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.
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.