Celebrating Steve’s birthday (a little late) in New Orleans this year.  He wanted to enjoy his favorite New Orleans foods, but after the Mardi Gras crowds were gone.  Leaving the DFW area was a bit of a challenge when icy weather delayed flights and left us waiting on the runway for over three hours to get de-iced.  Finally arrived in town with much warmer weather, 50’s instead of 20’s.  Our first night reservation was at Emeril’s, the flagship, opened in 1990 in a renovated pharmacy warehouse and celebrating its 25th birthday this year.  We had reservations at the chef’s kitchen bar, a very large bar with an open view of the kitchen and a multitude of various chefs, including chef de cuisine, David Slater. We were surrounded immediately by the manager, waiter in training, and waiter, Tai, a very friendly Vietnamese guy (He made a point to tell us he was Vietnamese and excuse his English.).  I was spellbound, watching all the action and could barely look at the cocktail menu or wine list, a thick book.  The wine list was overwhelming but I spotted a familiar Paso Robles wine from Justin, a winery I visited in person, and loved their red wines.  A bottle of cabernet was on its way.
view from the chef’s kitchen bar
An amuse bouche arrived along with an assortment of breads.  The amuse was a bite of smoked potato salad with anchovy, an unexpectedly flavorful bite.  I sampled all the breads but knew from past experience that eating them would be ill advised with much more food coming.
amuse bouche:  smoked potato salad
Steve decided to try the seafood gumbo and I selected a simple green salad with sun dried tomatoes.  I asked for it to be lightly dressed, but Tai suggested I should have the dressing on the side.  When the salad arrived a bowl of un-emulsified dressing arrived with it.  Even mixing it did not change it so I ended up with lots of oil and little vinegar.  Steve’s gumbo, although tasty with lots of seafood and a rich roux, was lukewarm.  I love my food extra hot, especially soup, so I’m glad I didn’t order it.
Seafood Gumbo
Green salad with sun dried tomatoes
lots of interesting plating going on
When my Andouille crusted drum arrived I had high hopes after reading various reviews about it.  Also, my favorite dish of our last trip to New Orleans was the Emeril’s NOLA wood fired oven drum, served on the plate it was cooked on in the wood oven, so extremely hot–the way I like it.  Instead I got a lukewarm piece of fish, nicely cooked, flaky and well seasoned, but still not the right temperature.
Andouille crusted drum
Steve ordered the sizzling scallops with sweet potato puree, aged country ham, bagna cauda butter with chili toast.  It was served in an cast iron escargot pan, hot right from the oven.  The baguette was crunchy and buttery, and when torn off and topped with a piece of the piping hot scallop and sweet potato puree made for the perfect bite.
Sizzling Skillet Scallops
Can you guess which entrée I liked?  I thoroughly enjoyed the flavors, texture and temperature of the scallop dish, in contrast to the blandness of the drum.  I would definitely order it if we come back to Emeril’s.  I ate so little of my entrée the manager removed it from our bill, however I didn’t ask for that.  We received a complimentary dessert and chose the famous banana cream pie.  Sad to say, it was overly chilled and tasted like a mass produced bakery dessert with little taste and skimpy on the sauce.  The “cream” was solid, almost frozen in consistency.  Steve was presented with a scoop of pear sorbet with a candle for his birthday.  A local Boyd, Texas restaurant, Gogo Gumbo, makes a banana cream pie that outshines this one by far.  His recipe is very similar to Emeril’s but the execution is better.
The weather on Saturday promised to be sunny, in the 50’s.  After leaving frozen Fort Worth, the weather in New Orleans was a welcome change.  It seemed almost like spring.  We walked to breakfast at the Envie Espresso Bar & Café on Decatur Street.  It was quite a hike from the hotel on Canal Street (555 Canal Street Marriott), even past Café du Monde by five blocks and getting seedier all the time with homeless sleeping in doorways and unsavory looking characters hanging around.  The café was bright and friendly, and best of all, had the menu item I was looking forward to sampling, the Breakfast in a Go Cup.  This dish was in an article on the “25 things you need to eat in NOLA”. It was described as “2 scrambled eggs with bacon, hash browns, & grits, topped with homemade sausage gravy, served in a 16 oz Go-Cup”.
Breakfast in a Go Cup
The food in the cup was hot, freshly prepared and good in an old fashioned mom and pop café kind of way.  The cream gravy was made right and the grits were perfect.  I loved it!  I will make my own version at home but probably skip the hashbrowns, use my stone ground grits, organic eggs, my Pedersen Farms good bacon and skip the gravy.  I would put it in a coffee mug instead of a plastic cup.  Can’t wait to try it.  Steve’s sandwich was just OK, but his grits were outstanding.  This place has awesome Mighty Leaf green tea, organic too.  I would come back for the go cup any day.
Steve’s breakfast sandwich
Can you believe we would even eat lunch after that breakfast?  Well, of course we could, it’s souvenir eating after all, right?  We had to have the Central Grocery muffuletta, one of our favorites.  Not much of a line this time, but a short one.  I grabbed a couple stools at the counter while Steve got our “half”.  In past trips we mistakenly got 2 halves, which are cut in 2 pieces, each piece resembling a sandwich the size of a Quizno’s sandwich, so in essence like eating 2 whole sandwiches.  Too much food if you plan to eat again that day!  We had our “quarter” each and some Zapp’s chips. I also ate part of Steve’s quarter too.  I savored every bite since I don’t usually eat such things at home now that I am eating organic, whole, unprocessed food which doesn’t typically include cold cuts and white bread.  (Steve is laughing right now.)
We walked a lot, shopped, sightseeing, enjoying the beautiful weather, and being on vacation, in other words, not stressing out about things at home. Dinner was set for 7:00 at Johnny Sanchez in the business district.  John Besh and Aaron Sanc hez equals Johnny Sanchez, a joint venture between them.  It was more casual that we expected, windows to the street, crowded and noisy.  Lots of unique light fixtures, huge Day of the Dead wall mural, and generally upbeat décor.  They opened in October 2014.  Besh and Sanchez met when Sanchez was 18, working at K Pauls.  Besh was working at La Provence on the north shore.  Now they are both grown up Food Network and Iron Chef celebrities. We’ve dined a couple of Besh’s restaurant, August and Luke.
It was getting louder by the minute once we arrived, especially when a huge group of young women were seated near us, celebrating a birthday.  Screeching people can be so annoying.  Seems like about every time we go out we get seated near either the loud talkers–usually men with booming voices, or the women’s groups who have high pitched and very loud voices.  Makes it hard to enjoy dinner when you can’t talk over them.  Our waitress was young, soft spoken, and too busy to spend much time with us.  Not enough wait staff at this very popular place makes for long periods of looking for attention. There is a separate menu just for Tequila, not something we could comprehend since we are not really big Tequila drinkers, so we ordered margaritas off the other menu, blackberry for me, house for Steve.  The drinks and guacamole we comforting.  Salsas included a red and a green, both in need of a little salt, as well as the under seasoned guacamole.  Of course, there is no salt on the table, because these fine chefs know how to season food.  Not.  I asked for and got a little bowl of kosher salt and sprinkled a little on things to wake them up.  Much better.  The menu promised lots of taco variations but I was intrigued by the whole wood fired fish.  The server described it as redfish, about 2 1/2 pounds and $54.00.  Wow, that’s a big fish.  Steve usually doesn’t care for whole fish with bones but it didn’t hurt to ask him if he’d share it with me.  Surprisingly, he said he would, but for insurance he also ordered 2 barbacoa tacos.
The fish was the star of the show.  Nicely charred, moist and perfectly cooked inside, placed into house made corn tortillas with the pickled veggies and jalapenos, topped with a little guacamole and salsa, nothing else compared.  Steve’s tacos were ok, but had a strange tasting and textured sauce and the meat a little too chewy.  The fish came with roasted vegetables, a little oversalted and hard to identify what was what.  I skipped most of them.
A taco choco ended the meal.  Remember the chaco taco from the ice cream truck?  It was a housemade waffle cone folded with ice cream and salted dark chocolate.  I liked it, Steve hated it, and it was removed from the bill.
After dinner we headed over to Harrah’s for a little video poker.  Should have quit when we were up $150.00 with a $40.00 investment, but we didn’t.  Still, it was a couple hours of fun.
Sunday morning plans included a stop at Café Beignet.  A trip to New Orleans would be missing something without a cup of café au lait and a beignet.  There was a short line when we got there and it increased until it was out the door.  Unfortunately, our table was right next to the line, as most tables are in the small café.  I didn’t particularly enjoy people standing so close and it made me decide to skip Café Beignet next time.   We already quit going to Café Du Monde due to the hectic crowds. We are on the look out for another breakfast place for next time.
Walking around for hours is a good way to exercise after all the rich food.  I love the old buildings, courtyards, musicians everywhere, and unique shops. Steve selected the Acme Oyster House for lunch.  There is almost always a long line, however not too long today.  Our pick is always the grilled oysters.  Charred, bubbling with buttery sauce and cheese, served with lemon and fresh bread, doused with a little Tabasco sauce.  Nothing like it anywhere.
Chargrilled oysters
Doesn’t that look good?
Peace maker’s Po boy with shrimp and oysters
The fried shrimp and oyster poboy was not necessary but it did taste good with the oysters. My organic plant based diet is long forgotten now. Later after walking miles and miles, we managed to find the Croissant D’or Patisserie on Ursulines Avenue.  This little French bakery is a locals place with nice looking pastries and a selection of coffees.  We stopped briefly for a break, nibbled on a croissant and headed back to the hotel to rest a bit.
Courtyards are so interesting.
 
Our final night’s dinner was at Restaurant Revolution, John Folse and Rick Tramonto, Executive Chefs and Erin Swanson, pastry chef.  Steve selected this restaurant because he read about the award winning dish, “death by gumbo”.  The menu was extensive with several appetizer sections including cold, hot, salumi, and caviar, some up to $200.00.  The wine list was so extensive it was presented on an ipad.
We were at the point in our trip when we had sampled so many rich dishes we were not ready to tackle a multicourse meal.  The oysters from lunch didn’t seem like several hours ago.
Still, we had to eat dinner, so we tried to cut back a little.  No bottle of wine for sure.  I was intrigued by the appetizer foie gras bahn mi and the Triptych Quail (three ways) each with a different preparation such as southern fried with a biscuit, stuffed, and with wild rice.  Steve ordered the salumi board for one and his gumbo.  The whole wheat/rye/white rolls were served with olive oil, maple butter and plain butter.  We ordered wine by the glass, a Trefethen 2011 Cab from Napa for me and 2012 Emeritus Pinot for Steve.  My bahn mi arrived and looked tiny on the large plate.  It tasted very strongly of Chinese 5 spice and fish sauce with not much of the foie gras detectable.  Still, it was quite a unique dish and I ate it.  However, Steve’s salumi board shined.  It was beautifully presented with very thin slivers of prosciutto, ham, and salami, with pickled vegetables and 4 spreads/relishes.  There was a basket of buttery grilled ciabatta bread.  The only part we didn’t like was the terrine, which started melting during the few minutes we had the dish.  It was an unappetizing brown with lumpy parts.
Amuse bouche of carrot soup with ginger cream
Foie gras bahn mi with lemon rum shooter
Salumi board for 1
relishes/spreads for salumi board
Our entrees arrived and the way Steve’s gumbo was presented was very interesting.  He was served a whole stuffed quail in a large bowl.  Then the waiter poured the strained gumbo broth over his quail.  When Steve cut into his quail the stuffing contained sausage, seafood, and rice that then mixed in the broth. The gumbo was delicious and Steve was very happy with it.
death by gumbo
Triptych Quail
I had high hopes for the quail but it was not impressive.  The fried quail with a gravy soaked biscuit was good but the other two had very sticky odd sauces.  None were hot and freshly cooked, or they didn’t seem to be.  The gratin side dish was hot and tasty but not remarkable.
Artichoke and Mirliton Gratin
We ordered a small dessert, the crunchy peanut butter ice cream.  I was impressed by the lighted dessert menu.  No need to get out the bifocals or phone light here.  The peanut butter ice cream was very nice and had some type of peanut brittle on top.  After the ice cream we were given a jewelry box with drawers opening up to reveal little bites of truffle, cookies, candy and a praline.  Nice ending.
Crunchy Peanut butter ice cream
complimentary box with tiny bites of sweets
The atmosphere and service was impeccable, just wish the food was on the same level.
Time to go back, so our last meal was at the Surrey Juice Bar.  We had to ride the street car to get here but it’s worth the trip.  We go there every time we’re in New Orleans.  The freshly squeezed juice and all the food we’ve tried are top notch.  I usually have a bagel with lox and cream cheese but I was going to try something different.  The waiter recommended the shrimp and grits, best thing on the menu, he said.  Steve ordered his usual breakfast sandwich on a bagel.  I have to admit the shrimp and grits were fabulous.  Steve enjoyed a few bites too.  Now enough of this rich food!  Back to green smoothies, plants and organic food.  My body is screaming out for normal eating.
shrimp and grits with over easy egg added
breakfast sandwich