore. I sadly had to dismiss myself and leave Michael to return to the hotel and go straight back to bed. If I missed Halloween how could I forgive myself?!

I woke up late afternoon to the boys coming back to the room, straws squeaking against Styrofoam, which I KNEW meant daiquiris to go! I moaned in jealousy and knew I had to snap out of this! They were off to grab a bite, probably just at Coop's again down the street, but suddenly food was sounding doable again, so pulled myself together and tried Saturday, part 2.
Down on Decateur, the Halloween parade was already heavily brewing, it was next to impossible to get through the crowds of aliens, witches, clowns, overwhelmed tourists, and of course gutter punks. There was literally a line to get into Coop's, so we kept walking, and didn't break through the crowd until we were practically in the the Marigny. I was fine with this since I hadn't been out this far and had heard a lot about this burgeoning arty neighborhood that had been once described to me as the Echo Park of NOLA (here's a good list for visiting the area). Cute curiosity shops were packed with last minute costume shoppers, dive bars were setting up for a long night ahead, and late parade-goers ran by in the streets back toward the French Quarter. The guys had a new plan, and it was fried chicken. We reached a corner and then I saw the sign - The Praline Connection. This place was amazing. Once I had my Abita Amber in hand, a coke and a water, I was started to perk up a bit. Apparently there was a problem with the deep fryer so things were taking a little longer than normal. Our super sweet server, dressed in 1940's gangster black and whites brought us a round of Filé Gumbo on the house. Eventually our food came, and the smell alone brought me back to life. The fried chicken was lightly seasoned and deep fried to crispy perfection, moist and deeply flavorful. I got a side of mustard greens and macaroni & cheese. This is what I had been waiting for all my life - REAL friend chicken! I was not disappointed. Outside it was getting dark and all up Frenchman street a crowd was assembling much like Decateur. A mobile confessional booth complete with glowing eyed demons atop was wheeling by when exited the restaurant. These people weren't messing around! We took quieter side streets back into the Quarter, which was one of my favorite walks of the trip, the ambiance of this city at its peak. An anticipatory hush accompanied us as we clacked over bricks past cobwebbed windows, flickering gas lamps, and the occasional ghoul running to meet their friends. I breathed in the cold, ready for the night.Back at the St. Philip, I pulled out my costume (an Elizabethan opera costume I acquired at the LA Opera rummage sale several weeks prior - not unlike the dude above who was hanging in the hallway outside our room!). The guys were pooped from a long day of drinking and eating, but I was just feeling great again, so as they napped I pulled on my leggings, doublet and ruff and went out into the streets with my camera to find a face mask to accompany the look. I was shocked how WASTED people already were at 7:00pm! I literally felt a bit unsafe on Decateur by myself, nice camera in tow. Hoping to capture some candids in the street of costumed revelers, I instead kept my camera tucked out of sight in my balloon sleeve and stuck the shops until I found my mask, then made my way back to the hotel.
Once met by moonlight, our band of costumed hooligans wove down Bourbon Street through the festive madness to where our "shuttle" (yellow school bus) was to pick us up for our destination masked ball at Mardi Gras World on the waterfront. (Insert long night of partying here).
By 4:00am a cab finally got us back to the Quarter where the street party was still in full swing. Down to just two of us, Mike and I shared one last beer standing on a street corner surrounded by goblins, a final toast to the creative insanity before us. As we headed back down Bourbon street, the infamous Clover Grill diner was lit up like a beacon in the night, a line running out the door and into the street. Mike pushed his way to the front and placed an order to go, the aroma of thick grease hitting me as the door swung back. The Clover Grill proudly proclaims that they "cook our burgers under a Hub Cap!" - So what else was there to order at 5:00am to finish off a completely insane Halloween?Back at the St. Philip we watched a Roseanne Halloween episode marathon on Nick at Night and devoured our drippy buttery hubcap burgers, so very pleased to be back on my horse and ready to ride onward.

Café Amelie
912 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116; 504.412.8965
Cafe Amelie on Urbanspoon

The Praline Connection
542 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116; 504.943.3934
Praline Connection on Urbanspoon

Clover Grill
900 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116; 504.598.1010
Clover Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Voyager Bien: New Orleans, Day 1

Through the filmy cab window I watched an above-ground cemetery of compacted marble mausoleums tick by in rhythm. The air was thick and warm, my sinuses and taught skin eased. A few more ticks outside and then a visual break into open swampland. Moss-draped Cypresses seemed to wave their Halloween limbs as we zipped by on the freeway as if by speedboat, the furry green surface of the water a technicolor carpet as far as the eye could see. And out in the middle of that marsh, a small weathered hut on stilts. I couldn't take a photo, just sit with my camera in-hand, jaw a little slack. What was this place??
"OK, drive-thru daiquiri time!" I said to the guys, swivelling forward. Alas, we had already passed Veterans Boulevard, where I was told they are peppered along the roadside. "Well.. we'll grab one in the French Quarter," they said (spoiler: I leave Louisiana without getting my daiquiri!). We exited the freeway, turned a corner and suddenly were in even another country.Past two sentinel live oaks, we were suddenly driving alongside Creole cottages hundreds of years old, casually nestled together like sleeping cats. Forgetting about the daiquiri, my eyes were glued out the smudgy window once more. We passed a French cottage-style corner pub with flickering gas lamps and open shuttered doors, all it was missing was the cobblestones and some smarmy swashbucklers. "That's Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest bars in the country," the front seat said. I had heard of this place, and I wanted to sit in that circa 1772 building and enjoy a pint. I grinned.Another block and we're in front of The St Philip French Quarter Apartments, a four story pink Creole townhouse, plant-festooned ironwork verandas wrapped with cotton cobwebs, a Saints flag flapping in the breeze. A bigger grin. I didn't realize we would be staying in the true heart of the French Quarter! A horse-drawn carriage clopped past as we wrestled our luggage through the gate. The small courtyard was eclectically dressed up for Halloween, shafts of sun catching a large metal crayfish fountain on the back wall draped with Mardi Gras beads. A freshly carved pumpkin sat on the patio table."We're alll the way up," Michael said ominously motioning to the narrow and steep wooden stairwell.
Post-workout, I wiped the sweat from my brow and observed our room, the 2 bedroom attic apartment may not have had a veranda, but the views in all directions over the French Quarter, toward downtown, and to the Mississippi and Crescent City Connection (formerly the Greater New Orleans Bridge) were fantastic. I opened the windows and let the muggy warmth in. I wanted to feel the city.After settling into our rooms, the boys and I were feeling peckish. We took a stroll two blocks down to Decateur, a main drag that borders the Mississippi. In front of us was the French Market, with the world famous Cafe Du Monde and Central Grocery Co. We took a left and ducked into Coop's Place, a charming, divey watering hole and cafe. I should mention that I was lucky enough to be experiencing New Orleans for the first time with trained professionals. Halloween aside, the big draw of the weekend and reason for my friends' trip was a 4 day lineup of events: Halloween 26 - New Orleans, a benefit for Project Lazarus, a home for Louisiana men and women living with AIDS. So you see, my travel mates here were well seasoned, having attended this charity weekend (always at Halloween) for countless years in a row now. They knew exactly where to go, what to do, how long it would take, what it would cost, what the best route was, why x was better than y, and then charmingly bicker over the finer details. One thing they all seemed to agree on though was Coop's.We were told to sit anywhere by a brawny redheaded woman who exuded N'awlins' unique charm. We circled a round table by the open door and immediately noticed a sleeping kitten on the windowsill. "Stella" our redhead nodded from behind the bar as their kitten stood up, stretching, over sized collar dwarfing her petite frame. Above and all over the walls were colorful bottle-cap-encrusted frames with hand-painted phrases like "Be Nice or Leave!" and "Be Nice or Starve!" displayed in them - something I found to be a commonality throughout the week. A TV over the bar had a local channel airing classic slasher movies, Jason's mask stalking a frantic camper through staticky trees, leaking an occasional muffled scream. A rubber bat bobbed above our heads from the ceiling fan. Halloween was omnipresent in this town, and I loved it. On the right side of the cafe, a massive chalk board menu filled one entire wall, a plethora of delicious sounding Southern delights to choose from. It was my first meal in New Orleans though, and I only needed a snack to tide me over until dinner, so it was a no brainer. I ordered the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. And a Sazerac, another NOLA staple.The gumbo was bold, flavorful and quite spicy. The Sazerac was prepared properly, but plastic tumblers don't keep strained cocktails chilled and I realized over the course of the meal that it was a bit like taming a fire with kerosene. I began to drool across the table at Michael and Alex's Abita beers. Taking a break from the gumbo's heat, I sampled Michael's side of duck and andouille sausage jambalaya. It had a deliciously complicated smoked flavor that wreaked of family secret - definitely the best jambalaya I tasted on my trip.
Stella wove in between our legs as we ate and sat herself in the doorway as tourists and gutter punks wandered past outside. She perfectly encapsulated the lackadaisical vibe we were happily adjusting to.After a leisurely late afternoon stroll soaking up the pre-Halloween electricity in the air, the sun slipped behind St. Louis Cathedral casting Jackson Square in shadow, the dinner hour already fast upon us. We scurried back to the St. Philip as the goblins began to come out, scrubbed up and called a cab to take us across town to my most anticipated dining locale - the infamous Jacques-Imo's for some "REAL N'awlins food"!We definitely were not in the French Quarter anymore Toto, I thought as we pulled up to the brightly lit shabby Creole townhouse on an otherwise dark street. A mural-painted pick up truck out front with a table for two in the back immediately conveyed the whimsy that is Jacques-Imo's. As they do not take reservations, we were met with an expected wait and strolled next door to the Maple Leaf bar.As real and divey as they come, the Maple Leaf is a fine companion to the rough-around-the-edges Jacques-Imo's, rusty tin plates covering the ceiling and walls, locals seated down the heavy wood bar behind which a man was pouring well drinks into plastic cups. No frills here! As soon as the bourbon was in-hand, our name was being called down the block - thank heavens for the to-go cup.We were walked through Jacques-Imo's kitchen to a back-porch-like room where every inch of wall and ceiling were mural-painted, creating an illusion of some kind of festive swamp party. As soon as we were seated a plate of warm corn bread muffins were dropped, fragrantly dripping with butter and garlic. After a bite I opened the menu, realizing how difficult selecting an entrée would be.Our waiter followed the pattern of sweet, hard-working service, helping us make those last couple of decisions. Mike had been the first to pick his entree, his own little tradition for the past several years - a giant-size pork chop stuffed with ground beef and shrimp. Whoa! I was beginning to get very excited, noticing every table in the packed room chattering with the contagious elation that accompanies a mighty fine meal.The first starter I sampled were the crab-stuffed shrimp with magnolia sauce - which were explosively tasty! I wished there were more, as I sucked on the tail.. The smoked Boudin with Creole mustard sauce was also tasty with a great depth of flavor... But ladies and gentlemen, it was the shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake - yes, cheesecake - that blew my mind tonight. Initially not completely sure I was up for trying reptile, I watched and heard the faces and sounds around the table as each took their first bite. "OH OK pass the plate!" I finally squawked reaching across the table (which was only the beginning of my adventurous eating this charmed week). Technically a cheesecake, remove all notions of expected flavor and texture here - this dish was rich, warm and smooth, tantalizing and savory without a hint of fishiness or gaminess (which I feared). My eyes rolled up and I literally savored each bite of this. I will go back if for this modest starter alone.For my entrée I selected the paneed rabbit with oyster Tasso pasta - a huge piece of rabbit pounded flat and tender before breaded and fried. The pasta was incredible, chock full of butter-sauteed oysters (which were suspiciously more like mussels) and shreds of spicy smokey cajun Tasso ham. For my sides I couldn't not get the mashed sweet potatoes and mixed greens (collards/mustard). Both were exceptional, though moot as this was enough food here for three.We were certainly going to skip dessert, but since one of the entrées was slightly late coming out, our server brought out a spread on the house immediately following our meal, a crème brûlée with a strawberry coulis, fresh mini strawberry shortcakes, and the winner: a sweet potato pecan pie. I couldn't resist, as crème brûlée is my favorite, and the pie was Southern perfection. I knew I would regret it... By the time we climbed the 3 flights of stairs back at the St. Philip I was hurtin' pretty bad. Bless my dear roomie for having emergency alka-seltzer on hand to ease my pain!I couldn't believe the day's adventures had only been within several hours since my arrival. I watched as some michevious rain clouds descended over downtown, curiously peeking in like my anticipation over what else this magical city had in store for me...

Coop's Place
1109 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA; 504.525.9053
Coop's Place on Urbanspoon

Jacques-Imos Cafe
8324 Oak St
New Orleans, LA; 504.861.0886
Jacques-Imo's Cafe on Urbanspoon