Eating Around New Orleans 2014
The year after Katrina blew through New Orleans devastating the city, a prominent national restaurant critic, after visiting the city to assess the state of affairs in the restaurant world, and in the city generally, famously dissed New Orleans’ cuisine and its Creole culture.
He wrote that those who admire the food were “likely not sober enough at the time of ingestion to know what they were eating”, and that the restaurants were “going in the wrong direction”.
As you can imagine, he got plenty of metaphorical one finger salutes, and I personally witnessed one actual salute in a discussion with a local restauranteur when the topic of that article came up. (BTW, for purposes of today’s post, I’ll just leave aside his insults re: our – my – Creole culture.)
Privately, one or two chefs admitted to me that perhaps New Orleans had been resting on its culinary laurels.
But 9 years later, it’s a whole different restaurant scene. John Besh wrote in his wonderful coffee table cookbook, My New Orleans: The Cookbook, that “the hurricane sparked something in me; I had a mission again.” And apparently others caught the spark, too, because 9 years later, it’s a whole new scene here.
One can find almost any kind of cuisine in the city, not just the old French/Creole houses (although the local chefs very often put their New Orleans spin on the various ethnic cuisines). The food is vibrant and innovative. I took note, earlier this year, at how many wonderful vegetable dishes I found on menus, in this city where previously every vegetable was cooked practically to death. My uncle warned me that I especially would not be able to find Brussels sprouts – a favorite of mine – anywhere in the city when I told him I was moving here. Well, imagine how delighted I was last winter, to find that they happened to be the “it” vegetable around town. Every restaurant I visited had an interesting side dish of the little choux. One of the local papers even did a feature on the noteworthy Brussels sprouts dishes around town.
Below are shots of some of my favorite dishes at places I’ve been eating while I get my kitchen in order.
I’ve stopped in at Cochon Butcher on every visit to New Orleans since I was introduced to it several years back (and posted about it on a few other occasions, too, if you want to see more of what they have to offer). Since I was last here in the winter, it has expanded to 3 times its previous size, and now has a full bar. Chef Donald Link, in spite of owning two fine dining restaurants, counts this one as his cash cow. Paul and I had lunch (and almost went back for dinner) on his first full day in New Orleans. Paul had the BLT, while I ordered the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Wrap, which has become my new fave.
There’s a very large Vietnamese community in New Orleans, since many relocated here after the fall of Saigon in the 1970’s, so there have been Mom and Pop type Vietnamese restaurants for a long time. But recently, there is a new wave of them, manned by a younger generation with culinary training and a “fusion” sensibility. At Mint , where I had this Lemongrass Chicken Bun – with egg rolls which can be added for an additional couple of bucks – and which has now spoiled me for any others, you can also order dishes like Kim Chee Burgers, Pork Belly Tacos and Fried Chicken and Green Waffles, if you are so inclined.
The first stop Paul and I made when we hit the city on our first Friday night, was to Toup’s Meatery for dinner, where we shared spicy Gulf shrimp, and a perfectly cooked medium rare Tri-tip steak. Since then, I’ve hit it a couple of times for lunch (it’s near the Costco in town, fortunately for me). Here’s a shot of the crazy good burger they serve, with thick slices of bacon, bleu cheese and pickled summer squash, and dressed with house made herbed mayo. Okay, I have to admit that I was skeptical, not being a big fan of pickled vegetables. I should have known better, as I so enjoyed Toup’s salad with pickled beets earlier this year. As my friend Mary at Native Palate – who first told me about the place says, you can’t go wrong at Toup’s.
And wow- where to begin when talking about Domenica, and their great happy hour, where all the wood fired pizzas and great selection of Italian wines are half priced for 3 hours every afternoon? Just how did this Israeli born chef (Alon Shaya) who grew up in Philadelphia, learn his special way around cooking the pig? This time it’s the Pulled Pork Pizza. Oh, and to make things even better, when my server asked if I wanted a second glass of wine, I responded that I was driving and had better not. “I can make you a to-go cup”, she said, “and they’re really nice cups” she added. For the record, they are the plastic cups that Mardi Gras krewes often have printed with their names (this time with the listing of John Besh’s various restaurants, of which Domenica is one) , and throw from their floats at Carnival time.
So bottom line, if New Orleans ever was resting on its restaurant laurels, it certainly is no longer, so get down here and eat!