New Orleans, The Big Easy

New Orleans, what can I say about this incredibly charming city?  It welcomes you with open arms, greets you at every street, and fills you with wonder and respect.  But at first glance, New Orleans is smelly, dirty, disorderly, and overrun with drunk people.  But if you allow yourself to get to know this city, its history, its present, and its people, you will fall in love with it … with them all.

HOW IT BEGAN …
My lovely friend Melissa and I traveled to New Orleans on a girls’ trip.  As I had not been there before, I was excited to explore this new place.  Melissa did not tell me much about New Orleans; she wanted me to make up my own mind.  And thus, it began.

The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was very pleasant.  Our cab driver was kind and friendly.  After we checked into the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel, we decided to go out for a walk, to get to know the city, and to find a good restaurant for dinner, as it was almost that time of day.

As we began our journey, I was pleasantly surprised that people were walking around the streets holding their alcoholic drinks.  I guess things are different in New Orleans.  Soon, we came upon large gatherings of people, police, and road barriers.  It was evident that a parade was on the way, but what parade?  As we assembled with the rest of the gatherers, we were told that this was the Halloween parade.  It was so much fun!  Seeing all kinds of people participating in an event like this was awesome.  People from all walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds, were mingling and celebrating together, without any invisible, manmade borders.  This display of camaraderie was beautiful to see.  And though the city seemed overpopulated and unkempt, it was exciting and full of life.

GETTING TO KNOW NEW ORLEANS …

After the Halloween parade, we walked the streets, including the incredibly lively Bourbon street, and found this beautiful and very charming restaurant close by, Kingfish Kitchen & Cocktails, Diners’ Choice winner for 2015.  We began our dinner with cocktails, Pimm’s Cup to be exact.  It was made with fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice … needless to say, it was absolutely refreshing!  Melissa had the Rabbit Cordon Bleu with Collard Greens, and I had the BBQ Shrimp and Waffles, as I have never had waffles in a savory application before.  Melissa’s meal was amazing!  I never cared for collard greens; however, these greens were delicious.  They had the perfect acidic and smoke flavors.  Nothing about them was over powering.  The rabbit was stuffed with ham and cheese; it was breaded and fried to perfection.  It was not greasy at all.  It was accompanied with a creole mustard cream.  The slight acidity from the greens and the tartness from the mustard cut through the richness of the rabbit, yielding a harmonious bite, a perfect balance of flavors.  My shrimp was perfectly cooked.  Then again, I would not expect any less from any good New Orleans chef.  The flavors of the shrimp and the waffle with the toasted garlic, the poblano pepper jelly, and the Hopitoulas cream were authentically southwestern.  Bobby Flay would have been proud.  My only issue with this dish, however, was the waffle’s soggy texture; I would much rather have had a waffle with a crispy exterior, where I poured on the sauce or syrup immediately before consuming the dish.

The next morning, we decided to have brunch at the Salon by Sucré.  We first walked into this beautiful and elegant patisserie style shop and were greeted by a very professional and friendly staff.  The gorgeous pastries adorned each wall and counter.  Then we went up the large staircase, and in front of us was a small, but beautiful bar.  The restaurant upstairs had a Southern charm, yet a European influence.  It was beautiful!  I had the Charcuterie Sandwich with a side salad.  What can tell you about that sandwich?  It was the most delicious sandwich I had EVER had in my life, and I had many sandwiches all over the world.  Sucré’s was by far the best.  They start with a freshly baked French or Parisian baguette, they smear Pork Rilette on it, and top the sandwich with Salumi Gentilé, Lomo, and a generous portion of Grayson Cheese.  That combination with the mixed green salad, lightly tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette, was intoxicating!  I lost track of time and motion … I lost all awareness.  All I could think about was how incredibly delicious and all sensory consuming this sandwich was.

By now, it was raining.  It pretty much rained off and on the whole time we were in New Orleans; more on than off. We decided to walk off our brunch, regardless of the rain, by getting to know the city on foot.  Again, we went to Bourbon street and walked through the rest of that area, until we reached Jackson Square.  Obviously, like any self respecting visitor, I took many pictures.  After walking all that time, we decided to reward ourselves with the one and only Café du Monde beignets.  Even with the pouring rain, this café was so busy.  And Oh My!  The beignets were so delicious!   They were thick, but light, and fried (of course), but not greasy.  I know they were only fried dough topped with powdered sugar, but they were better than any fried dough with powdered sugar.  Melissa and I opted for the hot chocolate, instead of the chicory coffee.  It tasted like any packaged hot chocolate, nothing special.  But it was an experience, I will not soon forget.

Now, to walk off the beignets.  We went to the French Market, where many people were selling all kinds of things, hot sauces, nuts, art work, handmade bracelets and jewelry, Mardi Gras masks, and even jade from Pakistan.  We bought a few things for our loved ones back home after some lively negotiations, chatted with some vendors, and watched the rain come down all around us.  We continued our walk around the city, until we came upon Central Grocery Co., the home of the original muffuletta.  I would like to say one thing; initially, when Melissa planned our trip to New Orleans, I was excited about two things and two things only, the muffuletta and the beignets.  To my shock and dismay, I was slightly disappointed with the muffuletta from Central Grocery Co.  It was very oily, and it needed a little more vinegar to cut through the cheese and the deli meat.  Aside from that little change, the meat, cheese, and olive salad to bread ratio was perfect.  We continued our walk.  We passed many night clubs with lively Jazz music emanating from their speakers, in an attempt to draw in many patrons.  After a very long day of exploration and delicious eats, it was time for some rest and relaxation.  We still had quite a few restaurants we wanted to visit, but they will have to wait for the next day.

On the third day, Melissa and I, being huge fans of Vietnamese food, decided to have a late breakfast at Nine Roses Café.  We started with the Chicken Spring Rolls and the Chicken Steamed Bun Sliders, followed by a hot bowl of Beef Phò.  The chicken spring rolls were fresh and tasty, not the best, but close enough to be in the running.  However, the steamed bun sliders were AMAZING!  The flavors were perfectly balanced, as sweet and savory were in perfect harmony.  We moved onto the beef Phò.  The beef was tender and the broth was good. Again, not the best I have had, but pretty good on a rainy day. And yes, it was raining again. After our Vietnamese experience, we walked around the city on a quest to find District Donuts Sliders Brew.

After much walking, we took the trolley. It took us by Lafayette Square and other notably historic places. Our stop was near a cemetery, an above ground cemetery. Now, that was an experience for me. Generally, I do not like Halloween (sad, I know), cemeteries, scary movies, dirty places … but this was something altogether different. As we decided to check out this old cemetery, it felt like a completely different world, like we stepped into another dimension. And it was … old, beautiful, eerie, and forgotten. I felt an overwhelming loss that gave way to sadness, yet I was happy to see this part of New Orleans’ history.

A few streets down, was District Donuts Sliders Brew. I had a Vietnamese Coffee and a Hazelnut Donut. Both were good, but not amazing. Melissa had Lemonade, an Apple Cinnamon Donut, and a Chicken Slider (which she shared with me). She absolutely loved her donut; she said it was the best donut she had ever had! She tried the slider, and liked it, but she was not a fan of the coleslaw. I, on the other hand, LOVED the slider and the slaw. I have not had such an amazing chicken slider in a long time. It was made with fried, yet not greasy, chicken thigh, topped with a sweet and spicy slaw, candied jalapenos, and crispy chicken skin, all in between two slices of fluffy bun. It was absolutely delicious! As this was our midday snack, we decided to walk around that area, since we had not done so before.

Dinner time was approaching, and since my friend, Melissa is very good at finding delicious restaurants everywhere we travel, she suggested we go to Lilly’s Café. I know it’s another Vietnamese restaurant, but it had very high reviews. We ordered the Beef Phò. One spoonful, and we were both experiencing a tingling sensation, followed by loss of hearing and vision, but with intensified feelings toward that lusciously intoxicating nectar of the gods … We had found it! The best Phò we had in both our lives, here in the US!  The angels began to sing, and we fell into a trance.

As our trip was coming to an end, we strolled back toward our hotel stopping at the Carousel bar, the bar at Hotel Monteleone.  It was a beautiful bar.  There was a carousel in the middle of the room, and yes, it turned very slowly.  The carousel and the tables in the bar area were full of people enjoying all sorts of libations and finger foods.  We were told that Carousel had the best Pimm’s Cup in town, so we ordered it.  It was less fruity and more tart than the one we had before.  I have to admit that I liked Kingfish’s Pimm’s cup much more than Carousel’s, but we still had a lovely time chatting and people watching.  So, after our short relaxation, we headed back to the hotel, where we took a cab to the airport.  Again, our cab ride was very pleasant.  Our driver was a very kind and engaging.

As we sat on the plane awaiting its departure from this city back home to my city of Dallas, I couldn’t help but to reminisce about the last few days I spent in New Orleans … oh, how I’ve grown to love this city.  The food was delicious, the people were kind and welcoming, the streets were full of history, and the music was lively.  I decided then that this will not be my last trip to this charming and exceptionally unique city, but the first of many.

 


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