When you’re at a conference the opportunities to see a city usually occur three times a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fortunately a recent speaking engagement took me to the City of New Orleans, a city that comes alive at just those moments.
I typically do a moderate amount of research before a trip to scope out a few places to eat and things to do, but had no time to spare during the lead up. I also love to discover things on the ground so the research serves as a back-up or a place to start.
Without that safety net I was going to one, see if I could skate by on my foggy recollection of New Orleans, and two, see what serendipity brought my way. My previous knowledge bore little influence since I only ate at one place that I enjoyed five years ago. Serendipity, instinct and my iphone really served as the winning trifecta. With that combination I enjoyed both the traditional and the nouveau and my two absolute favorites included one of each.
For the traditional I was once again mesmerized by the nearly 150 year-old Cafe du Monde (their sesquicentennial is next year). The menu couldn’t be more simple, and the food couldn’t be any better. I made my way there two mornings in a row and indulged in the classic – an order of beignets and cafe au lait. Simply delectable. My only critique is that the large cafe au lait is only served in a to-go cup. I wanted a large coffee, but also wanted to have the full cafe experience which to me has to include a real cup and saucer. I went for the ambience, and sneaked in a latte later.
I don’t think I can speak highly enough of Coquette, a little bistro and wine bar located in the garden district, where I enjoyed one of the best lunches ever. The only recent rival to their food and flavors is Gruner in Portland, Oregon. They have a three course prix fixe for $20 with two to three choices for each course. We were also fortunate to be there on Wine Wednesdays when all the wines by the glass are $5 each. We didn’t have reservations, but I recommend calling ahead if you can.
I had the oysters, shrimp and grits and blood orange panna cotta with a glass of white wine. My mom, who accompanied me to New Orleans, had the gumbo, gnocchi, and blood orange panna cotta. The beignets looked amazing, but we had already sampled the deep fried sugary sweetness earlier in the day. I’m not a food writer so can’t really describe all the flavors, but what I can say is that each dish was incredibly nuanced and rich. The chefs obviously have perfected the french sauce, merged it with contemporary flavors while using traditional New Orleans fare. Both the oysters, and shrimp and grits exemplified that perfectly. But it was the creamy citrus flavored panna cotta with the candied fennel and mint that punctuated the entire experience. Bravo!