Sunday, April 11, 2010

Our NOLA Trip - 28th Wedding Anniversary Part III

Unfortunately, due to being able to post only 5 pictures per post here, I’ve had to divide up the report. And since blogs are arranged how they are, you have to go backwards. So start on “Our NOLA Trip – Part I” and go from there through “Our NOLA Trip – Part X”

Collectible Antiques - just a junky little antique store with a twin next door (or perhaps an annex) that was fun to poke around in.

Lucullus Antiques - culinary antiques. Beautiful items - china, silver, amazing and mysterious serving pieces. Some more prosaic (and interesting to me) kitchen items in a back room. It led into yet another beautiful, cool, quiet courtyard in soothing pale green. I got one of my favorite pictures of the trip there:

Mr. Kim: For the most part, the numerous antique stores had such a different character from those I’ve seen everywhere else in the world…. Usually these take two forms – either stacked to the ceiling rummage shops with an overload of bric-a-brac interspersed with overpriced china or furniture that could have come from anywhere, or the museum-type set ups that have zero personal charm but instead focus on carefully arranged never sat-on furniture and wall décor I never believe anyone has ever really displayed. (This latter group always comes with a proprietor that glares at you when you come in, instantly weighing your check book and knowing you are not a buyer and shouldn’t be there.) But the antique stores in NOLA are different. You really feel that each item came from homes and residents THERE, that each piece has a story and a family just up the block, that the presence of these items in this shop is just a part of the circle of life in New Orleans. It affected me, and I really felt a reverence for many of the precious artifacts I examined, sensing their history and their owners, not weighing them for their value as a “find.” I know, hard to explain, easy to dismiss. But these places were definitely repositories of the folks of NOLA, not part of a network of junk dealers and bandits.

Leah's Candy - pralines and candies. Addicting pecan brittle. We have a guilty secret. We find pralines a little meh. Maybe we just haven't had really good ones. It's not like we hate them. They're....fine. Every praline I've ever tasted tastes just slightly stale. I think it might be the texture that is so unexpected in a candy - not crunchy and shattery, not gooey and soft - just...dully breakable. The other candies and brittles were very good and we went back there Tuesday morning to get goodies to take home. The turtles were especially nice. We chatted up the owner, and asked if she was Leah. The 55-ish woman explained that Leah had been her Aunt and that the young man behind us was her son, and then she rather proudly concluded that there were now three generations that had been in the candy making business. History, long and short, is everywhere here! She wistfully said she would like to visit Chincoteague Island in Virginia to see where Misty played. We offered to swap for a season and run her candy business in NOLA while she walked our barrier islands. She seemed to consider it for a second or two before we all politely chuckled and moved on to other subjects.

Voodoo Authentica - interesting and seemingly sincere little shop. The proprietress might have been tipsy. There was a bottle of rum in a back staff area that Mr. Kim saw through a curtain and she went back there a couple of times while we were in the shop and emerged wiping her lips. She was very friendly and just a tad silly. In an anteroom separated by a thin line of beads was a tarot reader that could visually fit into any low rent state fair plying his trade. Not for the first time (we had seen others) we wondered how many clients actually saw anything but entertainment value in this. Certainly we saw a lot of active readings.

Our walk around the Quarter didn't really concentrate much on Bourbon Street (at least the way we did it), so we included a stroll along it and, of course, ended up on it during the rest of our visit. We were struck by a few things (happily, not literally):

Storefront 'Frozen Concoction' places - These places are made for drunken bachelorette parties. Just a (seemingly endless) row of what look like Slurpee machines. Spinning with every flavor imaginable - fruit, citrus, etc., etc. You just request your flavor and they add whatever liquor and you walk down the street with another vomit inducing alcoholic sugar bomb.

Risqué T-shirts - right up front in the windows of some of the T-shirt stores were some really filthy themed shirts. Stuff that would have been buried in the back section of even a Spencer in VA was front and center on Bourbon St.

Round, perky, thong clad, LIVE butt cheeks - being shaken at us cheerily from the doors of a couple of men's 'clubs'.

Blacked out windows on aforementioned 'clubs' - considering the above, what in God's name were we not seeing?? Especially since most of the blacked out windows were covered with photos of fairly explicit acts - with the naughty bits blurred out.

Sex Show Signs -

The hilarious thing about this (comparatively) demure sign is that they have not only put undergarments on the figures, but plopped good old fashioned black boxes over top of them for good measure.

Another thing that we were struck by, considering the above and considering that from what we saw of the Quarter, the Garden District and Mid City, all this display is confined to Bourbon Street was how many people are strolling along with their children! I am no prude and have a mouth like the proverbial sailor, but what these clueless parents are exposing their children to is just too much. (Mr. Kim: In Maskarade, we even overheard some jerk of a father who, asked politely by the owner if he was enjoying his time in New Orleans, responded loudly that they indeed were, that his 10-ish year old son had even seen his first pair of – and then cupped his man boobs. The boy grinned shyly, not knowing how to react to the old woman’s gaze in juxtaposition with his father’s pride. This is the best thing that they have experienced on this vacation?)

Second lunch - Muffulettas at Central Grocery
Folks sometimes seem a little jaded about the Central Grocery. I've heard that it isn't what it was (the foodie's lament when THEIR places get popular - serious chowhounds like to think that they have the inside scoop and that if something becomes universally loved it must have slipped in some way), that there are better places to get a muffuletta, yadda, yadda, yadda. This all may be true. As I said to someone when we went to NY, we are just country mice and what you, as a native, might be bored with, we still love. Mr. Kim really wanted to go since it was the place that he remembered from his business trip here years ago and I wanted to go because I still remember the olive salad that he brought back. And maybe familiarity breeds contempt, but we loved it. The olive salad is the dominant flavor, but not the only one. The meats are good and strong, but not greasy and the provolone was aged just right. Sharpish, but still with a slight creaminess. The bread is perfect - not too soft and not too tough. The best thing about the bread, though, is the thickness. I wish that all subs were served on bread like that. Most sub rolls are too thick and too tough for me. I end up taking off the top bun and what fun is that? Subs are American, two fisted hunks of meat and cheese - not some tame Northern European open-faced pinky out thing. Or else the bread is so tough that the force of having to bite through pushes the meat and cheese out the other end. That did NOT happen with this sandwich. All I lost were a few olive chunks and those are sure easier to pick up than 1/2 lb. of cold cuts! We also had some Zapps on the side - I'm not a huge fan of kettle-style chips, but these are pretty good - the only brand that doesn't taste overwhelmingly greasy to me.

One really great thing about the Quarter is all the buskers. Some really good, energetic music of all types, with performers of all ages. Some are family groups with the older ones playing and the younger ones hanging out and skateboarding or just dancing. They can have regular instruments or buckets with sticks. Either way, it adds a good energy to the street. The living statues? Not so much. One in particular - every time we walked past him he was talking, fidgeting, eating a sandwich, talking on a cell phone! He told one lady, "Sorry, honey, you caught me on my break!" (On Our last day, we saw this same pathetic creature again on another street, replete with the same 100 strands mop wig, posing like a scarecrow. We assume that he moved here from Bourbon Street due to lack of success in the busier location. Who knows?)

I've never seen so many ATMs in my life. I'm sure that Las Vegas is the same, but I've never been there and NOLA seems to have them everywhere. There are little 'storefronts' on Bourbon Street that are the size of a bathroom with nothing in them but a drink machine and an ATM. Even at Luke, there was one of the non-bank affiliated ones back where the restrooms were.

We went back to the hotel and spent an hour or so writing postcards in the lovely courtyard. These courtyards which exist within so many of both commercial and residential buildings are a wonderful feature of the Quarter. Of course, everywhere we go, I imagine what it would be like to live there and I can see myself sitting in a courtyard in the heat of the afternoon, enjoying the cool, shady air. What a respite.

We had our anniversary dinner at one of John Besh's restaurants, Luke. Luke is a French and German bistro/brassiere. It's a lovely space - it feels European somehow (I know, I've never been to Europe, but still) - high ceilings, newspaper racks, pressed tin ceiling, those old fashioned ceiling fans that run from a central pulley, dark wood, window shutters, big French signs on the walls. Cool, laid-back atmosphere. The food was really wonderful. Some folks at eGullet had wondered if it was 'special' enough for an anniversary dinner, but it was just right for us. Casual sophistication. Yeah, that's us. Seriously though, Luke is the kind of restaurant that we like a lot. Approachable, uncomplicated, but really, really good food. Relaxed vibe (I hate that word and never use it in conversation, but can't think of another word and I've already used 'atmosphere'). Friendly, attentive service, but not too attentive. We never felt rushed. Our server said "Happy Anniversary", but didn't make a BIG DEAL (we do not like BIG DEALS made). Unfortunately Besh did not appear for his licking. I had promised The Child that if I saw him, I would LICK HIS WHOLE FACE. Ah, well, his loss. Probably just as well, it would have set an awkward tone for the rest of our anniversary evening. On with the food. Mr. Kim's cocktail was a sazerac (I tasted it and it seemed much stronger than the one at Galatoire and I didn't care for it as much - see, the magic is already fading) and mine a St. Charles Streetcar (St. Germain - which is elderflower liqueur - pear vodka and Champagne - very tasty). We started with the Rillette of Berkshire Pork w/ savory marmalade, cornichons, watermelon rind pickle, whole grain mustard and grilled country bread. This was absolutely delicious. The pork was smoky and rich and the accompaniments were perfect. I don't understand how something that is basically pork and pork fat can be that silky and smooth and NOT greasy tasting. It just melts away on your tongue, leaving just a porky, smoky flavor behind. Heavenly. Next was the Crabmeat Maison salad w/ fresh herbs, local greens and country bread croutons (which were indistinguishable from the grilled country bread that came with the rillette) - fabulous, fresh, sweet crab! My main course was Jumbo Louisiana Shrimp 'en cocotte' w/ McEwen & Sons cream white corn grits and Poche's andouille. This was a great dish - but a little too spicy for me. Mr. Kim's main was the Vanilla Scented Duck w/ local red cabbage, mayhaw and Pomme sardalaise. This was the best dish of the night. The fall apart tender duck was moist and fragrant (though not discernibly vanilla) with crisp skin. For dessert Mr. Kim had vanilla ice cream profiteroles w/ vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Very good, but a bit tame, I thought. My dessert was vanilla cake w/ strawberries and whipped cream. Amazing cake - moist and dense with a crisp, almost cooky-like crumb and a super tight crumb.

We intended to end the evening with music on Frenchmen's Street, but were so wore out and foot sore and FULL that we just went back to the hotel room and sacked out. Like the old farts that we are, we were asleep by 11!

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