by Phoebe Blyth
Ever since coming to the US, I've had this itch for New Orleans. In terms of "must see" cities, I never cared much for Los Angeles, and New York was always "somewhere I'll probably go one day"; but New Orleans fascinated me, with its mix of bright festival beads and dark voodoo underbelly (the crazy delicious food also factored into my preoccupation).
With our departure from the US looming on the horizon (see our upcoming article about moving countries for a third time), it was looking like we weren't going to make it down to the Bayou, until my brother announced that he was extending his trip after spending a week with us in Utah, and asked if we would be interested in flying down to NOLA? Despite the fact that we unwittingly picked the weekend of the New Orleans Jazz festival, we somehow managed to get flights and a hotel room for the three of us before everything sold out.
That first night, after landing at 11pm, we wandered up and down the alleyways and corridors leading too and from Bourbon street (which reminded me of a cross between Khao San Road in Thailand and Wrigleyville in Chicago) till the wee hours, and I adjusted my expectations for the city that I'd thought to be more... authentic? Less overrun with tourists? I'm not sure what... or why. I'd had a romantic vision of jazz and whiskey and slow dancing in lush, dark courtyards, and instead we were confronted with a crush of shrill middle aged weekenders and boozy, beaded bachelorettes, stumbling down the road clutching giant frozen, syrupy drinks.
And so we decided to set out looking for a more satisfying New Orleans experience... and what we found was unexpected, varied, and wonderful. Rather than a plan, we had a list of recommendations as long as my leg, and a pretty bad sense of direction, so getting lost was inevitable. What we found when we lost our way was nothing short of spectacular...
Warning: serious food porn ahead. Do not proceed if hungry.
Decadent brunch at Kenton's Restaurant: (from top left) Biscuits Benedict; Smoked Chipotle Bloody Mary; Crispy Grit Cake with Smoked Chicken; Homemade Biscuits with jam and butter; Salted Caramel Croissant. (The extra serving of crispy bacon was definitely necessary...).
I'd never been a fan of the Bloody Mary before coming to the states, but since moving here, I've enjoyed my fair share. This one was hands-down the best!
For our first dinner in New Orleans, we decided to go a little bit fancy. We're talking champagne cocktails, oysters, and table side entertainment, at Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter. Serving Creole cuisine since 1918, Arnaud's gave us more than a meal...it was an experience!
Our rule in New Orleans was to only eat the things we couldn't easily find in Chicago.
Our dessert at Arnaud's was entertainment in itself! The Café Brûlot was a magical concoction of brewed coffee, brandy, cointreau, orange, lemon zest, cinnamon and sugar. Our server, Marshall, told us that when the flaming brandy is poured over the orange it's called "the devil's eyes".
Recovering with Brunch #2: Tableau
We came across Tableau by accident - we were starving for breakfast, but couldn't find anywhere with a free table (thanks Jazz fest!) Luckily, when we enquired, they told us there had been a cancelation, and they squeezed us in to a table overlooking the picturesque courtyard. As we waited for our food, a three piece brass band made the rounds, the French Horn player doing an impressive Satchmo impression. The food was filling and flavorful, at as usual, we only ordered things we couldn't get at home.
We spent the afternoon exploring the city, and ended up wandering for miles through the garden district. At a cute little cafe, sometime in the late afternoon, we got chatting to a waitress, who recommended a venue not far from there, where one of the favorite bands was opening later that night. We had never heard of the place, or the band, but decided to check it out.
On our last night in NOLA, we followed the pretty lights into So Bou, a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel, where we had an entirely unique food experience, with a serious cool backdrop.
Of course, like all good things, our trip came to an end, and we found ourselves slumped in plastic airport chairs, waiting for our flight back to Chicago. After our New Orleans experience, we were all a a little delicate (staying out till 4am watching an impromptu jam session in the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street probably didn't help), and I think I had gained about five pounds from all the delicious food, but all I could think about was... when can we come back?