June 24, 2011 |
We ate many meals in New Orleans, but the following four meals were the most memorable for me. In all four cases, these weren’t meals you could enjoy anywhere else in the country. The food, the people, and, most importantly, the environments added up to create four totally unique experiences; experiences that I recommend you have on your next trip there.
Our first stop is Mandina’s, which was recommended to me by Pim of Chez Pim who guided me there along with Amy from Cooking With Amy and Chichi from Serious Eats.
The food at Mandina’s is not, by any means, light. But the place has a boisterous atmosphere and a casual charm that make it a great place to go with your family (including young kids) or a big group. Here, this will give you a sense:
This is also where Pim introduced me to the Sazerac, which she ordered while we were waiting for our table:
Food-wise, I flipped out over these eggplant fries:
They have the exterior of mozzarella sticks but the interior of creamy eggplant and, topped as they are with Parmesan cheese and served with a bright, acidic tomato sauce, it’s a great way to start a meal.
To keep things healthy, we ordered another vegetable in the form of onion rings:
And these were pretty excellent too.
The food isn’t so photogenic at Mandina’s, so you may not swoon when I show you my trout almondine:
Or the very winning red beans and rice that I ordered as a side:
But trust me; it all tasted excellent.
Our next stop is at the Green Goddess, a place recommended to me by John Kessler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
After all the heavy food that you consume day-in and day-out while visiting New Orleans, this is a great place to know about. It’s in a charming spot, off of Royal on the way to Canal Street, and if you sit outside–as we did–you’ll get a charming view of an alleyway with lots of foot traffic. Here’s the view looking up:
Craig and I shared a bottle of rosé which the waitress recommended because of its vivid red color:
She wasn’t kidding:
At this point in the day, I’d already had two lunches and one pre-dinner (I’m not joking) so when it came time for me to order, I picked the salad with green goddess dressing:
Of course, this being New Orleans, it came crowned with bits of bacon, but let’s ignore that. This was super refreshing and light and a very welcome presence at the dinner table. Craig also ordered light; a dish of watermelon and tuna that he raved about:
When Craig told the waitress that he wanted a cheese course, he asked for something stinky. That’s when she told us that this cheese (which came, funny enough, from Cato Farms which has a booth here in New York at the Union Square Farmer’s Market), a cheese called “the Hooligan” was the cheese she once served a customer who requested, “A cheese that smells like my mom’s farts.”
See folks: only in New Orleans.
Craig gobbled it up, despite the fart reference. And the chef came around to mingle and we had fun chatting with him.
We continue our tour at The Camellia Grill. There’s one, apparently, in the French Quarter that people on our trip flipped out over, but we wanted to visit the Garden District so we hopped on a street car and told the driver to let us know when we got to (the original) Camellia. The driver obliged (after driving us past all the beautiful mansions) and here’s what we beheld when we exited:
Isn’t that a great exterior? I love the white house with columns and the pink neon sign.
Inside, it’s like a theater. The counter surrounds a big open kitchen and everyone faces these guys who make everything right in front of you:
The place has a weathered quality that makes it all the more likable. Check out this Mickey Mouse clock:
I ordered the chili omelet, which came stuffed with cheese and smothered with chili:
The texture of the eggs here was truly amazing. I’d read something of it on the Road Food website; apparently the eggs are mixed first in a blender, which explains, perhaps, their airy, cloud-like lightness. Contrasted with the chili and the cheese, it was a magical plate of breakfast.
But I couldn’t just order that, could I? I also ordered a pecan waffle that was positively stuffed with pecans:
The waiter set down this along with it:
I had to ask: “What’s that yellow stuff?”
“Butter,” was the response. He smiled when he said it.
Meanwhlie, Craig takes the prize for ordering the most winning dish. That dish would be the Camellia Grill hamburger:
This almost got its own post because we both agreed (I, of course, had to take a bite too) that this was one of the best hamburgers either of us had ever had. The exterior of the meat was perfectly crisp and caramelized, the way all hamburgers should be. And the size of the patty balanced against the bun and all the other toppings made for a Michelin star-worthy hamburger experience. Don’t miss it.
The final meal I’d like to tell you about was also my favorite. That would be the meal we had at Cochon:
Almost universally, everyone said we had to eat at Cochon. In fact, my friend Ben even texted me, without knowing where I was going to eat: “Besides Cochon, where are you eating?”
It’s that inevitable that you go there when you visit New Orleans, especially if you’re a food person.
And the praise is well-deserved.
This is the room, bustling with activity:
And here’s the bread they serve you right away:
When I asked the waiter what made it so good, he said, “It’s made with lard.” See? That’s why you want to eat at Cochon.
These spicy, garlicky, buttery broiled oysters are not-to-be-missed:
Though this iceberg lettuce salad was ever so slightly disappointing:
Let’s not dwell on that, though, when we have the Cochon cochon to talk about:
What a profound plate of food this is. A big pile of shredded pork that’s been seared on the outside, topped with pork cracklings and–you can barely see it–cooked apples (to add sweetness) in a bowl with turnips and a rich, meaty jus. I mean seriously, how could this not be the best plate of food that we ate in New Orleans?
We shared that along with the rabbit with dumplings:
For the longest time, I’ve shirked anything that’s served “with dumplings” thinking of sad, soggy floaters ruining a perfectly good bowl of stew. But here the dumplings take on a life of their own. They absorb all the rich goodness of the rabbit gravy but, on the top, they’re almost like crisp biscuits. They’re wonderful.
Again, for health purposes, we had to order a vegetable. So this time we ordered hush puppies:
Words fail, these were so good.
And as for dessert, just a simple plate of fruit in the form of a peach pie:
The chef at Cochon is Donald Link and I made a point, upon returning to New York, to buy his book “Real Cajun” which I plan to cook from ASAP. He’s really one of New Orleans’s best chefs and his book reflects that.
So those are four meals that stand out as the best from our trip. Surely we didn’t cover the whole town (next time I want to try Herbsaint, Link’s other restaurant) but we did pretty well. And obviously I’ve been fasting ever since we got back because, I mean–God in heaven–that was a lot of food.
Categories: Restaurant Reviews, Southeast, The Rest of the U.S.