Saturday, September 25, 2004

More of New Orleans

My sightseeing in New Orleans was limited to just a few hours the day I arrived and I spent all of that time exploring the French Quarter. It is a relatively small area that you can easily cover on foot. I’m certain that there is much I didn’t see even within that small area. I carried my guidebook with me, but was reluctant to keep my nose buried in it, so I know I walked by many a historic site completely oblivious to its proximity. I did make two food-related stops highlighted in my guidebook: Central Grocery, home of what many consider to be the best muffuletta in New Orleans, and the French Market.

Central Grocery

Central Grocery is a small Italian grocery with an old-time feel. It has wooden shelves laden with all sorts of Italian pantry items and a well stocked deli. It is know for its muffuletta sandwich – a monster of a sandwich loaded with deli meats and cheeses and olive salad. It is the olive salad that makes the sandwich (so they say – I didn’t have one), and you can buy it in a jar to take home. I had hoped to bring some olive salad home as a gift, but it is only offered in one size – huge – and it weighed too much to carry home easily.

Central Grocery shelves

French Market

My other stop was the French Market which includes a small farmers market and a much bigger flea market. The farmers market has some fresh produce, but also has many packaged items including various spice mixtures typical of the region. The flea market is more of an endless souvenir stand. You’ll find row on row of T-shirts, beads, etc. It was unbearably hot, so with a sea of T-shirts still before me, I decided I had seen enough.

French Market - farmers market

I think the best part about walking around the French Quarter is just looking at the houses. The architecture in New Orleans is unlike anything I have seen before, with its distinctive cast-iron balconies and fences.

cast iron

Of course, the other great thing about New Orleans is its food. Because I was with a group, it turned out I had few opportunities to choose a restaurant myself. I mostly went along with the group. One place we went to as a group that was very nice was the Palace Café just across Canal Street from our hotel. I had a pork dish that was very good, though I don’t remember much about it now. I do remember dessert – more for the spectacle than how it tasted. I shared an order of Bananas Foster with someone, which was prepared tableside. I managed to capture it in a picture…

Palace Café - Bananas Foster

The last night I begged off from group activities, since I was going to have to get up extremely early the next morning. That was only part of my motivation, though, I wanted to pick a restaurant myself! I looked through my guidebook for a nearby restaurant that sounded good and finally settled on Herbsaint which was just around the corner on St. Charles. I got there before they opened for dinner, so I went to the bar to order a drink and kill a little time. I had planned to order a glass of wine, but I noticed they had a Herbsaint cocktail. I asked the bartender about it and he said it was like a black jelly bean. I tried to order it – but he seemed intent on talking me out of it! I don’t know if he had decided that I wouldn’t like it or if he just didn’t like it. I ended up with a glass of wine. I sat at a table by the window and watched the world and the St. Charles streetcar go by.

My meal was very good and my appetizer and dessert were both outstanding. I ordered the Herbsaint, tomato and shrimp bisque as an appetizer. I didn’t realize at the time that it was flavored with Herbsaint liqueur. Actually, at the time I didn’t even know that the restaurant was named for the anise flavored liqueur that is made in New Orleans.

My entrée was Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique. It was very good, but the duck confit seemed a little dry. As I was eating the dirty rice, I came on a bit of something I couldn’t really identify and then I recalled that dirty rice has chicken liver in it. I was thoroughly enjoying the rice, though, and even that realization didn’t dissuade me from cleaning my plate. Maybe there is hope for me!

It was a wonderful meal, but I couldn't leave without having dessert. The waiter (aka the bartender) encouraged me to try the Banana Brown Butter Tart with Fleur de Sel Caramel, so I took his advice. It was amazing. Each bite had all these different flavors swirling around – sweet, salty, tangy… soooo good.

I walked back to my hotel in a wonderful mood and so very happy that I had had dinner at Herbsaint.


Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds like a great time! Isn't it the best getting to pick out a restaurant that you want to go to, rather than shuffling along with the rest? Glad you had a chance to indulge yourself.


santos. said...

hey cathy

i'm glad you had a good time as well, and a little time to yourself. weird things happen to me in new orleans (nothing horrible), so i'm wary of going.

i looked at the recipe for the herbsaint cocktail, and i must admit, i'm curious to try it. do you think he tried to put you off because of the taste (i'm assuming it's like bitter black liquorice), or because it might be too potent? i don't know much about herbsaint, except that it is like pastis (which i love). i'm wondering what the alcohol content is, and if they've somehow reformulated it to be like its previous form, absinthe.

Cathy said...

Alice - I'm not always comfortable dining out alone, but it does have its advantages - the first being you get to eat where you want. The other advantage is that you don't have to worry about someone else liking your choice of restaurant!

Santos - I think he thought I wouldn't like the taste. He said it tastes good at first, but then it's just too much. This page discusses absinthe and New Orleans, and mentions Herbsaint: "In New Orleans, the preferred absinthe substitute is Herbsaint, a locally-made anise liquor which is used in cocktails as well as in cooking. It's an absolutely lovely-tasting pastis drink, at 90 proof, and has a flavor that I believe to be superior to Pernod."

Linda said...

Hi Cathy.

This sounds like a wonderful trip and I'm glad you finally got a chance to break away from the group and do your own thing. I've never been to New Orleans but I'll be going this Fall and can't wait. Thanks for providing some useful tips on what to see and where to eat.

Reid said...

Hi Cathy,

I'm glad you got to have a nice meal in New Orleans! There are actually a lot of good restaurants there, though I'm not sure how many of them are still around (since the last time I was there). Not much of an alcohol-in-food fan, but I'm sure the herbsaint liqueur made the dish taste wonderful.

Cathy said...

Linda - Hope you have a great trip! I hope all the tropical weather of late will be over by the time you go.

Hi Reid! - Yes, I've heard there are many great restaurants in New Orleans - it was a bit frustrating that I couldn't try a few more of them! In regards to the bisque, I really had no idea there was any sort of alcohol in it until I got home and was reading reviews of the restaurant on-line! I wonder how much it actually contributed to the flavor.