Getting lost in New Orleans, and finding the best food, drinks and music...

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...

The rooftop pool at Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter - essential after a big night on Frenchman St.

The rooftop pool at Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter - essential after a big night on Frenchman St.

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!

Me: "Can't talk. Eating."

Me: "Can't talk. Eating."

Kenton's impressive whisky collection. 

Kenton's impressive whisky collection. 

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!

I'll have the French 75 please...

I'll have the French 75 please...

We felt very spoiled, with table-side entertainment from some supremely talented musicians

We felt very spoiled, with table-side entertainment from some supremely talented musicians

Our rule in New Orleans was to only eat the things we couldn't easily find in Chicago. 

Frogs Legs Provençale (I can say I've eaten frogs legs now! They really did taste kind of like chicken)

Frogs Legs Provençale (I can say I've eaten frogs legs now! They really did taste kind of like chicken)

Aligator Sausage, Oysters Kathryn, and Shrimp Arnaud (the house specialty)

Aligator Sausage, Oysters Kathryn, and Shrimp Arnaud (the house specialty)

Filet Mignon Charlemonde, so tender you could literally cut it with a butter knife. Which was good, because that's what you were given.

Filet Mignon Charlemonde, so tender you could literally cut it with a butter knife. Which was good, because that's what you were given.

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. 

Ronnie was pretty happy when his food arrived: Steak and Eggs, with mouth-watering Fried Oysters!

Ronnie was pretty happy when his food arrived: Steak and Eggs, with mouth-watering Fried Oysters!

The serene courtyard at Tableau

The serene courtyard at Tableau

Flower crowns are mandatory...

Flower crowns are mandatory...

Benny with his Beignets at Cafe Beignet (still hungry after breakfast).

Benny with his Beignets at Cafe Beignet (still hungry after breakfast).

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. 

The crazy-talented Maggie Koerner, singing the paint off the walls at Gasa Gasa, Uptown's newest venue. This place was such a surprise, tiny and out of the way, but overflowing with style (and very affordable drinks).

The crazy-talented Maggie Koerner, singing the paint off the walls at Gasa Gasa, Uptown's newest venue. This place was such a surprise, tiny and out of the way, but overflowing with style (and very affordable drinks).

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. 

The decor at SoBou was a real trip - using only light and clear glass bottles, the effect created was stunning. 

The decor at SoBou was a real trip - using only light and clear glass bottles, the effect created was stunning. 

Creative masterpieces from Sobou's chef Juan Carlos: (from top left) Yellowfin Tuna Cones; Crawfish Tamale; Sweet Potato Beignets; Boudin Balls; and a glass of Sunset in the Courtyard. There was a lot going on here, but somehow, it worked! The flavors were amazing. 

Creative masterpieces from Sobou's chef Juan Carlos: (from top left) Yellowfin Tuna Cones; Crawfish Tamale; Sweet Potato Beignets; Boudin Balls; and a glass of Sunset in the Courtyard. There was a lot going on here, but somehow, it worked! The flavors were amazing. 

Cherries Jubilee Bread Pudding

Cherries Jubilee Bread Pudding

Peanut Butter Praline Pie

Peanut Butter Praline Pie

Surf and Turf Steamed Buns - pulled pork, bbq pineapple and cilantro - make it yourself!

Surf and Turf Steamed Buns - pulled pork, bbq pineapple and cilantro - make it yourself!

Geaux Fish A La Plancha, with butternut squash gnocchi (and of course, the crawfish garnish - those little guys get into everything!)

Geaux Fish A La Plancha, with butternut squash gnocchi (and of course, the crawfish garnish - those little guys get into everything!)

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? 

Photo Credit for the trip goes to the massively talented Benjamin Blyth