New Orleans: Food and First Impressions

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Our first visit to New Orleans – the most European city in the US. At least that is what people told us. 

Before this trip, we discovered quite a few of our friends have spent time in New Orleans. They are all enormously enthusiastic about the place. The Music! The Food! (One enthusiast said: “Don’t tell me how many days you are going to be in New Orleans. Tell me how many meals you will be there!”) The Architecture! The History! We started to think there may be a New Orleans Cult.

Well, now we have joined the Cult.

We enjoyed a few walking tours that focused in various mixtures on food, music, architecture, history and New Orleans culture: in the French Quarter, the Garden District, and in the Tremé District. We also visited the Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans; the mission of the restauration of this plantation is to share the history of the enslaved people who lived, worked and died on the plantation.

For our New Orleans week, we stayed in a charming house in the Marigny neighborhood, just a few blocks from the French Quarter.

The name “Marigny” is emblematic of the city’s French heritage, and its uniqueness today.

Since we have lived in France for a while now, we wanted to pronounce these French words Frenchly. Alas no. Faubourg Marigny (named after the Marquis Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville; faubourg is French for suburb) is Foh-burg Mare-in-ee. Vieux Carrée (the old quarter) is Ve(r)-care-aye. Chartres Street (like the famous French cathedral town) is Chart-ers Street. We have to re-re-adjust our pronunciation now that we are back home. 

One pleasure of our stay in New Orleans was encountering so many kind and welcoming people. We experienced enthusiastic openness, and unfettered desire to help us visitors. Various Uber drivers wanted to share their advice for restaurants, neighborhoods to visit, and music to listen to. Store clerks didn’t roll their eyes when asked what are probably the same tourist questions everyday; instead, they seemingly happily offered advice and suggestions.

One sunny afternoon, we were walking along one of the French Quarter streets on our way back to the Marigny. We were enjoying a lively conversation about something, and we stopped near a street corner to be able to dig into our topic. As we were chatting, an older man came up, asking if we needed help. When we said, no, thank you, we were just talking and enjoying the Quarter. He said, OK, but do you know that right over there is the studio that Audubon used from 1821-23 as his studio? He would find birds he wanted to paint, kill  them, stuff them and then paint them in that studio. The man was so obviously proud of his neighborhood and its history that we couldn’t resist sharing. And he wanted to help.

The Food!

We arrived armed with a list of restaurants, of many different kinds, thanks to all our New-Orleans-loving friends. We had made a few reservations, and had short-listed a few other restaurants for other available times and appetites. Some of these restaurants are venerable New Orleans institutions — like Antoine’s and Commander’s Palace — while others are newer and just plain good. Only one of our reserved restaurants disappointed us (one of the famous established restaurants, with lukewarm food and a waiter who recommended dishes that he admitted he had never tried). But the rest were fabulous. 

We ate in the French Quarter, Marigny, and the Garden District, as well as in other neighborhoods around the city such as Uptown and Touro. The sheer number of restaurants and bars in these neighborhoods struck us everywhere we went. Along our Uber drives to and from, we spotted one restaurant after another. A few were American chains, but most looked like unique neighborhood eateries, from fancy to super casual.

We popped into a taco place called The Rum House for lunch one day, via a last-minute internet search. The fried-oyster tacos were stupendous, and the barbecued ribs left Mike inarticulate with happiness.

On our last evening, we had dinner at Bordeaux, an open-air street-side restaurant on Magazine Street. The server was beautiful and charming. The slow-roasted lamb was the best any of us have ever had.

On another night, we targeted a more famous (yet casual) restaurant, Jacques-Imo’s. The service was high-spirited, the dining room loud and lively, and the food rich and spicy. I selected a seafood-stew boat. The boat was half an eggplant, hollowed out, and deep fried. Into the boat, over its sides, and around the plate oozed a scrumptious tomato-cream-pepper sauce filled with mussels, oysters, fish, and I don’t know what else. I know I consumed a week’s worth of calories, but it was just so good…

While I could go on and on about our meals, with way too many food photos, I won’t! My main message is that this city is chock-full of intriguing restaurants of all sorts of cuisines. In other cities, we’ve learned that it is best to do pre-trip research and make reservations. We find great restaurants this way, but often they are semi-hidden down some residential street. When we stop somewhere just by chance and and on the verge of being hangry, more often than not, what we find is middle-of-the road and unremarkable. In New Orleans, however, we found that almost anywhere we ate, the food and the welcome were lovely.

All the restaurants yet to explore are a central incentive for our next visits to New Orleans.

PS: I loved the characterful and festive signs:

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