Friday, August 23, 2013

Food for thought

"So what is your favorite part about New Orleans?"
The question was posed to us over breakfast Sunday morning by the round faced woman from Beaumont who was staying at the same B&B we were. She and her husband had been sharing their awed wanderings with us for the past 20 minutes as we waited for our plates to come out.

What is my favorite part? I had to think.

Maybe it was the music. I mean I am not a huge audiophile but I love some good jazz. There is music pretty much everywhere you turn in the quarter. We got to sit and listen to probably a dozen different jazz bands over the last two days. Some were alright and some were so good that we were mesmerized from the sidewalk half a block away.

You also can't avoid the fact that music is in no way confined to any space. Whether it was a guy and his guitar in a doorway, a girl and her harmonica and banjo singing the blues on a corner,  the old man with a beautiful dobro sitting on a pickle bucket in the middle of the road, or a brass band suddenly starting up in the middle of the packed French Market, there is music everywhere. It is like the music owns the city. 

The music is amazing, but probably not my favorite part.

Maybe it was the art. You can't take two steps without running into local artists proudly displaying their wares. From Jackson Sqaure to the Frenchmans art market and pretty much every sidewalk between there is art. For an artsy girl like me it is sort of paradise. We had already purchased a number of beautiful water colors and black and white drawings. We had spent an excessive amount of time looking at art.

The art is amazing, but still probably not my favorite part.

As I was trying to think of what it was that I could call my favorite part our Austrian host came out of the back with our breakfasts. He set a spicy crawfish tail omelet in front of the husbeast and a gorgeous plate of french toast in front of me. The two perfectly cooked pieces of toast were arranged neatly on the china plate. They had been lightly sprinkled with powder sugar before being topped with a fresh sauce made of caramelized grapes and strawberries. I took a bite, the warm fruit melting in my mouth with the sweet bready goodness of the toast. It was quite possibly the most perfect french toast I had ever had the privileged of eating.

"The food." I answered finally with a big grin on my face.

I don't know why I even had to think about it. We are food people and New Orleans is a city of amazing food. As you go through the Quarter you will see dozens upon dozens of restaurants waiting to serve. That is just in the Quarter. If you venture out of the Quarter there are so many more delicious destinations to go to.

You aren't going to come across some corporate concept restaurant serving the same generic food you could get anywhere. These are places that look like dive bars and are serving duck quesadillas as appetizers. These are places with passion for food that shows in the menu and shines on the plate.

We started out with roast beef po-boys on Friday night. It doesn't sound like the most exciting thing, or any type of culinary masterpiece, but let me assure that is one damn fine sandwich. The roast beef was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, but not bloody. There was enough au jus that it would run down your arm if you were not careful but not so much that the bread would disintegrate when you tried to pick it up. Speaking of the bread, it was fresh locally made, and so very good.

We of course had beignets at Cafe du Monde. They were everything I remembered them being. They were the perfect consistency, neither dense nor too airy. They were satisfying to bite into and the beignet itself was not so sweet that the mountain of powder sugar was unwelcome. Washed down with some cold milk and it was like perfection.

Our first morning at the B&B we were not expecting anything special. We figured it would be better than some continental breakfast, but nothing to write home about. How very wrong we were. We really should have known better, this was New Orleans after all.

We started with cups of fresh sliced kiwi, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple. After that we were offered bagels to go along with our coffee and juice. As we enjoyed our bagels we were directed to the egg menu. We had the choice of eight scrumptious sounding dishes. For me I only had three options that didn't have seafood in it, but they were all options I was excited about.

I went with a Mediterranean frittata. I still was not expecting anything glorious, but again I was wrong to make assumptions about what the food would be like. My plate came out and I sat a moment marveling over the little cast iron dish before me. The fried eggs that covered the top of the dish were perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. Beneath the eggs was this mix of onions and red peppers and mushrooms that blended together harmoniously to create pure happiness in my mouth.

For lunch we went to another restaurant we had been to on our last trip, Deannies. I remembered it as being good even though I couldn't remember what I had eaten. One glance at the menu reminded me that it was an all seafood restaurant. I had eaten a hamburger the last time. I was disappointed to realize that this was going to be a boring meal for me, but I was starving.

The restaurant serves boiled seasoned new potatoes the way Italian restaurants serve bread before the meal. They are surprisingly addictive and satisfying. Still I was starving so I ordered the first appetizer that looked familiar; onion rings. I had seen a heaping plate of these golden fried wonders come out as we were waiting for a table so I was optimistic that they would be good.

I was wrong. The onion rings were fabulous. They were by far the best thing I ate at that restaurant. My chicken sandwich was really good, but these onion rings were amazing. The batter was not too thick and actually stuck to the onions. It was also just a little spicy, much like the potatoes we had been served. I think maybe it was the spice that made them so addictive. We quickly cleared the plate, which is odd because the husbeast doesn't really like onion rings.

Dinner was something we couldn't decide on. We strolled up and down Decatur trying to make a choice. Everywhere that looked good had hour long waits for tables. Everyplace that could seat us didn't look good. I didn't want to eat in a club where I could barely hear myself think. I wanted a quiet relaxing dinner. We were torn and it was getting later and I was getting hungrier.

Suddenly I remembered that our waiter at the French Market the night before had enthusiastically recommended the steaks to us. He had seemed so honest in his recommendation that we figured we might as well give it a try. We both like steak and that restaurant so it sounded like a good idea.

We had to sit at the bar and wait for longer than we wanted due to the restaurant having an unexpected 26 top walk in the door not long before us, and the kitchen having ground to a halt trying to accommodate their orders. The bartender was friendly though, and the people watching was really good from the end of the bar where we were sitting.

Soon enough we were seated. The waiter remembered us and we let him order for us. He recommended the 18oz bone in ribeye, which was interestingly the cheapest cut on the menu. He said all their steaks were cut in house, and he swore that they were beautifully marbled and delicious. We each ordered one, even though I was sure I couldn't come close to eating that much meat.

While we waited on our steaks we ordered the fried green tomatoes. The husbeast had noticed them the night before and thought they looked amazing even though he isn't a fried green tomato fan. We asked for the crawfish sauce on the side so that I could eat them. They were perfect. The patter was more on the cornmeal side than the flaky flour side. The batter had just a little spice to them that gave them that nice little kick that they needed. The tomatoes were not so green that they were hard, and the slices were not so thick that they felt cumbersome. The husbeast almost licked the bowl the crawfish sauce had come in, so I am guessing that was good too.

Finally our meals came out. The plate was one of those large IHoP style platter plates, which for an 18oz steak you would expect. On the plate was a generous helping of fresh green beans that had been cooked with sauteed onions and red peppers, as well as a heaping pile of rosemary new potatoes. The sides covered most of the plate so our steaks were actually perched on top of the sides.

The steak itself was beautiful. It was a nice thick cut with only a thin strip of fat along the side. The grill lines were perfectly seared into the steak. A large dollop of rosemary compound butter topped it off. When we sliced into them they were cooked perfectly. Mine was just on the rare side of medium rare so when I got to the end of my steak it hadn't continued to cook itself up to medium or worse. His was just under medium where he likes it.

The flavor of the steak was phenomenal. It needed just a little salt, but honestly the husbeast and I like salt more than the average person, so that was no surprise. The husbeast, having been a steak cook, is very particular about his steaks. Generally the only time he eats a steak without steak sauce is when he cooks it. In the 13 years we have been together I had only ever seen him not put sauce on a restaurant steak once. This time made two.

The sides were also wonderful. The potatoes were so good, and I don't really like potatoes all that much. The green beans were phenomenal. I was torn between what I wanted to eat since I knew there was no way I would ever finish it all. I had to take turns between each of the three items so that I got to savor all of them equally.

After we had stuffed ourselves to the gills we decided that we still had pie space left. The husbeast took our waiters recommendation on a white chocolate praline bread pudding and I chose the key lime pie. I knew the husbeast wasn't going to be pleased with his desert choice. He is a bread pudding purist. If it is not a certain way, no matter how good it is, he will not like it. In the end he said that once he chipped away the praline the bread pudding was pretty good, he just didn't like to work that hard for his sweets.

My key lime pie on the other hand was fantastic. I am guessing it was fresh made. The crust was just the perfect thickness so you got that sweeter earthier gritty consistency mixed in with the smooth bright citrus of the filling. It was so incredibly tart, but not in an off putting sort of way. It was the perfect way to finish off an amazing dinner.

It is a damn good thing that over the course of two days we walked twenty miles. If it weren't for the fact that we walked everywhere and were pretty much always moving there is no way we could ever eat as we liked while in New Orleans. Not only would we gain a ton of weight we would not be hungry as often and therefor have less opportunities to sample such tasty treats.

Coming home to the same old food we always eat is a little disappointing. Even now, a week later, I am comparing what I eat here to what I had been eating there. It simply doesn't measure up. Still it inspires me to cook for myself instead of eating out at chain restaurants, and to experiment and try new things. 

For now I am going to be happy remembering all the wonderful food that was enjoyed, savoring those memories as long as I can. Hopefully that is enough to tide me over until we can make it back again, and start tasting new memories.

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