Tag Archives: New Orleans

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Magnificent oak trees. Melancholic cypresses dressed in Spanish moss. Alligators peeking out from swampy waters. Magnificent, decaying plantations. Quaint accents. Humidity. Iced tea.

Those are just some of the images that dotted my brain about the South, a region of America I only know from books and movies – and culinary adventures. I’d never specially wanted to go to the South, with the exception of New Orleans and Savannah, which were inscribed on my imaginary bucket list decades ago, and left to grow cobwebs there.

Now, when I think about our so-very-brief trip to Louisiana, I actually thirst for more. Sights. Experiences. I want to drink a sweet lemonade (I don’t like iced tea) while sitting on a rocking chair, on the front porch of some achingly quaint Southern home, in a close-to-scorching summer. I want to succumb to the romance of all those books and movies brought together. I just want to go back to those swamps.

This trip to Louisiana came out of nowhere. Well, it came out of the Eclipse and our friends Eddie and Arthur, who suddenly reached out to Mike a few weeks before the sun was scheduled to be covered by the moon for all of four minutes and asked us to join them in watching the spectacle. Mike wanted to go. He had wanted to go for years. I had looked at the hotel prices a year before and written it off. Witnessing a total eclipse is a one-in-a-lifetime experience – we’d had ours a few years before in Oregon (sitting on the rocks in a quiet stream, commuting with nature, perfection). I didn’t need another one. But Mike insisted. We could stay with Eddie and Arthur in Dallas. He’d go by himself if I refused.

Air tickets to Dallas – and any surrounding airports – were ridiculously expensive. Surge pricing. What you’d expect. I’m cheap. Thrifty. I’d seen an eclipse. He insisted. So I looked further in the map, looking for airports where we could drive for a reasonable amount. New Orleans popped out. An eight hour drive from Dallas, but New Orleans was in my bucket list. From that perspective, it’d be shooting two birds with one stone. And Mike was insisting.

So we went. We spent two glorious days in New Orleans, another driving to Texas, a day and a play in Dallas, another seeing the eclipse, and then got a glimpse of a portion of Southern Louisiana. It felt like enough, even if now I want more.

The trip, of course, was a culinary experience. I already wrote about our culinary adventures in New Orleans. There isn’t much to tell about the Texas part of our trip – I wrote about a chicken restaurant, Eddie and Arthur took us to, but I was too busy enjoying seeing our old friends to take enough mental notes of our other meals there. What’s left is the rest of the food we enjoyed (or not) in Louisiana. Here it is:

New Orleans Food Tour

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Eating our way through the French Quarter in two days

A month before our brief sojourn in New Orleans, we spent a glorious week in New York City. I’d planned it as a foodie trip, and had had a wonderful time exploring many of New York City’s culinary classics. I wanted to do the same for our spell in New Orleans, albeit we only had two and a quarter days in the Big Easy. No matter. Determination and planning can conquer time, and in those two days we still managed to have twelve gastronomic experiences, albeit a couple involved just cocktails. This is the story of our brief trip, in food. Bolded links lead to my reviews of each place.

First night

Our plane was late, not getting into town until nearly 8 PM. I had made reservations at Mamou, a French restaurant in the French Quarter, which has gotten a lot of attention for its innovative food. While it’s a new addition to New Orleans, the pictures made it look as an organic evolution of French Quarter venues – and it looks beautiful. Alas, due to our late arrival, and the restaurant’s relatively early closing time at 9 PM on a Wednesday, we couldn’t make our reservations. I’m still sad about it.

Instead we headed to Napoleon House, one of New Orleans’ historical restaurants famed for its muffulettas – where we had one of such muffulettas. The walk through the French Quarter and the lovely, ancient surroundings was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to the city.

Day One

On Thursday, we dedicated ourselves to explore the French Quarter. This is the sort of place you walk your way through. Mike, indeed, took an early walk by himself and witnessed the impressive cleaning of Bourbon street every morning. Those extra sale taxes you pay in the French Quarter are definitely put to good use.

We started our day together by going to Café Beignet on Decatur Street for breakfast. They have several branches, but this one was the most convenient to Jackson Square. Here we tried authentic New Orleans beignets for the first time and concluded we liked regular doughnuts much better.

After some more exploring and taking a relaxing tour of the French Quarter in a mule-driven carriage (shoutout to Marie, the mule, for her patience), we headed to Johnny’s Po-Boys to try one of New Orleans’ famed po’ boy sandwiches. It turns out they’re just subs, but Mike loved his shrimp po’ boy.

After lunch, we crossed the street to the New Orleans School of Cooking to pick up some pralines. They weren’t our thing.

After some more exploring of the French Quarter – I’m sad to say the Pharmacy Museum was closed -, we ended up at Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard Restaurant, the creators of New Orleans’ signature drink, the Hurricane. Here I had my first jambalaya and bread pudding in New Orleans – the latter was delicious.

We had two more drink stops that afternoon, as we continued to explore the French Quarter. While Mike was buying souvenirs, I briefly stopped at the Vampire Cafe for a virgin blood bag – namely pomegranate lemonade served in a plastic bag similar to those used when you donate blood. The lemonade was sickly sweet and not worth its $9 price, even despite the blood bag gimmick. Later, we stopped at one of the four Tropical Isle bars on Bourbon Street to try their frozen hand grenade.

For dinner, I’d made reservations at Brigtsen’s, one of New Orleans most acclaimed Creole restaurants. It’s in the Riverbend neighborhood, so quite far away from the French Quarter, but conveniently located near a stop in the Saint Charles streetcar line. We had a lovely but long ride in the wooden streetcar and got to see a glimpse of the French Quarter – which proved providential as my plans were to tour it before we headed to the airport for our flight back home, but we ended up short in time.

Day two

Our second day was much more subdued. Mike did some more exploring of the French Quarter before I woke up and then he nicely went to Café du Monde to get some beignets for the two of us. We confirmed that they’re just not for us.

After hanging out in the patio of our hotel – and playing with the cats – we headed off to a leisurely lunch at Broussard’s, another of the French Quarter’s historical restaurants. It was wonderful.

Mike had a nice nap after lunch – what is better than napping on vacation? – while I hang out in our balcony, before our airboat tour of the swamp. It was a lot of fun, we saw a lot of alligators – and, for better or worse, fed them marshmallows -, though we preferred the flat-bottomed boat ride we took in Lafayette some days later.

Once back, we got dressed and headed to Arnaud’s for a drink at their bar. Their larger bar was full, but we had a French 75 at the Richelieu Bar. Neither of us liked the drink, but we dug the bar.

Finally, it was time for dinner at GW Fins, across the street. We had a wonderful post-anniversary dinner at one of the premier seafood restaurants in the city. And that was that for our second day.

Day three – morning

Our last morning in New Orleans we headed to Brennan’s, yet another of the French Quarter’s historical restaurants, for breakfast. The breakfast here had been much lauded, but we were disappointed. But I guess you cannot win them all.

In all, we had an absolutely wonderful time in New Orleans. We loved the French Quarter in all its aspects – the quietness early in the morning, the craziness at night and the touristy buzz during the day. I think I liked our morning mule carriage ride best of all, which gave us the opportunity to look at the buildings in a leisurely way and a learn a bit about the city, and I’d say that the brunch in the Broussard courtyard was probably my favorite gastronomic experience here.

Two days may not be much, but I felt I got a good taste of the French Quarter.

New Orleans Food Tour: Brennan’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

A disappointing breakfast at a beautiful restaurant.

Brennan’s is one of New Orleans famed historical restaurants. It opened on Bourbon Street in 1946 as Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carre Restaurant, and moved to its present location after the death of its founder. The restaurant, located in an 18th century building, underwent major restorations last decade, and it’s now famous for its several outrageously beautiful dining rooms, which so toe the line between elegant and kitschy. The front dining room, where we had breakfast, was wonderfully fun and Disneyesque. We could have been in a set from Beauty and the Beast.

Despite its age, Brennan is still a very popular restaurant in New Orleans, and its particularly noted for its breakfasts. Indeed, I read so much about them that I made reservations to eat there out last morning in New Orleans, despite the fact that I usually don’t eat breakfast. Alas, it proved a mistake. As lovely as the surroundings were, the food was underwhelming and overpriced.

As I wasn’t very hungry, and was planning to have after-breakfast dessert, I ordered the Shallot Tarte Tatin (caramelized shallots, sherry caramel, puff pastry, taleggio – $15.00). I expected the portion to be small, given that it was a (breakfast) appetizer, though perhaps not so small – still, it was delicious. I’d been afraid that the puff pastry would overwhelm the shallots, as is often the case, including when I’ve made similar tarts. Here, however, the puff pastry was barely there. There was just enough of it to hold the shallots together, and the chef must be recognized for this achievement. I will definitely try to copy this sometime. The shallots were perfectly caramelized and just beautiful, and they went wonderfully with the warmed cheese – which maybe needed to be a tad warmer so it wouldn’t cool down before I finished eating it. Still, this was a very successful dish, and for that reason, worth its rather steep price.

Brennan’s offers both New Orleans style chicory mixed coffee, and regular coffee from a local roaster. I had a pot of the latter ($9), and it was fine, though nothing to write home about. It did feel overpriced.

Mike had the Crawfish Omelette Cardinal (Vital Farms eggs, Louisiana crawfish tails, lemon scented Mascarpone, sauce Cardinal  – $28.00) and he was very disappointed in it. The biggest sin was that the crawfish were served separately from the omelette, instead of being incorporated into the omelette itself. The omelette, on its own, was pedestrian. He liked the dish, but was not awed by it and found it overpriced for what it was.

Mike had a French Quarter Fest (honeydew purée, Chareau aloe liqueur, sparkling wine – $15), which was basically a honeydew melon mimosa. He enjoyed quite a bit, and it has inspired me to try mixing champagne with a variety of fruit juices and purees to see which ones might work.

One of Brennan’s main claims to fame is that its antecedent restaurant was the originator of Bananas Foster. As the story goes, Ella Brennan created the dish based on a dessert her mother used to make and named it after Richard Foster, the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission and a friend of her husband’s. That meant that we had to have the dish. You can only order it for at least 2 people, at $14 per person.

At Brennan’s, the waiter will come and flambee the dish table side. This means that you can see everything that goes into it: an enormous amount of butter and sugar and a banana, split in two. The banana is then served with the resulting toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’m sorry to say that as much as we loved the show – and enjoyed seeing kids seating nearby be fascinated by the flambeeing -, the results were underwhelming. The toffee sauce was unbelievably sweet – or rather, quite believable – and the banana didn’t really have the time to absorb much of it, it just slid off it. The ice cream was quite bland, and didn’t really work with the caramel. It was just not worth the sugar content.

Service was fine though uneven. The floor manager in our dining room – I don’t recall what title he used when he introduced himself – was an incredible salesman, welcoming everyone into the restaurant and convincing patrons that yes, in New Orleans, breakfast cocktails were a thing. It was a pleasure just to see him work the room. The waiters themselves were less impressive.

In all, I felt this was our most disappointing meal in New Orleans, as well as our most overpriced one, and it’s the one place I would not return to, at least for breakfast.

417 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA
M-F: 9 am - 2 pm, 6 - 10 pm
Sa-Su: 8 am - 2 pm, 6 - 10 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: GW Fins

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

My first venture into a seafood restaurant was phenomenal

I don’t think I’d ever been to a seafood restaurant. I like white fish well enough, but I’m not a fun of any of crustaceans, red fish or any other sea creatures. Mike, as most people, loves seafood, but as most regular restaurants also serve seafood, he doesn’t usually feel deprived. So it was somewhat surprising, even to myself, that I decided to make a reservation at GW Fins for one of our only three dinners in New Orleans. My thought was that New Orleans is such a seafood city, that I couldn’t go to the city and not have fish at least once. And if I was going to have fish, I might as well have it in a restaurant that specializes in it.

GW Finn was highly recommended as one of the best restaurants in New Orleans in a number of publications and reddit posts, plus it was located only a few blocks from our hotel. I did read a comment that there was nothing particularly New Orleans about this restaurant – seafood restaurants of this sort exist in many major American cities -, but I figured not all of our meals in New Orleans needed to feature Creole food. In all, I’m very glad we went, as we (or really, I) had an amazing meal.

We had celebrated our thirty-first anniversary early during our February trip to New York City, but we had skipped going out to dinner on the actual date in favor of celebrating it once more in New Orleans. GW Fins welcomed us with a table decorated with sparkles and a ribbon-wrapped menu to take home. I thought it was a beautiful detail.

GW’s menu changes somewhat depending on what is available at the fish market that day, though not all of the seafood is local. Our waiter was very helpful in indicating what was. In addition to seafood, the menu includes entrees with chicken, pork and beef. Vegetarians, however, are out of luck unless they want to eat salad and sides.

I started my meal with a Poached Pear Salad (baby arugula, Danish blue cheese, candied walnuts, red grapes, balsamic reduction – $13). Seldom have I had a more perfectly balanced and well dressed salad. It was just delicious. The only minus were the poached pears themselves, which had been poached with cinnamon and other apple pie spices. This gave them a discordant note with the rest of the salad, though they were good in themselves. I think this salad would be much better with pears poached in plain water. But still, minus the pears, it was perfect.

Mike had the Lobster Bisque (Maine lobster, cognac crème fraîche – $14). They bring you a soup plate with large chunks of lobster and then they pour the bisque on top of it. Mike was wild about just how good it was – both the lobster itself and the creamy bisque. It might have been the best lobster bisque he’s had. I think I’ll try to recreate it for him when I go back to cooking.

I had a very hard time deciding on what actual fish dish I was going to get. The menu had a number of interesting, and even scary choices. Finally, I went with the wood grilled Golden Tilefish (sweet potato hash, chipotle butter, crisp plantains, pineapple basil glaze – $38) and it was phenomenal. Much to Mike’s chagrin, I couldn’t stop raving about it as I was eating it. First, the wood grilling of the fish was genius. It gave it a smoky flavor that contrasted very well with the sweetness of the sauce. And then, the combination of flavors and textures was just on point. Whoever is in the kitchen devising dishes like this deserves a raise. Flavors were both novel and balanced.

The tilefish itself had a mild flavor, so it was perfect to go along with all the other ones. The portion was substantial – so much so, that I was too full for dessert afterwards.

Mike, unfortunately, was much less lucky with his choice. He had loved the redfish we’d had at Brigtsen’s the night before, so he decided on the cast iron blackened Wild Redfish (fried shrimp, mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, chili hollandaise, corn butter – $37). The main problem was the rub on the fish. It was a generic Creole rub, that made the fish taste just of that. It wasn’t as much bad, as lazy and unimaginative. If you are going to use a Creole rub, it should be better than what I can put together in my home kitchen. That said, Mike really liked the fish. He felt it was perfectly cooked, and liked how the redfish was meatier and less flaky than other white fish such as cod. He also liked the shrimp – though he generally dislikes having to remove heads and tails himself, and loved the shrimpy sauce. I liked it too, it had plenty of umami flavor.

GW Finn also needs to be noted for their biscuits and butter. The warm biscuits were incredible, they came apart by just looking at them, but they were very tasty.

Service was very good as well – out waiter went patiently over the menu, told us what fish were local and was very attentive. He made us feel quite special and welcomed. We did notice that most of the customers were white, while most of the service staff were people of color. This did make us feel mildly uncomfortable, though I’m not sure what the restaurant could do about it.

GW Fins
808 Bienville St.
New Orleans, LA
(504) 581-3467
Su-Th: 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm
F-Sa: 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: The Richelieu Bar @ Arnaud’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Pre-dinner cocktails in an elegant bar

Arnaud’s is another classic New Orleans restaurant, dating all the way back to 1918. On a Friday night, the restaurant was impossibly busy and lively, it looked like a great place to go if what you want is an upbeat, social atmosphere.

However, the recommendations we had were to go to Arnaud for a drink before having dinner at G.W. Finn across the street. Arnaud’s main bar, French 75, has been named by Esquire Magazine one of the five best bars in the country. And that might indeed be the case – but we’ll never know, as when we arrived a little before 8 PM, the place was popping and full and we couldn’t get a table or even a seat at the bar. Instead of waiting, we were offered a table at Arnaud’s older and far smaller Richelieu Bar, and given that our time was limited, we decided to take it.

The Richelieu Bar was built in 1948 in one of the oldest parts of the restaurant, though it was recently renovated. It maintains its beautiful mahogany bar. The space is rather small and dark, and on a Friday night, it was filled with young people in girls’ and boys’ weekend trips, mostly sitting at the banquette on the back or going in and out the back door.

The bar serves both food and drinks, though given our upcoming dinner reservations we decided to go only for the former.

Mike got the French 75 (Cognac, Lemon Juice, Sugar, Moet Chandon Champagne, $15), the drink for which Arnaud’s is famous.

This cocktail was developed in the 1920’s, though champagne-based cocktails date back to the 19th century. While the older French 75 recipes used gin, later recipes substituted it with cognac, and that is Arnaud’s approach to the drink.

Unfortunately, we didn’t like it. I, of course, found it way too strong and sour for my taste. Surprisingly, so did Mike. He just didn’t think it was very tasty, and felt the alcohol in the cocktail wasn’t tempered by the added ingredients. As this was our first French 75, I think the problem was the drink itself, and not Arnaud’s rendition.

I didn’t feel like an alcoholic drink – I’m clearly not much of a drinker – so I ordered a Tropic Storm (Pineapple Juice, Honey Syrup, Pomegranate, Lime Juice – $8). The drink was tasty enough, and the presentation was beautiful, but there was barely any of it. The glass was mostly filled with ice, and I’d be surprised if there was more than 4 to 6 oz of actual juice in it. That was disappointing, but clearly a bar is not a place to order non-alcoholic drinks.

Service was good and in all, we had a nice time hanging out there. Next time we might try going to the French 75 bar and ordering other stuff.

Richelieu Bar @ Arnaud's
813 Rue Bienville
New Orleans, LA

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Broussard’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Delicious Creole food in a historical restaurant

Creole cuisine was developed in the kitchens of innumerable Creoles during the French and Spanish period, who combined European techniques with native and African ingredients, but it was popularized and brought to its zenith in the kitchens of a handful of now classic restaurants in New Orleans. Several of them still exist today, both in and out of the French Quarter, and no visit to the City is complete without dining at least one of them.

That said, I had not intended to go to Broussard’s for lunch the second and last day of our New Orleans trip. I had previously made and then cancelled reservations to Galatoire’s, another of these classic restaurants, whose Friday lunch is legendary, thinking that we’d want lighter fare for lunch. But it was a beautiful day, and after eating beignets in the courtyard of our hotel, I thought lunch in the courtyard of a nearby restaurant would be just lovely. Broussard not only fit the bill, but it had reservations available. And reservations are a must if you want to sit in the courtyard – walk ins are seated indoors, which is also lovely, but not what I wanted that day.

Broussard’s traces its history back to 1920 when Joseph Broussard, a Creole with French culinary training, opened the restaurant in the childhood home of his wife, Rosalie. After the couple died in the 1960’s, the restaurant was sold and has changed hands a number of times, but still occupies the same lovely building with a comfortable, casual and very sunny patio.

A jazz band plays during brunch, Fridays to Sundays, though that day they were mostly visiting individual tables and playing “Happy Birthday” – the trumpet player was amazing. Given how warm it was that early April day, I feel for them during New Orleans summers.

Broussard’s brunch menu offers Creole, Southern and French classics and I really wish I had been hungrier to try more of them – the baked Camembert, in particular, sounded wonderful. Mike, who hadn’t eaten as many beignets as I had, ordered the Duck And Alligator Sausage Gumbo, with Louisiana popcorn rice ($12) as an appetizer. This was our second gumbo of the trip, and we both agreed that it was the superior one. The soup was very flavorful, only slightly spicy and achieved that umami quality that is essential for any soup. The shredded duck, in particular, was delicious, while the alligator sausage was interesting but not as flavorful as Andouille. We’d definitely order this dish again.

I ordered the Short Ribs & Eggs ($34) which came with brabant potatoes and hollandaise sauce (I asked fo it to be on the side). The short rib was delicious, perfectly cooked, with the absolutely right texture and devoid of extra fat. The kitchen knows how to prepare a short rib. The potatoes were good as well, particularly with the hollandaise. While the dish didn’t appear huge, I was stuffed.

Mike had the Bbq Gulf Shrimp & Grits ($29) and he was in heaven. The “New Orleans style” barbecue sauce didn’t taste like any barbecue sauce I’m acquainted with, but was absolutely delicious. He usually hates grits, but he enjoyed these mascarpone grits swimming in them. If you are going to eat shrimp and grits in New Orleans – and if you like shrimp, you sort of have to -, this is where you should get them.

Neither of us had any room for dessert, but I did have bottomless mimosas ($18) with brunch. I liked that they make them for you at the table, bringing you a small carafe with orange juice to add to the flutes they keep filling with champagne. This way I was able to get the perfect mimosa for my taste – about 2/3rds champagne, 1/3 orange juice. These weren’t the best mimosas in the world, the orange juice wasn’t freshly squeezed, but they were definitely a fun drink to have in a warm day like that one.

Service was great. Our waiter was genial and efficient, even when he had to also take over the mimosa duty when the drink waiter became unavailable.

In all, this was one of the best meals we had in New Orleans, and it very much overshadowed the breakfast we had the next day at Brennan’s. If you are going to one restaurant for brunch, this is the place.

819 Conti Street
New Orleans, LA
M & Th: 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
F & Sa: 10:00 am - 4:00 pm & 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Su: 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Tu-W: closed

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Cafe du Monde

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Wherein we confirm that beignets are just not our thing.

The Cafe du Monde is one of the America’s oldest – and most famous – cafes, serving chicory coffee and beignets since 1862. This open air cafe is located at one end of the French market in the French quarter and attracts endless lines of tourists. While our visit to Cafe Beignet had pretty much convinced us that we didn’t like beignets, any visit to New Orleans demands a visit to Cafe du Monde. Alas, rather than face the crowds myself, I sent Mike to get us beignets. I didn’t burden him with getting chicory coffee, as I was pretty sure I would not like it. Chicory has been used as a coffee extender for ages, and while it has become quite popular in New Orleans, there is a reason why that popularity hasn’t travelled (I guess this is just as true for beignets). Plus our hotel had normal coffee available for guests.

The beignets come in paper bags, three to an order ($3.85)

They had irregular shapes, they were probably rectangular to being with but they deformed in the hot oil. I liked them better than those at Cafe Beignet because they were slightly lighter and less dense, but only slightly. These were still heavy, chewy and just not that tasty. Again, regular doughnuts are far superior.

Still, I’m glad we tried them.

Besides its location at the French Market, Café du Monde has several locations throughout New Orleans, including one at the airport. So, if unlike us, you do like beignets, you can pick some up right before you fly back home.

Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA
(504) 587-0833
Su-Th: 7:15AM-11PM
F-Sa: 7:15AM-12AM

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Brigtsen’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Classic Creole food by a disciple of the great Paul Prudhomme

Brigtsen’s is one of those Chef owned restaurants that you just want to love because you know they are a labor of love themselves. Chef Frank Brigtsen started his culinary career as a pantry apprentice at New Orleans famed restaurant Commander’s Palace back in 1978. There, legendary chef Paul Prudhomme took him under his wing, teaching him how to cook traditional Creole cuisine. In 1986, Prudhomme helped Brigtsen open his own restaurant, and he has been cooking and serving sophisticated Creole cuisine ever since. In these almost forty years he has won numerous awards, including a James Beard, and has become an ambassador for Creole cuisine nationwide. He is also mentoring the next generation of Creole cuisine chefs.

The restaurant itself is located in a cottage in the Riverbend neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s only a couple of blocks away from a cable car stop, and the ride from the French Quarter takes you through the Garden District and by Tulane university. The ride in the airy wooden carriage was long but romantic in that balmy spring New Orleans evening, and a perfect preface to a Creole meal.

I’ve eaten at a handful of restaurants located in old homes, and I like the intimacy of the small dining rooms. This was the case at Brigtsen’s, where we were seated in what once might have been a small dining room itself. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, but it wasn’t needed.

Brigtsen’s is a smart casual sort of place, like most of the nicer restaurants we went to in New Orleans. What this means in practicality is that collared shirts are a must for men.

Brigtsen’s menu is centered in Creole cuisine, though it travels beyond it by incorporating dishes and ingredients that show international influences – what you would expect from a lower-case, ever evolving creole cuisine.

The menu was heavy on seafood and not particularly friendly to vegetarians – fortunately, we didn’t have one along. It’s relatively short, fitting a small kitchen.

I wasn’t extremely hungry so I decided to forgo an appetizer and get dessert instead, though Mike went for the full three courses.

We started dinner with bread. Now, this is true at most American restaurants, but at Brigtsen’s they actually charge you for the bread ($3.50). This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – when I grew up in Argentina, most restaurants charged for bread -, if the bread was particularly good. This one wasn’t. It was just a typical French loaf, distinct only by how extraordinarily airy it was inside. Basically, it was all crust and the crust wasn’t particularly tasty. The salted butter was not particularly noteworthy either.

Mike had a cup of their Filé Gumbo with Chicken and Andouille Sausage ($9). It was my first experience with gumbo and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I’d always been reluctant to try gumbo because I thought all gumbos included okra. That turns out not to be true – they can also be thickened with filé, as was the case here, or even with a dark roux. It’s a pity I hadn’t tried them before, because the gumbo here was very good. Now, it wasn’t out of this world good – the filé, I think, gave it an awkward undertone – but it was tasty and satisfying. This being our first gumbo, we couldn’t really compare it to others when we ate it, but we liked the one we had at Broussard’s the following day more.

Mike had the Seafood Platter ($48), which came which consisted of seafood prepared in five different ways. He was very happy with it. He felt that the grilled redfish with crawfish and pistachio lime sauce sauce was perfectly cooked and delicious. The sauce was “yummy” and the crawfish added a nice texture. He liked both scallop preparations just as much. The baked scallop with Herbsaint creamed spinach and Gruyere was scrumptious and the cheese was mild enough to not overwhelm the scallop. He liked the sauce in the seared sea scallop with Fontina cream cheese grits and mojo sauce that he didn’t mind the grits, though the Fontina cream cheese helped. Mike doesn’t like oysters in general, but here the baked oyster with shrimp and crabmeat was chopped and mixed with the other seafood and he liked the overall dish as well as its presentation on an oyster shell. Finally, he loved the crawfish cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn butter. The cornbread had a kick without being too spicy and the crawfish gave it a subtle flavor. The bread has a nice, standard texture. In all, he was very happy.

Not being a seafood lover, I was more limited on my choices and decided to go with the Grilled Beef Filet with Marchand du Vin sauce ($45), despite it sounding more French than Creole. The filet was described as grilled, but I could have sworn it was sous vide given how incredibly tender it was and how consistent it was its texture. I don’t think I’ve had a more tender steak in my life, though I also don’t think I’ve had sous vide steak before, so I’m only speculating as to what its texture might be. It was also impressively free of any grit. The sauce was as delicious as expected. The mashed potatoes had good flavor, and this was overall a good, solid dish.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Tres Leches Cake with Ponchatoula Strawberries and Chocolate whipped Cream ($14) despite its less than Creole origin. It was a big mistake. The cake was crumbly and lacked both moisture and flavor. A shortcake or biscuit would at least have been able to absorb the sauce and gain it from it, but this one didn’t have the necessary consistency. The chocolate cream provided a discordant flavor that overwhelmed both the cake and the strawberries, and had a heavy consistency, closer to buttercream. Finally, the strawberries were just not sweet. In all, this dessert was a complete failure and should not have been served. Someone should have tasted the strawberries, determined they weren’t ready and taken it off the menu.

Mike had the Lemon Ice Box Creme Brulée ($10) and that was much better. There was nothing remarkable to it, but it had a nice flavor and consistency. It was, at least, what you expected it to be.

I had sparkling water with dinner ($3), but Mike had a Bayou Bonfire cocktail ($13). Unfortunately, he can’t remember it at all – and all I remember is that it was way too alcoholic for me to try more than a sip, but that is true with most cocktails.

Service was competent thought not extremely attentive – for example, no one inquired about how we felt about dessert.

In all, given everything I’d read about the restaurant before we went, I expected more – of the three full fledged meals we had at New Orleans restaurants, this was my least favorite – though that may just speak about the quality of the others. Still, we did have a lovely dinner in a lovely restaurant after a lovely cable car ride, and enjoyed the experience very much. I’d return.

723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA
T-Sa: 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Tropical Isle

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Alcoholic Slushies in a Fun Venue

Bourbon Street has an endless number of bars selling both serious cocktails and fun artificial-fruit-syrupy ones. Tropical Isle falls happily in the second category. With four different locations on Bourbon Street alone, you don’t have to walk far to get your next hand grenade – their signature drink. We only visited one of the four locations, but if we were younger and liked to drink more, I’d had visited them all.

The bars are just cool. The drinks might be the grown up version of Kool-Aid, but the bars are the grown up versions of a daycare classroom, at least one decorated with flea market finds, featuring outrageous decorations that occupy your mind as it gets dumber and dumber from the alcohol.

As mentioned, their signature drink is the Hand Grenade. This is supposed to be made with “vodka, rum, gin and melon liqueur,” though the actual recipe is kept secret. In reality, it tastes like yet another super sweet Kool-Aid type drink with alcohol. It’s served either frozen, in a slushy form, or on the ice – though you can pay more to have without ice altogether. You’d have to have an extreme tolerance to sweets to go that route. The drink’s trademarked tagline is as “New Orleans most powerful drink,” though it’s unlikely that’s the case. We had the frozen Hand Grenade and it didn’t seem particularly strong, though the sweetness does a great job of hiding the alcoholic flavor. It also slows down how quickly you can drink this.

We also had the Tropical Itch, which comes in a totem-like red plastic glass. This had more of a tropical punch flavor. Again, it was too sweet and not too strong.

As much as I didn’t really liked the drinks, I did enjoy the cups and even brought them home. I also enjoyed hanging out by the window in the bar, looking at the decore.

Tropical Isle Bourbon
721 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, La
Daily 12:00 p.m. - ?

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard Restaurant

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Good Food at the Birthplace of The Hurricane

Pat O’Brien’s is one of New Orleans institutions. The bar has operated in one form or another since 1933 and it famed as the originator of the Hurricane, New Orleans’s signature drink. It’s also famed for its beautiful central courtyard, which you can access through both of Pat O’Brien’s locations, on St. Peter and Bourbon streets. Despite the restaurant’s name, when we went the central courtyard was reserved for people who were drinking and not eating, and was not available for anyone under 21.

We sat instead on a side patio – probably the one that came with the house on Bourbon St. – in a roofed but open area. It wasn’t as nice as the courtyard, but it had less foot traffic. The restaurant/bar has a very casual atmosphere, with plastic tablecloths.

The food menu is pretty limited and as I still wasn’t too hungry, I went with a small cup of jambalaya (chicken and sausage – $8). I was surprised that it consisted of a stew with a lump of rice in the middle. When I’ve made Creole jambalaya myself, I’ve cooked the rice in the stew. Still, I noted this method of cooking stews and rice separately show up at several restaurants we went to. I wonder if it’s just a way of saving time in the kitchen. While this jambalaya was quite flavorful, I think I prefer cooking them together.

I had heard somewhere that Pat O’Brien had a good bread pudding ($8) and they were right. It was delicious, so good that my husband liked it. The whisky sauce didn’t taste alcoholic and reminded me, instead, of toffee. The pudding was light and the pecan on top gave it the necessary crunch.

You can’t go to Pat O’Brien and not have a Hurricane ($8.50), of course, so we ordered one to share. As the story goes, O’Brien invented this drink in the 1940’s when whiskey was in short supply. Rum was plentiful, however, and O’Brien experimented until he invented a rum-based cocktail that his customers liked. The cocktail is made with passion fruit pureé, citrus juices and grenadine – or at least, it was originally. Nowadays, Pat O’Brien sells a Hurricane mix made with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, citric acid and natural and artificial flavors. Given that this was the first time we had a hurricane, I couldn’t tell if the drink we got had the real ingredients or the mix. I rather think that it was the latter, as the drink was overwhelmingly sweet and one-toned and not particularly fruity and way too red to not contain at least dye. Think tropical punch with added sugar and alcohol.

While the sweetness does a good job of hiding the alcohol, it was still pretty strong for me – at least at the beginning. While the glass is impressively large, it’s filled with ice, so there is a relatively small amount of alcohol in it – so by the time some of it melted away, the drink was mild enough for me to enjoy.

In all, we had a pretty good time at Pat O’Brien’s, and I’m glad we went. I am curious about trying a Hurricane made from real ingredients one day – I might just do that.

Pat O'Brien's
624 Bourbon St
New Orleans, LA
W-Th,Su: 12 PM - 12 AM
F-Sa: 12 PM - 2 AM

New Orleans Food Tour