A too-short sojourn in the Big Easy

February 25, 2017

Your Intrepid Dining Correspondent takes in Mardi Gras.

Your Intrepid Dining Correspondent takes in Mardi Gras.

Those of you who are my Facebook friends will have to just bear with me, as you’ve seen these photos already. Believe me, they represent meals that were good enough they’re worth revisiting.

Flew to New Orleans on a Wednesday for a Thursday evening event, solely to give myself time to amble about the city and hit some of my favorite restaurants. Which I promptly did for a late lunch on Wednesday, hooking up with some friends to go to Dragos.

Now, there is nothing that will get folks riled up about New Orleans cuisine faster than espousing a specific restaurant as the home of the best oysters in town. I’ve had Felix’s and I’ve had Acme’s, I’ve had Deanie’s. I’ve not had Casamento’s, which I know gets lots of nods. But I am here to tell you, it would be real hard to find any oysters better than those at Drago’s. The big seafood restaurant on the ground floor of the Hilton in downtown NOLA has a massive array of seafood choices, and it’s real hard to go wrong with any of them, but my preference is the chargrilled oysters.

There may oysters as good elsewhere. None any better.

There may oysters as good elsewhere. None any better.

I like chargrilled oysters better than just the raw variety, in most cases (though in hot weather, with copious amounts of cold beer and lemon wedges, I can put away a significant quantity of raw ones). But top those sweeties with some Parmigiano and breadcrumbs, drizzle them heavily in melted garlic butter, and set them to sizzling on a screaming hot grill for a few minutes, and I’m all about ’em.

These were just about perfect. I shared a dozen with two other folks for an appetizer, and had stuffed crab with crab Newburg sauce for my entree. Should’ve stayed with the oysters; the crab was good, but the oysters were better. Big ol’ plump things, shells still sizzling, plenty of Leidenheimer bread to soak up the juices. Have mercy!

(Have a couple of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan beers, too, while you’re about it. I did. They go WELL with oysters.)

Wednesday night was a first for me. I had my first steak ever in New Orleans. I mean, when I’m in New Orleans, I want seafood, right? But we went to a steak place, La Boca Argentine Steakhouse, on the edge of the Warehouse District. Small place, nice atmosphere, wine list full of Argentinian wines (heavy on the Malbec, as one might presume). They did have scallops, but when at a steakhouse, one’s best course of action is generally to eat a steak. So I did.

I had a blade steak, a cut from the shoulder. If I had to guess, I’d say it was prepared sous vide for several hours before being seared on a plancha, because beef from the shoulder is typically tough, and this steak…was not. It was not quite fork tender, but it did not miss it far. What it was, was intensely flavorful, intensely juicy, and there was a gracious plenty of it. A gracious plenty more than I could eat, in fact. There were seven of us at the table, and our steaks ranged from ribeyes to filets to flank to hangar, and everyone pronounced theirs perfect. It was perhaps not the best steak I have ever had, but it was certainly in the top 10, maybe top 5.

Slept in the following morning (even though I had chosen to forego the bar crawl that followed the trip to the steak place), got up, and decided to treat myself to breakfast at Brennan’s. Because, well, I could.

People. If you have never been to Brennan’s for breakfast, the next time you go to New Orleans, go. It will set you back about 50 bucks. It will be worth it. Trust me on this.

And it's on a really pretty plate, to boot.

And it’s on a really pretty plate, to boot.

I started out with a mimosa. Because it was New Orleans, I was off work, at least until 5 p.m. when the event started, and I could. I followed it up egg yolk carpaccio, which was — well, let’s just say it was Sweet Baby Jesus good. That would be Sweet Baby Jesus with an extra halo good.

A pool of perfectly runny egg yolks, cooked sous vide (the waiter told me), served as the base for a half-dozen medium grilled shrimp, which were in turn topped with diced Canadian bacon. They surrounded a pile of fried-crispy sweet potato strings.

Sweet. Baby. Jesus. I was about half tempted to cancel my entree and tell them to bring me another plate of those.

I mopped the shrimps around in the egg yolk and devoured them, then smushed up the sweet potato strings (which were difficult to eat without making a tremendous mess without smushing them up) and ate most of the yolk with them. A piece of Leidenheimer bread served to polish off the final smears of yellow; I wasn’t fixin’ to waste any of it.

I took a 10 or so minute intermission, enjoying my coffee and contemplating life, before my eggs Hussarde arrived, and my eyes rolled back in my head.

Lord. Just kill me now. But...bring me some more of these, first.

Lord. Just kill me now. But…bring me some more of these, first.

English muffins. Bacon, thick-sliced and left short of crisp, but certainly done. Red wine sauce. Poached eggs. Hollandaise. Thick, creamy Hollandaise, not the thin kind that runs off and puddles on your plate. Chives.

Have mercy!

This is so many tastes having a party in your mouth it’s…it’s…it’s like Mardi Gras! (Which was, of course, most appropriate.) The red wine sauce has a definite tang, but the Hollandaise gentles it down. The bacon provides chew, the eggs, velvet. God help me, it was marvelous.

I turned the waiter down on dessert, but he brought me a tiny little square of pear poached in port wine, which was just enough to finish off brunch with a sweet taste. I was happy, happy, I tell you, to sign that check for a bit over $50 (with tax, tip and a mimosa), and regretful to stand up and walk out.

Suitably fueled, I took out again, walking the length of the French Quarter and down into Marigny before circling back and finding myself on Decatur at Cafe du Monde, which had its ever-present line, and decided to make my way on down the street to Cafe Beignet.

Ah, beignets. I do love ’em. I wish I could capture that texture that’s not-like-a-doughnut-and-not-like-yeast-bread. Pillowy, but substantial. Rich, but not cloyingly sweet. Crispy on the outside, but not tough. Enough powdered sugar to throw you into diabetic coma, but most of it falls off before you can get it to your mouth, thankfully.

Only made it through one of my three

I was full enough from that I didn’t partake of any of the refreshments at our reception that night, which included bacon-wrapped shrimp, gumbo, red beans and rice, crab cakes and lots of other goodies. Couldn’t do it. Was hoping that after that and a walk down to watch the parade, I’d be able to make it to a late dinner at Mr. B’s, where a bowl of shrimp and grits were waiting for me.

Nada. Couldn’t do it.  Made my way back to my hotel room and went to bed. It sucks to get old.

The beignets were somewhat worse for the wear the next morning for breakfast on the way to the airport, but they beat the hell out of a cereal bar.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em KNOW you need to be making a trip to New Orleans. Be sure you hit these places, and a bunch more. Calories you consume in NOLA don’t count, y’know.



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