Friday, May 09, 2008

Where You Eat?

The second thing everyone asks me—and this says as much about my friends and me as it does about New Orleans, is, “What did you eat?”

Our best meal by far was at a restaurant called Upperline, in the Garden District. Pipi and I both opted for a tasting menu, which was a great idea because of the variety of things we got to try. The first course was two kinds of soups, a gumbo and a turtle soup. Yes, real turtle soup. The turtle meat looked and tasted like ground beef. There was also a duck etoufee with corn cakes. Dessert was a choice of pecan pie, which I had, or bread pudding (a New Orleans obsession), which Pipi tried.

The entrée was roast duck with peach sauce. I did worry that this would be too much duck, but it wasn’t. I had forgotten how good duck can be. It was served with fried green tomatoes and a shrimp remoulade. Photos unfortunately make diner look like a plate with three kinds of brown on it. They don’t begin to do it justice, and neither do words, so you’ll just have to believe me that it was fantastic. (Now you know why I’m not a food writer.) The duck was juicy without being greasy. The tomato was fried to the point of being soft and hot, but not soggily breaded like an onion ring, and the bread pudding, never my favorite dessert, came with a rich, toasty caramel sauce that took it to a new realm.

The beautiful thing about New Orleans is that it’s one of those cities where you can eat well at any price. We both had lots of yummy cheap things at the Jazz festival. Highlights included a great jerk chicken (our Frommer’s guide described New Orleans as the northernmost city in the Caribbean, which made perfect sense to us), a key lime tart, and a spinach-artichoke casserole. I know that sounds boring, but southerners know how to add enough salt and fat to anything to make it decadent. One other discovery was the New Orleans snowball. It’s shaved ice with flavored syrup and condensed milk. It tastes more like Hong Kong than the Deep South, but it’s great on a hot day. And better for you than ice cream, we told ourselves as we tried to ignore the server draining a can of Borden’s on mine.

We also went to a fascinating restaurant in Metarie called Deanie's Seafood Bucktown USA. It was an enormous family restaurant with acres of tables and lots of kids running around. (It didn’t help that the official soft drink of New Orleans appears to be Barq’s, the only root beer I know of with caffeine.) Walking in, I was afraid the place would be an Applebee’s or Olive Garden sort of place, with huge servings of bland, mediocre food. The only thing I was right about was the huge servings. The food was pretty good, and almost everything on the menu seemed exotic from my California perspective. You could get crawfish any which way (I had etoufee) and almost everything seemed to include shrimp, which seems to be the food of the people in Louisiana. In fact, we didn’t get the sense that there was anything at all unusual about taking a station wagon full of kids to eat massive plates of shellfish. Pipi says she left the restaurant feeling like she better understood what regular people eat in New Orleans, and I agree. I can’t help but think how disappointed Louisianans must be when they frequent diners in other states.

In case you missed it the first time, New Orleans photos are here.


Emily said...

Hi Nicole, Do you enjoy cooking as well as eating out? If so, we're having a mushroom recipe contest and I'd love to have you submit a recipe. The creator of the winning recipe will be mailed 2 lbs. of fresh, morel mushrooms. Recipes can be submitted to (contest link is under the Kobe burger). You may also be interested in checking out all our "unique" food items - we have some pretty fun stuff. Thanks, Emily

Nicole said...

Oh, yes, I do like to cook. I'm not confident that I have much to add to the mushroom canon, but I think I know some people who do. I'll pass on the URL. Thanks for writing!