New Orleans: Rolling on the River

Outside of my room on the 4th floor of the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, I can hear a chorus of voices shouting the words “rolling.”  This chorus is repeated over and over again, about every five minutes or so. All night long. A Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt futuristic action/adventure film titled “Looper”  is being shot right outside of my hotel.  Ordinarily this would thrill me to no end.  But it is 10 pm and I have to wake up at 3:45 am for a flight.  Besides, I have already established that the stars aren’t shooting their scenes for another two months.  The star sightings on this trip will have to be the food.

I have four meals to eat in New Orleans while I am in town for a meeting.  I have poured over the Chowhound boards and checked the ratings on Zagat.  I receive a long list of recommendations from a friend of a friend, who is a foodie and also the writer/creator of “Treme” on HBO, which is shot in New Orleans.  Pretty cool! Two of my choices are recommended as his favorites. I am satisfied in the knowledge that I have chosen well.  I leave one meal slot open for a more casual, spur of the moment experience.  I don’t do spur of the moment very well, but I figure it’s New Orleans, how bad can anything be.

Night one.  Dinner at Bayona.  Bayona has won multiple awards including voted #1 for food in New Orleans on Zagat and a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 for the chef, Susan Spicer.  The food is contemporary American with a just a touch of a Louisiana accent.

Two signature dishes I’ve read about are the cream of garlic soup and peppered lamb loin with goat cheese and zinfandel sauce.  Both appeal to me, so I decide I’m not looking any further.  The cream of garlic soup is rich, smooth and delicious. I am off to a satisfying start in my New Orleans dining expedition.

Lamb and goat cheese….need I say more?  This is a wonderful combination that could easily be ruined by too much goat cheese.  There is just the right amount.

Both courses are flavorful and I enjoy them immensely, but I can’t say that I’ve had the meal of a lifetime, which truth be told I may have been expecting.
 
My colleague has a Bayona house salad and grilled duck breast with pepper jelly sauce and wild rice.  She is satisfied with her dishes, if not wildly enthusiastic.

Dessert is a sweet potato tart with cinnamon and caramel and marshmallow  This delivers the perfection we are expecting.

Bayona’s atmosphere is absolutely lovely and there is a beautiful patio that I imagine is a real treat when the weather permits.  I may have appreciated Bayona a bit more if it wasn’t the first place I visited. This would be a perfect place to go to take a break from the classically traditional (and somewhat heavy) Louisiana cuisine.

forbestravelguide.com

Bayona, 430 Dauphine St New Orleans, LA 70112
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   4.0
Zagat rating:  28

I have one day and three meals remaining in New Orleans and it is time for me to tackle the major food groups.  Beignets.  Gumbo.  Jambalaya.  Bread pudding. Shrimp etoufee.

A trip to New Orleans is incomplete without a visit to Cafe Du Monde.  If you have been there, you know what I mean.  Enough said.

Our beignets are closely followed by lunch at Cochon. Cochon features authentic award-winning Cajun food with a creative twist. The atmosphere is rustic but like the menu, there are contemporary touches.

Cochon literally means pig.  I have to say that much of the menu doesn’t appeal to me, as it is just too “piggy.”  Examples:  deep fat fried hog head cheese with field beans or pickled pork tongue with radish and turnips. I decide on two small plates: pork and black bean gumbo and fried green pickles with shrimp etoufee. The soup is hearty with just the right amount of kick. Fried pickles with shrimp etoufee is a wonderful blend of crunchy, tart, and creamy deliciousness.

My colleague has grits.  She is not sure that she’s made the right choice but describes the dish as surprisingly tasty.  I wish we have room for dessert, but sadly we do not.

Cochon, 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans

My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   4.0
Zagat rating:  26

At this point I have had a nice sampling of New Orleans’ most popular dishes at two of the cities most notable restaurants.  I have not yet had jambalaya and I know that my trip will not be complete without it. It’s time to fill the open slot in my dining card.

The hotel concierge recommends Bon Ton Cafe, which I hear him recommending to the woman in front of me as well.  I wonder if I can trust his recommendation.  I look online and Bon Ton Cafe appears to be a classic Cajun kind of place.  No bells and whistles- just the real thing- which is what I’m ready for.

I barely need to look at the menu.  I want jambalaya.  The menu features a crawfish jambalaya appetizer and the server informs me that I can get an entree size and add shrimp if I like.  I like.  I am able to finish about half of the generous serving.  The seafood in the dish is plentiful and I love the flavors.  Spicy but not overpowering.  It’s exactly what I needed to complete my taste of New Orleans.   Almost.

There is one more thing that I need to eat before I go, however.  Bread pudding.  I have fond memories of eating bread pudding at the famous Commander’s Palace in New Orleans many years ago.  I am anxious to try it again.  Bon Ton Cafe’s bread pudding arrives swimming in whiskey sauce. It is supposed to be this way.  I have seen it described as “high proof.” I take a bite and am overwhelmed by the whiskey flavor, which is strong and not terribly pleasing to me.  I eat a few bites and take the rest to go.  It will make an interesting breakfast for my crack-of-dawn flight.  As it turns out, once the sauce is drained off it is much more appealing.  I hope the people on my 6:45 am flight don’t think I’ve been drinking.

The Bon Ton Cafe, 401 Magazine Street, New Orleans
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   3.7
Zagat rating:  25

My dining choices in New Orleans turn out to be a perfect blend of traditional and modern cuisine.  I have sampled some mighty fine food and I have a list of restaurants to try on a future visit, which I hope will be sooner rather than later.  My only regret is that the movie set outside of my hotel window didn’t feature any stars.  I am also just a little concerned that the crew shouting “rolling” over and over again are referring to me, as I  roll out of town perhaps a couple pounds heaver and with my powerful bread pudding in hand.


Comments

  1. I lived in NOLA for five years and you were definitely steered in the right direction. I love Bayona and Cochon, and plan to visit Bon Ton Cafe my next trip back. Thanks for sharing, and for making me miss NOLA!!!

  2. The Mom Chef says:

    I've never been to New Orleans and am dying to head down there. Those three restaurants look fantastic, but I have to admit that I'd really love to go to August.

  3. foodobsessed says:

    I have to agree with Mom Chef. Next trip i am going to August. I hear Dante's Kitchen is great as well.

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