Saturday 7 December 2013

Jazzing up my taste buds in New Orleans!

I'm lucky in that I get to travel in my job; to the USA, India, Australia and all over Europe. And this week (first the first time) I got to tick one of my genuine 'bucket list' locations : New Orleans, 'the big easy'! This was one of those places that I fell in love with the second I arrived : it was just so cool, and there wasn't nearly as much Katrina damage as I had expected to see so the city appears to be well and truly through the worst of it. We stayed in a hotel on Bourbon Street, right in the thick of it all, and got to visit some very famous and exceptionally good places to eat.

Commander's Palace

This is quite possibly the most famous restaurant in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) and is renowned across the country as the home of great seafood. My starter was a trio of three soups : crab and foie gras (rich and velvety), gumbo (so very, very, very good) and turtle! The latter had to be tried for novelty value and whilst the flavour was good I think it was the naughtiness of eating turtle that made it all the more enjoyable. Main course was rabbit, which was lovely but honestly unremarkable. The side order of crab was better. Dessert was another signature dish : bread and butter pudding soufflĂ©. Divine. Great surroundings, great service and great theatre at the table made for a very enjoyable meal.

Café du Monde

Another 'must-do' is this NOLA stalwart. Great coffee and great beignets (doughnuts covered in icing sugar). Straight from the fryer, these were the perfect way to start the day (two days, following a return visit).

Steamboat Natchez

I have written before about the fact that boat + food = disappointment and this was no exception, although a long way from the worst boat food in the world. However, a good opportunity to taste a bunch of local specialities. My dad has often waxed lyrical about the merits of catfish, and can now add my voice to this. Great. As was the gumbo, but all else average.

G W Fins

Another popular NOLA seafood restaurant, and a SUPER-DISH I will not forget in a hurry! Lobster tail to start, with a mustard mayonnaise dip and a little fondue pot of melted butter. Absolutely divine, a great example of where the sum is greater than the gastronomic parts, this was a to-die-for piece of shellfish! Main course of flounder (stuffed with blue crab and spinach) could only be a disappointment after this starter, as indeed it was. I also liked this place as it is so nearly called Flynn's, so made me think of Tron.

The Central Grocery

Last of all was as good as anything else eaten in NOLA : a muffaletta. Say what? A big-ass sandwich. This was another city tradition and was great fun. Made fresh by a team of three people in the back of the coolest Italian grocery store this side of Naples. Thin slices of different meats (at least salami, ham and turkey) plus two different types of cheese (mozzarella I could recognize) plus a sort of pimped tapenade. It was this latter ingredient that makes this dish distinctive, a very coarse and impossibly tasty tapenade. My best guess at ingredients : olives (obviously), capers, peppers, pickled carrot, pickled gherkin, pickled cauliflower and chilli. Divine, and a great end to some exciting food.

I really enjoyed NOLA and would love to visit again for a little more time. The food was mostly excellent and all was served and presented with aplomb. However, I did manage to spend 4 days in 'the big easy' and not eat a single oyster, crawfish or alligator!

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