A few weekends ago, I went down to New Orleans for my friend Megan’s bachelorette party. I had only been to the Big Easy once before (in college for Habitat for Humanity) and had never had a chance to fully explore the city. One of the best parts about my weekend there was the amazing food that we got to try. The flavors found in all of the dishes made me feel like we were in a different country! At almost every restaurant, I had to ask our waiter to explain dishes to me because they used ingredients I had never heard of! I couldn’t believe I had never sampled food like they have in New Orleans before! Below is a summary of our meals:
Friday – Lunch at Luke (333 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans)
John Besh is a local chef who has nine restaurants in New Orleans. Luke is a great lunch spot frequently by many of New Orleans’ professionals. We were excited for our first taste of New Orleans after an early morning flight from Boston. The whole menu looked amazing so we made sure that between the six of us, we all ordered a variety of items so we could sample as many of John Besh’s creations as possible!
We started with a half dozen Gulf oysters. Growing up spoiled by the fresh oysters from Cape Cod, we were all curious to sample these local treats. As you can see in the photo above, they were HUGE! (Some of us had trouble taking them down.) I’m not sure I can go back to “tiny” Wellfleet oysters after this!
Our waiter also insisted that we try Luke’s Baked P&J oysters made with herbsaint and a persillade crust. They were essentially breaded, garlicy goodness. Personally I enjoy raw oysters much more but for those of us in the group that struggled with the palm sized raw oysters, they enjoyed these thoroughly!
For my meal, I took ordered Friday’s special which was “Court-bouillon” consisting of redfish, crab, shrimp, oysters and Louisiana popcorn rice. IT WAS AMAZING. So amazing that I didn’t have time to take a picture! It was a thicker dark sauce filled with all sort of seafood with a scoop of rice on top. It almost looked like the gumbo that some of the girls ordered but it was thicker and saltier. I scarfed it down in just a few minutes. It came with a cup of soup and I chose the crab and corn bisque which tasted so fresh and had giant chunks of crab! The other girls ordered the Salad de Poulte Grille which contained grilled chicken, pickled stone fruit, fromage blanc and proscuitto and the day’s special which was a Softshell Crab BLT. I mean, hello! How delicious does that sound? Well it was even better than you could imagine.
Friday afternoon Happy Hour – Dominica (123 Baronne Street, New Orleans)
While dining at Luke, we met chef Aarón Sanchez (from the Food Network’s Chopped) and his business partner, Octavio, who also owns all of John Besh’s restaurants. They suggested we head over to Dominica (another John Best restaurant) for happy hour. We had some time to kill before the girls from DC arrived so we walked over there right at 3pm for the start of happy hour. Massachusetts doesn’t have happy hour so we figured why not take advantage?! Happy hour at Dominica features half off cocktails, pizzas, wine and beers and we made sure to sample all of the above.
Above is a picture of our bride with a clam pizza.
Aarón introduced us to Dominica’s chef and co-owner Alon Shaya and when we asked him for dinner suggestions for that evening, after listing of a few other options, he recommended we just dine there! We went home to shower and meet up with the other girls, who had now all made it to the hotel, before coming back for dinner.
Once again we were greeted with an overwhelming but delicious looking menu. We ended up ordering whatever Chef Alon recommended for us. In addition to the items below, we ordered Roasted Cauliflower with sea salt & whipped goat feta; Squid Ink Tagliolini with blue crab & herbs (AMAZING); Spaghetti served with Louisiana chanterelle mushrooms & butter.
A beautiful meat and cheese platter with all of the accompaniments
Octopus Carpaccio with fennel & citrus
Crispy Squash Blossoms with heirloom tomato, olive vinaigrette & labneh (Can you believe Megan had NEVER tried these before? ;-) )
Saturday Lunch – Johnnies (511 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans)
Saturday afternoon we went to a famous New Orleans spot for their well known po’ boys. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling that well so I didn’t try anything here. However, the girls loved their muffalatas as well as their fried shrimp po’ boys. I did, however, drink about my weight in their sweet tea and I can say that was two thumbs up!
Saturday Dinner – NOLA (534 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans)
When in New Orleans, you have to go to Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, right?? It was a perfect blend of classic Creole food with an upscale twist. With 12 of us all looking to try as many items as possible on the menu, we opted for his 5-course tasting menu. For just $49, I highly recommend doing this if you have the chance.
I chose Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wing with Homemade Hoisin Dipping Sauce (left). I’m not sure exactly what it was stuffed with (or how to even stuff a chicken wing) but it was so tasty. The stuffing seemed to be some sort of sausage and breading but the best part was the sweet hoisin sauce on the chicken skin. It wasn’t sticky at all but instead the flavor seemed to be injected into the chicken. Other choices for the first course were the Gumbo of the Day which was an Andouille Sausage and Duck Gumbo (center) or Crispy Smoked Duck and Mushroom Boudin Balls with Tomato-Bacon Jam and Creole Mustard Aioli (right).
For our salad course, I chose the NOLA Caesar of baby green and red romaine lettuces which featured Focaccia Croutons, Shaved Reggiano Parmesan and Dijon Anchovy Vinaigrette (left). The other options were Assorted Baby Lettuces with Marinated Grape Tomatoes, Belle Ècorce Farms Goat Cheese, Pistachios and Herb-Balsamic Vinaigrette (center) or NOLA Panzanella Salad with Vine Ripe Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Red Onion, Toasted Focaccia Bread, Feta Cheese, Romaine Lettuce, and Red Wine Herb Vinaigrette (right).
My selection for our third course was my favorite of the whole meal. I went with one of NOLA’s most popular items the Garlic Crusted Drum which was a fish cooked in the wood burning oven with brabant potatoes, crimini mushrooms, bacon and sauce beurre rouge (left). It was a perfect blend of sweetness with savory hints. The other options were a Pan Roasted Salmon with herb couscous, ratatouille, red chili raita and preserved lemon butter sauce (center). I really enjoyed the third option, Shrimp & Grits which came with sautéed Gulf shrimp, grilled green onions, smoked cheddar grits, apple smoked bacon, crimini mushrooms and red chili-abita butter sauce (right). Whether or not you chose the tasting menu, I HIGHLY recommend that the Drum and the Shrimp & Grits gets ordered by someone in your party.
I only was able to snag two pictures for this course. My selection was the Fried Buttermilk Breast of Chicken (top) which came with bourbon mashed sweet potatoes, country ham cream gravy and sautéed sugar snap peas. It was scrumptious. Now I know why people in the South have more obesity problems than people in the North….amazing food like this! The girls that ordered the Pan Seared Filet Mignon with cauliflower purée, confit wild mushrooms, herb roasted bone marrow and garlic bordelaise (bottom) all declared it the highlight of their meal. The third option was a Grilled Pork Chop with brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes, toasted pecans and caramelized onion reduction sauce.
The options for our final course were all amazing but I could only manage a bite of each I was so full! I chose the Key Lime Pie with blackberry compote, passionfruit coulis and graham cracker whipped cream (above). It was refreshing and rich at the same time. The other options were a Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with popcorn ice cream, chocolate sauce, bourbon caramel sauce and popcorn brittle or a selection of house-made ice cream or sorbet. PHEW
Sunday Pre-Brunch – Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, New Orleans)
Believe it or not, we followed up Saturday night’s dinner with brunch and a pre-brunch snack at Cafe du Monde. If you’re in New Orleans, you have to go to Cafe du Monde. That’s really all that needs to be said. Lines may seem long (both to sit or for to-go orders) however it moves quickly because tables free up often. There is no hostess to seat you, so while many wait in one long line, it’s basically a free for all so I suggest just grabbing any open table you see.
Sunday Brunch – Cafe Amelie – (912 Royal Street, New Orleans)
We had brunch reservations at this a beautiful garden restaurant on Sunday afternoon. However, it poured all morning so we were stuck inside. The food was great but I think we missed out on a big part of the ambiance.
Nevertheless, I chose the smoked salmon BLT which was a perfect hangover breakfast!
Sunday Dinner – Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar (711 Iberville Street, New Orleans)
By our last night we were dying to try the Charbroiled Oysters we had heard so much about. We went to Felix’s, one of the spots in New Orleans known for this delicacy. To make these, they basically squirt raw oysters with a garlic oil and plop them, in the half shell, on an open flame. The result is baked oysters without the breading. The result is amazing.
As is Felix’s Jambalaya!
Overall, I thought the best part about New Orleans was the food. We had so many great meals and I look forward to recreating the flavors soon in my own kitchen!