Thursday, October 19, 2017

Turning 30 in New Orleans

During my last trip to New Orleans, it became clear to me as to why I love this city so much. In New Orleans, eating and drinking in (reasonably responsible) excess is the norm. It's a no-judgment city. You want a dirty martini after a bottle of red wine? Sure! You want 2 orders of bananas foster? Why not? You want a shot of brandy in your milk with breakfast? Let's do it. NoLa reminds me of Vegas in the sense that it can indeed be Sin City - the bars are open 24 hours and they'll serve you anytime you're willing to buy it. But it's much more than that - it's a beautiful merging of cultures. You can see French, Spanish and African influences in the food, architecture, accents and music, which is playing on every other street corner. NoLa indulged my inner glutton for my 30th birthday celebration, and it's now my happy place. I'll be returning for every major birthday, half-birthday, and my friends' and family's major birthdays, too. Really as often as I possibly can.
At Restaurant R'evolution, an old fave!
Planing the restaurant/meal itinerary for my mom and me was an utterly exhilarating challenge - how could we possibly eat everywhere we wanted to?! There are literally not enough hours in the day! If we had an early enough breakfast, we would have time for an early lunch, a late lunch, day drinking, dinner and night time drinking! It's difficult not to fill up on breakfast at Cafe Fleur de Lis, where I enjoyed the best omelette of my entire life - a CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE omelette. Are they trying to ruin all other food for me? The buttery, peppery sauce was studded with pink, tender crawfish, and gooey provolone cheese only enhanced the dish. Pair this with their Sweet Cream Pancakes and wash it down with a Strawberry Mimosa, and you've got a great start to a great day.

If you find yourself in the Garden District for some strolling and shopping, you might want to check out the American Horror Story: Coven house and snap a few pics (optional) but you'll definitely want to dine at Commander's Palace (mandatory). They have 25 cent martinis at lunch during the weekday. Are you kidding me? SIN CITY!!! We opted for a 3-course brunch with the highlight being the Pecan Crusted Fish with corn cream, spiced pecans and prosecco-poached blue crab. It was a life-altering food moment (my first life-altering fish moment was the Brioche-crusted fish at Restaurant August in New Orleans, for those of you taking notes). The sauce was out of this world. This was a no-judgment day for sure, because we were there for the Bananas Foster, but our 3-course brunch came with a dessert included. So we opted for the Praline Parfait (with ice cream, spiced pralines, gooey praline sauce and chantilly cream), and the Caramel Roasted Apple Cobbler (with pecan streusel topping, Creole cream cheese icing and brown butter ice cream) as dessert appetizers while we waited for the main event. Finally, the bananas foster cart wheeled around, and before long, the scent of butter and brown sugar filled the air. Rum and banana liquour was added, and the syrupy sauce topped vanilla ice cream alongside slices of that syrup-poached banana. It's my favorite dessert ever. (Watch Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table on Netflix for a really great documentary about the family that started Commander's Palace, Brennan's and several other restaurants in NoLa).
All teal everything!
Coven house!
Never too early for a cocktail here.
Praline Parfait!
Bananas Foster!
Continue exploring the city and you'll find that you are indeed hungry again and could go for a bite. Willa Jean is a nice change from the rich Creole/Cajun fare, and it's one of Chef John Besh's babies. The prettiest, most picturesque meal we had was the Braised Lamb Pasta with mint pesto, tomatoes, peas and feta, adorned with edible flowers! The lamb was so tender, almost unctuous, and the pop of pea and tang from tomato cut right through the savoriness. I loved the color in this dish. But my favorite morsel from Willa Jean was the Cookies + Milk dessert. Cookie Dough on a beater, studded with chocolate CHUNKS, is served with 3 warm, freshly-baked, chocolate chunk cookies, sprinkled with sea salt. If that isn't enough, there's some vanilla-infused milk for your dunking/gulping pleasure. It's as amazing as it sounds.
Beautiful lamb pasta!
This is what I came for.
If you're getting hungry, please, go make yourself a snack. We're not quite done here.

My mom ate at Brennan's nearly 30 years ago, so we were super stoked to return and find it as fabulous as she remembered. The restaurant is gorgeous - everything is light pink and light green - and they even brought me a birthday treat! But first, order a Watermelon Mimosa to stick with the light pink theme. Then, opt for the Rock Shrimp Risotto with asparagus and truffled parmesan butter (WOW) or the Eggs Cardinal with crispy shrimp boudin (sausage), spinach, lobster sauce and black truffled hollandaise. Seriously, this is decadence at its finest. As Tony Bourdain once described while dining at the famed French Laundry, this dish was like driving a Rolls Royce while wearing fur underwear. Pure extravagance. You should order the Bananas Foster here too, because it was actually created here (and dare I say it's a little better than Commander's?) and if it's your birthday, you'll get a Cotton Candy ice cream sundae with a cherry nectar ice cream and pink whipped cream to boot. So whimsical and tasty!
Cotton Candy birthday delight!
Antoine's is the first (and therefore oldest) family-owned restaurant in the US. My mom and I had always heard of this classic New Orleans dining spot, but we weren't sure if it was still as good as it once was. I'm so pleased to tell you that it is. This place knows how to do a Wedge Salad. They've got a kickass Filet Mignon. And the Pompano Ponchartrain - topped with lump crabmeat and sauteed in butter - is out of this world. We had to save room for one of their old school desserts, and we were just about to order the Cherries Jubilee, when we switched to the Baked Alaska. Pound cake is topped with real vanilla ice cream, and covered with a sweet meringue that's like a marshmallow. It's torched to a beautiful tan hue and more decorative meringue is piped on. We devoured the entire thing. I can't imagine splitting it with more than one other person. It was too good to share!!
Baked Alaska heaven.
If you've made it to the bottom of this post, you can clearly sense my passion for this city - more specifically, the food and drink of this city. (And you'll also notice that I ignored the allotted number of exclamation points for a blog post, which further expresses my enthusiasm for this city). There's just something in the air in New Orleans. You feel right at home, and like the people can't wait for you to come back and visit. It was a very big birthday to celebrate, and it's a very special place to do it in.

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