New Orleans Food, Part 1

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Jackson Square

In addition to its rich history, New Orleans is known as one of the great food cities of the United States. When I visited earlier in the month, I was determined to eat good food, and boy, did I manage to have some delicious meals! I researched restaurants and “the best [insert food here]” but naturally, as much as one can plan, a trip often unfolds a bit more organically than that. Still, I had some excellent dishes, and I accomplished my goal of trying a new type of seafood—crawfish, because it is apparently crawfish season in March.

On our first evening in New Orleans, I knew we would be tired and hangry, since our plane did not land until early evening. Our hotel was located in the Central Business District—an area that may lack a lot of the historical and architectural charm of the French Quarter, but still has quite a few solid places to eat. A stone’s throw from the hotel was Juan’s Flying Burrito. Tex-Mex may not be New Orleans’ speciality, but the place was close and open on a Sunday evening.

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The bar at Juan’s Flying Burrito

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Jerk Chicken and Pineapple Tacos

We started with the Bacon Bean Dip appetizer. It was so damn tasty that I forgot to take a picture! Imagine: black beans, bits of bacon (and probably bacon greas), blended together and topped with a swirl of cream cheese. It was a bit decadent, and a delicious, simple combination that I will try to recreate myself.

For my main, I had the Jerk Chicken and Pineapple tacos. In all honesty, I think they were good, but I was recovering from a cold and didn’t have fully functioning tastebuds. It was spicy, and the pineapple slaw was a nice, sweet contrast to the main taco filling.

Our drinks were very potent. We may have staggered out from the restaurant when finished. But then, it’s New Orleans and they are known for decadence!

The following day, we went on a walking tour of the French Quarter to orient ourselves. Bourbon Street was seedy, smelly, and rather disgusting—I generally avoided it. We got some good recommendations for food from the tour guide, though many places I would never go to—I don’t like oysters, olives, okra, or gumbo. For lunch, we wanted something close to where we ended up. There is a lot of fried food in the Southern US, and we didn’t feel like that, either, or the New Orleans classic Muffaletta sandwich, which is a soft bun packed with cheese, cold cut meats, and an olive salad.

We ended up at the Café Pontalba, overlooking Jackson Square, the main square of the French Quarter. The location was picturesque, and the café itself had large mirrors and wide open windows to let in the hazy sunlight of the day. It was hot that day— 27C —and we appreciated the cold beverages that the server promptly brought to us.

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Interior of the Café Pontalba

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The roast beef Poboy may not look like much, but it was pretty goood.

We split a Roast Beef Poboy sandwich between two people: each half of the sandwich was probably six inches long! The sandwich came with a waving of lettuce and tomato (on the side) and a “debris” gravy, which is a savoury sauce/gravy that, in essence, incorporates “tasty bits” of meat and caramelized goodness from the bottom of the roasting pan. The beef was tender, and the sauce was just enough to moisten the sandwich bun. Again, I couldn’t taste the gravy as well as I would have liked (given my cold), but my mother, with whom I was travelled, assured me that the gravy possibly had traces of BBQ sauce in it as well.

Of course, you can’t visit New Orleans without trying Cajun food, though we learned that true Cajuns are not found in New Orleans, but rather west and south of the city. For our supper that evening, we had a reservation for KPaul’s, which was the flagship restaurant for Chef Paul Prudhomme. Their menu changes nightly, depending on what is in season, but they focus on traditional flavours. The restaurant was packed that evening (a Monday!) so I was glad that we had reserved a table.

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Blackened drum

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Tender, juicy blackened beef

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Paneed Chicken with Jambalaya

Normally, I am not indecisive about the menu when I order. However, at KPaul’s, I waffled, because too many dishes sounded delicious! I ended up splitting a surf and turf—basically, one person orders steak, and the other orders the fish, and you split it. The beef was a succulent sirloin steak, blackened with herbs, and covered in a rich, beefy debris gravy. It was cooked to a perfect medium.

The fish was a blackened drum, a local type of fish found in many restaurants. It was served with a chipotle butter and small crawfish. The fish was a nice, flaky whitefish that the salty butter complemented. Crawfish are like a small lobster (when served whole), and I was determined to try one. They were tiny! No more than the size of a nickel. The flesh was sweet, and reminiscent more of shrimp than a lobster. I ate several crawfish, much to my surprise.

I also tried the paneed chicken with jambalaya. The chicken was pan-fried, almost like a scallopini. The jambalaya it was served with was mild, made with sweet (probably local and fresh) tomatoes and shrimp. Again, the flavours melded well.

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Dessert

Dessert was less spectacular. Although the Custard Marie Crème Brûlée with a Praline Bottom was good (basically, a crème brulee with a pecan praline bottom), the bread pudding was ho-hum. It needed a Bourbon-laced cream sauce to cut the heavy stodginess. Nevertheless, the overall meal was a good introduction to Cajun/Creole flavours, and I would definitely eat at KPaul’s again.

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