Monday, March 26, 2012

A Couple's Guide to NOLA

My husband and I were in search of a spring getaway - our requirements were simple: somewhere we hadn't been before and warmer weather than New England.   New Orleans had been on my radar screen and the timing seemed right.

We scheduled our trip from Saturday - Tuesday.  If you have the work flexibility, I'd say this was a great way to go.  On Saturday, we could feel the true vibe of a city that loves to party.  We got to enjoy a Sunday Brunch, N'awlins style, but Monday and Tuesday were a bit more reserved....meaning we were able to get the dinner reservations we wanted, cheaper hotel rooms and a little more room to breathe.

We stayed at The International House.  It was a charming boutique hotel, just 2 blocks from the French Quarter.  Far enough away that the police sirens didn't keep you up on Saturday night, but close enough to easily walk back and forth.   It was a great place with an excellent front desk, nice lobby and bar, perfect proximity and nice, clean, modern amenities.
Photo via their website
After check-in, we got down to business.  We were there to experience the New Orleans food!!   I've long heard people rave about it and I will say that it did not disappoint. Some of the best cuisine we've ever eaten and certainly among the best we've had within the US.   There was a sincerity to the food in New Orleans.  People seemed to truly respect it and understand what good cooking is meant to evoke.  The flavors were bold, tasty and well-seasoned everywhere we went.  The service was consistently friendly and attentive and we were never hungry!

Chef John Besh once said, "No matter where in the world our early settlers came from—France, Spain, Senegal, Haiti—and whether free or enslaved, they assimilated into the Creole culture, embracing everything from language to cooking. That’s why our famous simple dishes like gumbo—the West African word for okra—have so many ingredients. Every culture stirred the Creole pot, adding a bit of its own.”  You felt that multi-culture influence throughout the city, in their architecture, their food, their way of life.  It all seemed to be a fantastic and unique blend.  

A few of our real favorites:
Luke - Wonderful French bistro ambiance in this John Besh joint. The shrimp and grits were to die for, as was the Bloody Mary. We missed Happy Hour but apparently they have $0.50 oysters and half-price drinks from 3-6pm.

Afachalaya - this is where we went for Sunday brunch.   It was located in a residential neighborhood within the Garden District but made for a perfect place to spend our Sunday.  We took the street car straight up from St. Charles and walked a few blocks.  It was fun to see a more residential side of New Orleans, passing beautiful southern mansions and gardens as well as some funky shops on Magazine St.   We were glad to get there early because the place filled up fast!  They had an excellent "make your own Bloody Mary Bar" and a great jazz trio.

Cafe Beignet - The perfect NOLA beignet - little fried dough dusted with powdered sugar.  Pair it with a delicious cup of strong coffee and you're ready to go for the afternoon.  It is located on Royal St, one street over from Bourbon.  It's an excellent part of the French Quarter loaded with galleries and antique shops.

Pat O'Briens - Yes, this place is about as touristy as they come, but we felt we had to have at least one Hurricane down in N'awlins.  Don't let the bars on Bourbon fool you with their small front doors, they open up to huge back patios, perfect for hanging out and enjoying a cocktail.
Cochon - Make your reservation ahead of time because this place is packed.  Delicious southern Cajun barbecue style on a quaint street loaded with restaurants and wine bars.  Pretty much every review we read about New Orleans included this place and it did not disappoint!

Merchant - We happened upon this coffee shop/creperie a few blocks from our hotel.  Super modern design and a great reminder of the many layers of New Orleans!

But really, every place we stopped into and grabbed a gumbo or a beer or anything else was superb.  The people were fantastic and seemed to genuinely appreciate the visitors in New Orleans.   It's a very manageable city, easy to walk around, easy to lose yourself in whatever you are there to do ---- a culinary tour, music, art, or just party.   A gem nestled in the deep south of Louisiana, serving as a great reminder of the magic that can happen when we embrace, rather than resist, our differences. We'll be back!    

(images 4 and 5)