Friday, October 02, 2009

Back to New Orleans

New Orleans is a wonderful city. Chip drove us south down I-55 last weekend to spend a little time in the French Quarter and the Garden District. I didn't take nearly as many photos as I should have. But isn't that always the case when you are having a good time?

Friday, September 25th was our fifth wedding anniversary. We had dinner reservations Friday evening at Lilette, a beautiful neighborhood restaurant in the Garden District. We strolled by this gem on our last trip to New Orleans, peeked into the dining room, and decided that Lilette was next on our NOLA restaurant list. Then, in early 2009, John Harris, chef-owner of Lilette, was nominated for the Best Chef: South James Beard award (eventually losing to John Currence of Oxford's City Grocery fame). We arrived early for our reservation and enjoyed champagne and a toast to our marriage. The dining room at Lilette is defninitely sexy and romantic. It just sparkles in contrast to the deep-burgundy walls. Our appetizers were fantastic. I devoured the light and fluffy gnocchi in a sage and brown butter cream sauce. Melt-in-my-mouth little pillows of heaven! Seriously! And I couldn't help but have a few nibbles of Chip's delicious grilled beets with walnuts and goat cheese. (I'm definitely recreating that one at home this fall). The entrees were so-so. Chip ordered the Kobe strip steak, and it just wasn't all that. The meat was chewy and unflavorful. Salty even. But dessert saved the meal! I ordered the sticky toffee pudding with caramel ice cream. Chip ordered the bread pudding with Earl Grey ice cream. Mine was fabulous. I didn't share. Chip didn't either.

After dinner we crossed town to Frenchman Street in Marigny to Snug Harbor Jazz Club. We had tickets to the 10 PM Ellis Marsalis Quartet performance, and I was so happy that we arranged this. Ellis Marsalis is the father of the famous jazz musicians Branford and Wynton, but all of his sons play jazz. Ellis Marsalis played piano and his son Jason accompanied him on drums. The bassist and saxiphonist were also fantastic, but the highlight of the evening for me was vocalist Johnaye Kendrick. She joined the quartet for the second half of the show, and her voice was just gorgeous. She sang soulfully and purposefully without oversinging anything. She has a way with her voice that just leaves you wanting to hear more.

Saturday we had a healthy breakfast at Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar, visited Shadyside Pottery on Magazine, and ducked in and out of the French Quarter bars as we avoided rain showers and watched SEC football. We had fresh raw oysters and shrimp cocktail in the afternoon, and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was at John Besh's (2006 Best Chef: South winner) newest restaurant - Domenica - in the Roosevelt Hotel. The menu is really different, and we liked it. They serve an array of soups, salads, and a charcuterie plate. Their appetizers, pasta bowls, and entrees are served in small or large portions so you can order a small portion of many different things if you want to go that route. And we did. We got a charcuterie plate that came with amazing fig preserves and some weird savory beignets. The meats and cheeses were yummy, the fried bread - not so much. Later, we split three of the small pasta plates: cavatelli with fennel sausage, spinach gnocchi (I was craving more after Lilette), and tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. My favorite was the rabbit ragu. Chip wanted to lick the bowl of the fennel sausage pasta. The gnocchi were just okay - way more dense and chewy than Lilette's. All in all - the meal at Domenica was probably more consistantly good than Lilette, but I prefered the atmosphere and the service at Lilette. Our server at Lilette was just wonderful.

The highlight of Saturday evening was having drinks at the Sazerac Bar also in the Roosevelt Hotel. I can't believe I did not take any photos! The bar is an Art Deco masterpiece, complete with murals of life in New Orleans painted by artist Paul Ninas in the 1930s. I overheard one bar patron say that the murals have likenesses of all of New Orleans' social elite from the 1930s era. On the right night, you may catch someone at the bar who knows the history behind each one.
I had a Ramos Gin Fizz which basically goes down like a milkshake and tastes like one, too, just not quite as heavy or sweet. The menu said that the Ramos Gin Fizz was invented in New Orleans and made famous by the Sazerac Bar because it was Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long's favorite drink in the hotel's heyday. Gov. Long definitely knew how to pick a drink. It was delicious.
Sunday morning we packed up, headed to Besh's Luke Restaurant for breakfast, then made the 3 hour drive back home. I love New Orleans. There is just something about that place that makes people feel free. Like they've been given a permission slip to be themselves, not so stuffy and caught up in the rat race. I know I feel like that when I'm there, and it is a wonderful place to be.


Jessi Finnie said...

I have been thinking about NOLA all week and then I see this! Makes me long for it...Heath and I have got to make it back there sometime soon!

Ginger said...

Sooo jealous! I LOVE New Orleans, too. I will refer back to this post when we go again for restaurant ideas.

Happy Anniversary!

Lisa Blair said...

Hey Jessi! How have you been? How is Boston? You should totally escape down to New Orleans for a weekend this winter. You know, it never gets too cold down there, and the chicory coffee and beignets are twice as good when there is a chill in the air. :) It is great to hear from you!

Ginger, Chip and I have definitely tried to eat our way through New Orleans quite a few times. ;) Let me know when y'all go again, and I'll try to make some good restaurant recommendations.

Jessi Finnie said...

Hi Lisa! I'm doing really well. Looks like you and Chip are too!? Still loving Boston, but I miss my friends and family in the South. I will definitely ask for recommendations for our next trip, Heath and I just picked places at random last time. Not always the best idea ;)

Katie said...

Aaaargh, now I've got NOLA on the braaaain. Ben has never been, and I can't WAIT to watch him develop an addiction!