Sitting at the cafe tables on a warm, breezy afternoon in the middle of January, you find yourself not much caring if Cafe Du Monde is a tourist trap or not.
Nestled at the base of the French Quarter, and the first stop in every New Orleans guidebook on the planet, the cafe is undoubtedly filled with tourists. But we were happy to be among them. The coffee is dark, the beignets are sweet, and the powdered sugar is literally flying through the air. Everyone -- and everything -- in the cafe seems to have a fine dusting of sweetness. It's a beautiful place to watch the world pass by.
We had the opportunity to spend four nights in New Orleans back in January, and we've been meaning to tell you about our trip ever since. Zach was traveling there to write a story for his day job, and Clay decided to tag along. We both used it as an excuse to eat up all the Louisiana we could handle.
We thought you might enjoy hearing about some of our dining adventures. Our meals skewed a little more upscale-foodie-New-Orleans as opposed to, you know, cajun/crawfish/jambalaya/po' boy/divey/Abita-in-a-shack-in-the-bayou. But if you want recommendations for those kinds of places, we can give them to you.
Our list is also not jackets-for-dinner/Commander's Palace/jazz-with-potted-palms/old-school-places-you'd-probably-go-with-your-parents. But we can recommend places for that, too. (And ours is also not hurricanes/Pat O'Briens/Mardi-Gras-beads. If you want recommendations for that, well, we can't really help you.)
But here are are a few meals we had and loved. Word of warning: You're going to want to schedule a trip to New Orleans this year.
We used our New Orleans visit as an opportunity to see friends and have them take us to their favorite restaurants. Such was the case when we met up with Jyl, Susan and Nina for lunch at Root, a new restaurant in the Warehouse District. We met Jyl through the blog a few years ago, and all three of the ladies are heavily involved in the Nola food scene.
At Root, Chef Phillip Lopez is putting new spins on traditional Louisiana ingredients. And because we were with New Orleans food world royalty, we got to taste just about everything on the menu.
The Southern charcuterie plate left us swooning. We also loved the smoked oysters with an andouille spoon bread and a Manchego foam; black licorice lacquered duck buns; and a Southern take on Indian Aloo Gobi that blew us away.
And the desserts were just as good, especially the Meyer Lemon Trio -- curd, a lemon pistachio ice cream sandwich, and macaroons. We haven't stopped thinking about that ice cream sandwich.
We also had the opportunity to eat at another awesome Warehouse District restaurant, Cochon. Since it opened in 2006, Cochon has gotten lots of buzz and lots of praise, and it was recommended to us by a number of friends. It didn't disappoint. Per the name, the restaurant is highly pork-focused, but we found a number of non-pig dishes that we loved.
The oyster roast, with a delicious chili oil was amazing, as was a crab salad that included beets and fried field peas. The Louisiana Cochon signature entree (pulled pork fried into a ball, served overbraised turnips and cabbage and pork cracklings -- swoon!!) did not disappoint.
Dessert at Cochon was a knockout -- Oatmeal Chocolate "Moon Pies" with a Dr. Pepper Sorbet. Incidentally, right after we returned home, the February Bon Appétit arrived, complete with a recipe for the Moon Pies from Cochon. Now if only we could find a recipe for the Dr. Pepper sorbet ...
By our second day in New Orleans, it was becoming evident that the trip would be somewhat of an oyster binge. We couldn't get enough of them and ordered oysters just about everywhere we visited. Our favorite oyster house was without a doubt Casamento's on Magazine Street in the Garden District. The place has been serving the best oysters in the city since 1919. From the outside, Casamento's is nothing special, just a plain storefront with a perfectly cute little sign. Inside, it's even less special. You're greeted by a long line in a room with glaring flourescent lights and a tile floor that may evoke thoughts of your elementary school cafeteria.
But then you start seeing the oysters roll through. And as you get to the front of the line, there's Mike Rogers, champion oyster shucker putting on an absolute show, prepping the oysters for both those waiting in line and those who have already been seated. Once at your table, order a dozen raw oysters and mix up your own cocktail sauce with the ketchup, horseradish and hot sauce that's on every table.
Also, definitely get an oyster loaf sandwich. It's really phenomenal and, in our humble opinion, better than a traditional po' boy (give us buttery toast over doughy French bread any day!).
For dinner another night, we went with our friends Mason and Kristen to Sylvain, a Southern bistro in the French Quarter that opened in fall 2010. The standout dishes were a Crispy Duck Confit served with Vidalia creamed black eye peas and a housemade bourbon mustard, as well as braised beef cheeks with field peas. We also loved the Southern Antipasti plate that included pickles, cured meats and a pickled egg. Sorry, no photos from Sylvain -- it was extremely dark in the restaurant.
Stepping off the plane back home in D.C., we immediately went into full atonement/detox mode. We were in a butter/oyster/pork hangover (and also a little bit of a gin/bourbon hangover, if we're being honest). We yearned for a simple green salad sans fried garnishes. Dining in New Orleans may not have been a light affair, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Later this week we'll share some more photos from our visit, and tell you about a few other things we did while in town. In the meantime, you can see more food photos from New Orelans over on our Facebook page.
You really need to figure out the next time you can get yourself to New Orleans.