Clockwise from top: vanilla pork belly and grits with chicory butter, turtle soup, and crabmeat cheesecakeAfter the bus tour we strolled through Riverwalk Plaza for a bit before finalizing where to eat for dinner. I was told that Palace Cafe would be a great place to eat. It was an establishment owned by the Brennans , the restaurateur family of New Orleans. The recommendation was on point. We were definitely not dressed for dinner, and while we didn't look like sewer rats, we were still not as well-dressed as we could have been for this restaurant. The restaurant offered French/Cajun food. Our appetizers included turtle soup (what?!) and crabmeat cheesecake (double what?!). The former had a flavor reminiscent of Chinese hot sour soup and the latter was a rich slice of heaven. Imagine a crab rangoon and turn it into a cake. Now drizzle some meunière sauce all over it. Yum. There was also this pork belly and grits. I know, it sounds so carnivorous and gross. Fear not. The coffee chicory butter swirled into the grits and the vanilla crust on the pork belly made this super-fatty appetizer sweet. I'd say you don't really notice/taste the fat, but I'd be lying. Just focus on the perfume of the dish and you'll be golden.
My Shrimp Tchefuncte (left), a specialty dish of shrimp and mushroom in meunière sauce, was in their cookbook . Rightly so. This is definitely something I'd need to learn how to make. It was a Cajun-seasoned plate of shrimp with mushrooms and scallions. A scoop of popcorn rice was almost this little island in the sea of sauce. So good, but I couldn't finish it all. My dad, being the brave caveman he is, ordered the pork shank. This was cooked in root beer and drizzled with a strawberry glaze. This giant hunk of meat was served on a hot plate to my dad's shock and awe. Did I mention he finished it? The bone-in slab kept the meat moist and flavorful and the strawberry sauce cut through all the grease. The verdict? Well, other tables looked on with a mixture of envy, disgust, and confusion. But don't order this if you do not have the patience or stomach for it. To end this feast, we settled on some pecan pie and a white chocolate bread pudding. And although both delicious, there is something so special about pecan pie that it basically trumps anything else. This version was pretty gooey. It didn't hold together as much as a pie but the flavor was spot-on. It was sweet without that cavity-inducing flavor, and it was just the right amount of gooey that it didn't stick to your teeth.
Friday rolled in kind of ominously. It was also supposed to rain. I tried to not be sad knowing this was the last day my family gets to spend time with me before they fly out the next day. We tried to pack in as much walking around and sightseeing as possible. I had my heart set on visiting the French Market so we had that on our schedule. But first, brunch. We had walked past Stanley a few times and decided to try it. This here was your dressed-up diner. You had wooden tables instead of formica countertops. The food here was good, no doubt, but I think I need to visit this place again to try how their specialty items really taste.
Clockwise from upper left: muffaletta poor boy, bananas foster french toast, pancakes with vanilla ice cream & Louisiana cane syrup, and Creole breakfast potatoes Next was the French Market. This area of New Orleans is something I'm sure I'll visit constantly. There are stalls selling all sorts of yummy goodies, ranging from jars of pepper jelly to gator on a stick, African black soap to Mardi Gras masks, and fresh produce to praline candies. If you want to pick up some food, come here. If you want artisanal products, come here. If you want cheap knick-knacks and houseware, come here. I don't think I'd get sick of this place. I just need to remember to come early enough before all the food is cleaned out. Each Sunday at 2pm there's some sort of food-related demo going on in the market. You know where I'll be on Sundays, then.
Our next stop was a steamboat cruise on the Natchez . We picked a daytime Jazz cruise that departed and docked right when it started to rain. Womp womp. We were welcomed aboard with a steamboat whistle calliope concert.
It was the first time I'd ever heard anything like that. I was definitely annoyed at first, and even alarmed at the high pitch of the whistles, but I learned to appreciate it about 20 minutes later when it was over. Ha! It was a great time to learn about the naval and trading history of New Orleans as the boat sailed along the Mississippi River.
Now, what were we to do at 4:30pm in New Orleans? Head on down to Pat O'Brien's for a Hurricane and some pianos. Duh. We got two giant 26oz glasses filled with this famous Hurricane, and my parents ordered a much more subdued SoCo and lemonade. Inside the piano bar the ceilings were lined with over-sized beer steins and the tables were all pushed together pretty closely. The pianists played all the classics, much to my parents' amusement. They couldn't stop raving about the place later. It was a lucky break that we caught a good time for this bar on a Friday when it wasn't so rowdy and filled to the brim with drunkards falling all over the place. Once the song, "Call Me Maybe" came on, though, I'm pretty sure my whole day was made. Granted, I was also done with my Hurricane, but still. We got to keep our giant souvenir glasses and some green beads to commemorate a Bourbon Street bar we were actually glad to have visited.
We were definitely still pretty full from downing those drinks at the bar, but we were hungry enough to have dinner. We tried another Brennan restaurant, Mr. B's Bistro , offering French/Creole food. I swear, we didn't go to one place for either lunch or dinner where Spencer or my dad didn't order gumbo. Having had some seafood gumbo, Spencer went with the Gumbo Ya Ya, which was chicken and sausage. It was so tasty. I don't think one could ever go wrong with Andouille sausage. I'm going to just say this now: our dishes were extraordinary. They were not just delicious, they were so memorable. We were recounting the details of the meals well after dinner was over, and even onto the next day.
Spencer got bibbed for his Barbecue Shrimp, served in a bowl of smokey and peppery barbecue sauce. Get your fingers dirty for this one 'cause it's well worth it. My shrimp and grits was turned up a notch with the bacon wrapped around all of the shrimp. The grits had some red-eye gravy poured over it and I could not stop eating. When has bacon been a bad addition to a meal, anyway? My mom's pork chop was a thick chunk of meat but it managed to stay juicy and moist all throughout. The sweet Asian-flavored sauce that crusted the chop was a unique flavor that we hadn't had this whole trip. My dad is pretty steadfast on not showing much emotion when it comes to the food he eats. He can enjoy a meal and think it's tasty, but he isn't going to go out of his way to praise it if it doesn't change his life. His garlic chicken was the exception. This juicy half chicken was roasted with tons of garlic and served with dried Roma tomatoes. It wasn't particularly spicy or fatty or New Orleans, but it was delicious, and his face (and plate) showed it.
Barbecued shrimp and honey-ginger-glazed pork chop Dessert? Just keeping it simple with a mango-pineapple sorbet and a lemon icebox cake, much to Spencer's chagrin. No indulgent chocolate cakes here. I have to say, though, the icebox cake had the perfect lemon flavor and reminded me of my sweeter lemon bars. Just tart enough to call it lemony but nothing too overpowering. The sorbet was a good palate cleanser after that feast we just consumed.
After days of nonstop eating and walking around I've found some relaxation time. I'll be back on a routine (albeit a new routine) on Monday when classes start. I'm looking forward to being back in school, and yes, I did just say that. This city has plenty to offer me. I just need to know where to look. And soon enough, some friends and family will visit to make exploring the Big Easy all that more memorable.