Monday Miam-Miam: The Big Easy

When I met my now-husband he had already been to the US several times. In fact, he had stayed in New York City long enough to know that he would love to return to the US. One day. For longer.

Whenever we spoke about his sojourn there he was over enthusiastic about every state, every city, every site he had visited. Except New Orleans.

“It was so hot in La Nouvelle Orléans,” he said. “It smelled horrible. I was miserable.”

My husband never speaks in italics.

So, as much as I wanted to visit New Orleans, we didn’t go there until 2014.

Although our first visit happened eight years after Katrina the city was still under reconstruction.

Perhaps due to the devastating signature the hurricane left on New Orleans, both physically and in the American collective memory, the famously crowded French Quarter was fairly quiet.

We easily found a table at The Court of Two Sisters. The host led us inside the dining room since it had rained right before we arrived. The dining room opened on a magnificent courtyard where I imagined the heady fragrance of the gardenias. Many moons ago, our waiter had worked in France. I’m sure he spoke some French, but we conversed in English in this state that the French Emperor Napoleon sold to the Americans. Our waiter’s weathered face matched his adventurous life, whether spent in France or in the States, and he regaled us with vivid anecdotes.

At some point a cat crawled along the large expanse of the windows separating the indoor dining room from the courtyard. If we had been eating outside I would have felt the softness of his sand-colored coat against my bare legs.

“It’s a Katrina cat,” said the waiter. “We adopted it after…” His sentence lingered in the air.

His gaze wavered as he followed the cat swallowed by the night. The animal returned shortly, though, accompanied by a fellow feline. Both brushed against the wrought-ironed legs of the garden tables, sniffing the ground for some crumbs, perhaps a bite of fish.

“It’s a good sign to see the cats coming back,” said the waiter. “It’s the proof of a good house.”

If you want to read the French version of this post, you can find it here. Si vous voulez lire la version francaise de ce billet, vous le trouverez ici.

Last year we got another chance to visit New Orleans, this time off-season. The weather was gorgeous. A breeze carried the smell of Confederate jasmine through the peaceful back alleys. Fully bloomed geraniums bled in the window boxes hung at the balconies. A young couple was getting married on a public square. Musicians gave impromptu concerts throughout the French Quarter. Alcohol still flew more freely and more generously than anywhere else in the country.

 

Love the palette of colors used in New Orleans

Even my husband could only fall under the charm of the Big Easy.

I could live here

He booked us a table for dinner at Arnaud’s rue Bienville.Opened since 1918 the restaurant offers Creole cuisine.

When French and South meet

If I never resist shrimp I can go without escargots. But the French man loves them.

So we each pick our favorites: Shrimp a la Arnaud with a Creole remoulade (for the French readers, nothing to do with our céleri rémoulade) and Escargots en Casserole.

Then we went for the Trout Amandine for him and the Crab Cakes for moi.

Crab Cakes that I usually only eat in Maryland, like lobster in Maine

At Arnaud’s, vegetables weren’t included to the entrees. I ordered Wild Mushrooms (another weakness of mine) and my husband went for, went for…

Facing his obvious hate relationship with anything green, our waiter suggested an order of Soufflé Potatoes.

“In the kitchen we call them Pillows of Love,” he said with a wink.

So. What could we do? We agreed, of course.

The infamous Pillows of Love

Lots of French words float around in Louisiana and New Orleans in particular. Some don’t necessary match their French counterpart. Soufflé is one of them. The Soufflé Potatoes are the French Pommes Dauphine. Now I can be very partial to France and anything French. But I found the Soufflé Potatoes superior to any potato dish I ever ate. French or not.

The waiter was right: the small rectangular potato soufflés fell like pillows on our stomachs. I skipped the Béarnaise since I’m not a sauce fan. The Pillows of Love didn’t need anything to compliment their perfection, anyway.

My husband was enchanted too. Despite the fact that they were technically his, he happily share his Pillows of Love with me.

Beat the French Pommes Dauphine

For dessert? Oh man, what a dilemma. Looks like Bananas Fosters are a New Orleans signature dish. I eat banana on the go and before a hike when I wake up very early. Otherwise? Not so much.

And after the Pillows of Love we felt satiated. So we ordered two scoops of ice cream that we shared: Pistachio (that’s a favorite since childhood) and Praline, of course. Although French and Louisianan pralines have little in common.

A French praline is a candy (bonbon in French) made with an almond covered with cooked sugar. In Louisiana the almond is replaced by pecan, the sugar by brown sugar, and butter and cream and maybe more fat are added to the preparation.

I never drink coffee at night, but the Café Brûlot was very tempting. Another time. In the winter, aw…

A huge bonus when you eat in New Orleans: music.

At Arnaud’s music is on the menu on any single night. That day the Gumbo Trio played.

The band setting up

 

The Gumbo Trio’s CD

I’m a sucker for music. My kids will confirm that I sing out loud as often as I can. Badly? OK. Heartily? Always. Even though I don’t consider myself a jazz fan and even less an expert, I find jazz a great pairing with a dinner and with after-dinner drinks. I used to go to jazz clubs in Paris and loved the ambiance of the underground joints where small and renowned bands alike played late at night. Always for a very reasonable price you could enjoy a drink, great music and good company. We call these clubs caves for cellars in France.

The CD we bought from The Gumbo Trio is now spliting its life between my car and my husband’s.

From my glove compartment to his

Dining at Arnaud’s is a dive in the past. The cuisine is Creole with a distinct French classic note.  My husband and I favor light innovative cooking. But some places and moments call for tradition. New Orleans and a trip to a land where France left its imprint is one of them.

You can read more about the history of the restaurant Arnaud’s here. Including Prohibition and ghosts stories. And also about a lovers’ lookout, now a mezzanine. Since we ate in the main dining room, I cannot comment.

The balconies in New Orleans, aw…

In the afternoon we visited Faulkner House Books where I bought Girls by Emma Cline (one of the best novels of the last decade, BTW). Knowing that the Faulkner had lived within these walls gave me the goosebumps. Easy in New Orleans. I didn’t take any picture inside the bookstore, though. It’s an intimate setting and the bookseller was helping other customers. Just found an article about the store, its history and its owners.

 

The Big Easy where we should Laisser les Bons Temps Rouler will never leave a French-native indifferent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Bonjour
    Un article intéressant que j’ai lu en français. Merci
    André Bouchard

  2. I have been to New Orleans twice since 2010. Your descriptions are perfect, especially “and butter and cream and maybe more fat are added to the preparation.” That seems to be New Orleans cooking 101. I love the balconies. If I return, I might seek out those pillows.

    • Yeah, some of the traditional cooking ways can be a little too much 🙂
      But New Orleans is quite something. I was suggested other sites to visit there. Which I have missed. Hard to cover everything at once.
      So I’ll try to return. For that and the pillows of love 🙂

  3. Fabulous Evelyne, this post dripped with atmosphere, it’s a place I’d love to visit sometime but you gave me a taste of what it might be like.

    • Thank you for the compliment, Andrea. Coming from you I particularly appreciate. It’s a unique city, worth a visit. I’ve met people who recommended several destinations there that I haven’t seen. Including a walk along the water. Which I totally missed. So I’ll plan another visit. For more good food and music too:)

  4. A friend of mine in Indiana adopted a Katrina cat. He (the cat) is doing well, and very happy and loved. Thanks for the tour of New Orleans. I’ve never been there, but now I feel I have. 🙂

  5. Naomi Bermudez says:

    I went to NOLA for the first time a few months ago and loved it! I ate at the Court of Two Sisters too. It was so delicious. Your post is making me want to go back asap! Haha.

    • Funny that you ate at the same place. I also want to go back and eat some beignets. My mom used to make the best and I want to compare the French ones to the New Orleans ones. Thank you for stopping by, Naomi.

  6. Never been to New Orleans but looks like my type of place….was that Alligator sausage on the menu???

  7. I went once in college. While it was unforgettable, and I believe everyone should try to go when possible, I went in March and it was already unbearably hot in the day. I never was a fan of the heat. I sure wish I’d taken a lot of door photos back then!
    I love how you eat something somewhere and it becomes iconic — like Maine lobster, or Maryland crab, or NOLA beignets. I have fond memories of all of those, like you and your pillows of love 🙂

    • We were lucky since it was late spring and one unusually crisp day. I like to eat food where it belongs:)
      And it’s true that I never ate lobster but in Maine!
      Thank you for supporting my new series, Joey.

  8. ah, NO… ❤ pendant nos 5 ans passés à Houston, TX(NASA-area), nous sommes allés plusieurs fois à NO – avec tous nos visiteurs d'Europe… 🙂 last but not least: il y a même Toulouse street!!!

    • C’est vrai 🙂
      Tous ces noms qui ne peuvent que rappeler la France. Parfois au coin d’une rue on peut surprendre une conversation en Cajun et reconnaitre un mot ou deux. Mais pas plus.
      J’aime cette ville mais je n’y vivrais pas au quotidien. A plus. Melanie.

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