The Big Easy. NOLA. New Orleans. A city with many nicknames, but known to most as a city with a storied history. To me, it is known as deliciousness. I first traveled to the “Crescent City” (yep, another nickname) in January 2011. I was a young, bright eyed girl, living in the City of Angels (Los Angeles, for those of you keeping track) and going on a “girls weekend” trip. At the time, I had no familiarity of New Orleans, let alone Louisiana. Maybe some vague recollection of learning about the Louisiana purchase in AP U.S. History…
I was working as a personal trainer at the time, and one of my clients was from Louisiana and gave me some tips on N’awlins (yes, that is ANOTHER nickname). On this trip my girlfriends and I traipsed around the Marigny (French Quarter adjacent), rode in a donkey drawn carriage, did the cemetery tour and went to Marie Laveau’s and more importantly, ATE. My young undeveloped foodie self went to Cafe Du Monde, where I had my first beignet and chicory coffee. Chomped down on muffaletta sandwiches that were the size of my head and had burgers at Port of Call with a baked potato with everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Even though it was an amazing trip...I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at the time...sometimes paycheck-to-overdrawn. My eating habits had to stick to a budget. Therefore, I was totally stoked when my friend from San Diego (America’s Finest City) asked if I would be her “Food Friend” on a work trip to the Paris of the South (I guess this nickname is shared with a couple of other Southern cities). I was excited to experience The Hollywood of the South as an older and wiser bright eyed girl, with an even bigger appetite.
Take a look at my younger self in 2011.
First course of business: create an eating itinerary. Yeah, I don’t FORK around (#thegoodplace). When I am asked to be a food friend, I am committed and will be the BEST FOOD FRIEND in the entire universe #professionaleater (Hit me up, if you wanna eat;)) With my friend actually working on what I consider her “food trip”, I had to maximize the few times that we would be able to eat together.
In order to create my eating itinerary, I turned to an all-around food culture champion, Anthony Bourdain. I have a reverence for Anthony Bourdain that runs deep. I am reading all the books on his recommended reading list (I mean, have you read “Belly of Paris”???) and, of course, reading the books that he penned. I generally trust any place that he has eaten or recommends- I may do some light cross-referencing with reviews and what not, but if he’s been there- I will get my belly there.
This was the basis of my eating itinerary with a couple extra places I found via the internet strewn in. I also included a couple of places that I really enjoyed when I was there during my first trip. Even though the time on this trip was limited, I had a few contingency food plans in case we barreled through the itinerary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit any places on the contingency list, but now I have my NEXT eating itinerary.
See eating itinerary below:
As my friend, Lindy, and I strolled around the French Quarter - my belly patiently waiting - the memories of walking around on my previous trip kept coming back to me. It made me even more excited to see what this present eating trip had in store for me. We stumbled upon The Spice and Tea Exchange. The store was a like a little hidden alcove with a treasure chest of spices, sugar, and tea. I focused on the spices and sugar- my brain went into overload thinking of all the different recipes I could bake and cook. Update: I already put some of them into good use… made a babka for the first time (see @dana.does.things on IG) and put some of the espresso sugar into the cocoa mixture of the babka filling. I am about to experiment a little more making eight self saucing puddings as I continue to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show- can you say butterscotch and mocha???? MMMMM.
So we purchased packets of sugars and spices and felt satisfied that we were going to take a part of NOLA home with us… the most important part: flavors for our kitchens. Next, we popped into the New Orleans Cooking School, to see if there were any classes I could take in between my feeding schedule. Alas, no, but it’s on my list for the next time I visit NOLA. Oh, then I grabbed a paper city map (remember, those?) because my phone imploded on itself on the flight to New Orleans --(I had to navigate the whole weekend without a mobile device like it was the 60s, but more on that later).
Antoine’s. I didn’t know about Antoine’s the last time I was here. And now it was time to discover the deliciousness that is Antoine’s. As you may have guessed, Anthony Bourdain, ate here during his No Reservations show (S4, Ep5). Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the episode before I went, but I did watch it as I typed up this food-memoir-blog (this is what it is right??). His experience was very different from mine. He went a couple of years after Katrina, when the city was rebuilding itself. The Antoine’s that he dined in had the bustle of kitchen staff and tuxedo-clad waitstaff, but the dining room was missing the patrons. Fast forward about twelve years to a time where trying to get a reservation was limited. We had to dine at 6:15pm or not at all. I took the 6:15pm reservation.
We arrived at the restaurant. I see the white table cloths. The hostess in a little black dress and the host in a suit. A smattering of early dining patrons in suits and dresses. Then, somewhere in my memory, I realize I either heard, read or inferred that there is a dress code at Antione’s. I, at least, have a collared shirt on and some trendy, high waisted pants (that my husband hates), but I can pass that I got dressed for dinner. Lindy, on the other hand…
“Oh, I think I remember that there is a dress code here.”
“Dana!” Lindy hisses at me.
“Get behind me.”
As we sidle up to the host counter, I see two dudes in shorts leaving. I say dudes, because they looked like San Diego PB bros… if you lived in SoCal, you know what I am talking about and you know the style of clothing they were wearing. Seeing the dudes that just walked out of the dining room, I felt positive that we were going to eat at Antoine’s despite the slight amount of sweat accumulated on our faces and Lindy’s legs on full display in her walking shorts with an active wear jacket wrapped around her waist in an effort to hide said bare legs... and a tank top. I was determined that shorts were not going to stop us on our eating journey.
When it was my turn to speak to the hostess, I turned on my commercial actor face and spoke with a vaguely British accent (I don’t know, it felt right in the moment) and said:
“Good evening. A 6:15 reservation under Bishop.” Lindy and her bare legs standing directly behind me.
At that moment, the suited host comes up to the hostess in her little black dress and whispers in her ear, behind the menus in his hand. Obviously, they are talking about us. The little black dress hostess replies back in a way that she hopes we won’t hear... but I heard:
“I know. But we already let other people in with shorts, so it doesn’t matter now.” Read: Thank you, dudes in shorts.
By the way, little black dress hostess, hadn’t made eye contact with me during this whole interaction. Perhaps my vague British accent scared her. In any case, we are being shown to our table. The other diners already seated, in some type of eating finery… we in our… casual finery. But we have a table and we sit down. Lindy immediately spreads her white cloth napkin as far it will go across her lap, as she scoots her dining chair as far as it will go under the table to hide her bare legs.
Eating itinerary is back on track. Now we can focus on what we are going to eat! While I do like to peruse menus beforehand if available, I am not a person that pre-chooses all the food I want to order. I check out the menu, if possible, to get a feel of the dining experience. Antoine’s, I did not get to peruse before hand… so I all I knew was to get the baked Alaska.
The restaurant is like walking into an a time capsule, in the best way possible. The main dining room’s walls are strewn with pictures of all the prominent people that have eaten there, newspaper clippings and of NOLA history. The waitstaff in the their black tuxes make you feel extra fancy (even if you are in shorts), and the ornate light fixtures and molding add to the ambience.
While I was tempted to get a Pimm’s cup (I have never had one), I decided to stick to a classy white wine because I am a classy lady. Kind of. In some cases. A bag with an Antoine’s logo filled with warm, crusty, soft bread came out to greet our table with butter. Yes, please. I appreciate having a little nosh while I look at the menu. First up, appetizers. Big decision. It sets the tone of the meal!
I am a HUGE fan of oysters. Raw, in Chinese stew, breaded and fried. Love. Oysters. Luckily Antoine’s offered an array of oysters in a half shell. The waiter could tell I was fretting over the decisions of which one to choose, thankfully, he suggested to get the “Oysters 3 Ways” and that sounded like the best option to me. Bring on the Oysters 3 Ways!
The oysters we got were Bienville, Rockfeller (a secret recipe, kept...uh...a secret), and Thermidor. Given the chance, I would have gotten every single Hors D’Oeuvres. But it’s a marathon not a sprint. Next time I will definitely get Huitres a la Foch -- that’s what Mr. Bourdain had. The oysters were perfect to whet the palate. Warm on a bed of salt with the briny flavor under a heap of herbs and butter or that secret sauce. One of our waiters (our back waiter perhaps, I don’t know the fancy waitstaff name), gave us some insight to the “secret sauce:” Mustard greens. I don’t know the rest of the ingredients… but I can be convinced to go back and order another plate to figure it out.
As we were eating, we got some history of the place from our back waiter. And more bread. Despite not dressing for dinner, we were eating like nobility. The entrees were perfectly enjoyable, but truth be told I do remember savoring the amadine a little bit more. And the potatoes in cream. Just like it sounds: delicious cream sauce bathing potatoes under a gooey cheese blanket.
The dining room filled up during the course of our meal and I am glad that we didn’t try to get a table wearing shorts later in the evening. All patrons seemed to be enjoying their food and company while the waitstuff whisked about here and there. We told our back waiter that we had ordered the Baked Alaska. He told us that he had a couple surprises for us. We didn’t really think anything of it as we finished off our entrees and another bag of bread (no shame). But then he appeared with an Antoine’s gift bag with two Antoine’s glasses and two signed menus for us to take home. Our very own swag bag! Take that, all you people who dressed for dinner.
After the dinner plates were cleared and I restrained myself from eating more bread… our second surprise came: A Walgreen’s Special. That’s what our back waiter called it. And who were we to argue? I think on the menu it is a Meringue Glacee au Chocolat. Vanilla ice cream on a meringue shell covered in chocolate fudge sauce and topped with almonds. I asked our back waiter why he called it a Walgreen’s Special. His reply: I don’t know, but that’s what you call it. I accept that answer.
Ok, this is our first dessert of two. A surprise dessert. A surprise free dessert. Holla. This was one of our FAVORITE things of the evening. Neither of us are huge meringue girls. I have never even attempted to make it before (but I will have to soon for my bake off challenge), but I don’t feel like meringue is really embedded in the American palate besides the occasional meringue topped pie. This Walgreen’s Special had baked meringue. Beautifully baked meringue with no cracks, with just enough bite, with just enough sweetness. Topped off with the chocolate sauce, creaminess of the ice cream, and crunchiness of the almonds… it was how do you say… Perfect. Literally sighing right now at the memory of that dessert. Back waiter did us right!
Now for our second dessert. The dessert we actually ordered. The Baked Alaska or the Omelette Alaska Antoine. A pound cake filled with vanilla ice cream surrounded by meringue and chocolate sauce, flambeed to perfection. Perfect for two. Some people are intimidated when it says perfect for two, but I’m not. Since I am accustomed to eating for a two person appetite. My bake off challenge features a baked Alaska too, so I thought this was a perfect time to eat one. Yes, I have never had a baked Alaska. It’s not something that is on every menu, because I imagine that it is a pain to make.
When that Baked Alaska came out of the Antoine’s kitchen, even I was scared of the size. Literally, the size of an American football and served tableside. Holy moly baked forking Alaska. We had to laugh at our two dessert fortune and the size of our desserts. We were definitely having the best time there. The pound cake added an extra richness and the hot fudge sauce at Antonines was DEE-LI-CIOUS. This was not a two person dessert… it’s a four person dessert. Like, two Danas. We were having such a good time that another lady at different table came up to talk to us. And I insisted that they have some of our baked Alaska, which I brought over to them. They had dessert before their entree.
Even with the sheer size of the baked Alaska and the theatricality of it, I think Lindy and I preferred the Walgreen’s Special and would have gladly had another one. But now I know what I am up against when I have to make my own Baked Alaska for my Great British Bake Off challenge. I guarantee mine will be just as big as Antoine’s.
(Yes, that is me squealing in the background of the video)
After sharing our second dessert and still giggling about the whole dinner, we got another surprise. A little guided tour of the restaurant. A guided tour in our casual finery. The restaurant is a lot larger than at first glance. Different hallways leading to other dining rooms, private dining rooms, wine cellar, an underground tunnel (!), and a MYSTERY room. What was very apparent, is that Antoine’s is firmly rooted in NOLA and its history. The societies that run the celebration of Carnival have their own dining rooms here. The rooms act like a museum, completed with encased jewels and costumes. Fun fact: the underground tunnel was used as a place for drunken sailors to sleep one off before returning to the docks the next day during the time of prohibition.
Our tour complete, swag bag in our hand, and two desserts in our bellies; we ventured back out into the French Quarter feeling very satisfied with our first eating adventure. Now on to the next one! To quote Lindy regarding my eating habits: “I can’t keep up with you.” One of the best compliments I have ever received.
Despite switching up our eating itinerary, we had to still hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde. I know it’s “touristy” but I think it’s a rite of passage for anyone visiting New Orleans for the first time. Since we had a delicious, early dinner we decided to walk off part of our two desserts before having our third. I think the eating gods were on our side because we were able to catch the last show at Preservation Jazz Hall. Another rite of passage when visiting NOLA. The first time I came, I accidentally stumbled upon the hall and was in awe of the musicians as I swayed to the music while standing in the back. So I was excited for Lindy to experience it and this time we were up close! Front row on the cushions. Right in front of the trumpet and drums. The jazz combo was complete with world class musicians and even a trombone prodigy of thirteen years of age. These guys play like 3-4 shows a night, I have no idea how they can talk or move their mouths afterwards (or their fingers/hands). There is no photography or video allowed during the show, and they won't start until EVERYONE puts their technology away (which wasn't a problem for me). The audiences only job is to enjoy the damn music.
After the show, a certain someone may have been invited to take a picture with the drummer and sit at the kit AND get to hold the sticks!! Ok, yes, that someone was me.
We left Preservation Jazz Hall and explored the area some more and then, finally, made our way to Cafe Du Monde.Beignets and chicory coffee! At midnight, the place was still packed. What I love about this place is that it offers two things and people come from all over the world just for those two things. We only ordered one order (each order comes with 3 beignets), Lindy probably thought I was nuts for suggesting that we get two orders #professionaleater. I gave Lindy a pro tip to not inhale as she took her first bite, since all she would do is choke on the pound of powdered sugar that tops the fried doughnuts of goodness.
If you recall, the eating itinerary also included Bakery Bar. This has to be put on another day- we can't have four desserts in one day...well, I mean, we could...
As we sat there finishing the beignets and drinking iced cafe au laits, I knew that the next couple days were going to filled with delicious foods. I was eager to eat it all! ...After I hit the gym in the morning.
More on NOLA soon! And how I explored the city with no 2019 technology. So many eating adventures were had that I had to split it up. Until then Happy Baking, Happy Eating, Happy Repeating.