The brilliance of New Orleans, by Ann Elliott
Friday Opinion – Propel Newsletter – 10th June 2016
New Orleans is one of those cities where everyone who hasn’t been seems to want to go to and where everyone who has been thinks it is tremendous. The recent amazing Propel trip to Chicago presented Sally Whelan from HospitalityGEM and I with the perfect opportunity to tag on a visit to the city and see what the fuss is all about – in particular to eat as much food as we could in as many places as we could. We seem to have done that quite well.
I’m ashamed to say we started off going to Oceania, recommended by our hotel (that was situated in the French Quarter). Usually hotel recommendations are quite good but not this one. It did give us though, our first taste of gumbo, alligator sticks, crab cakes and the local beer. The evening was much better when we visited Revolution and had outstanding food including espresso-crusted venison carpaccio and Hogs Head cheese followed by pastrami-cured tuna with Brussels sprout sauerkraut, smoked butternut and cauliflower chow chow. The service here was exemplary and we were taken on a tour of the kitchen and wine cellars. A really wonderful experience all round.
Brennan’s is a New Orleans institution and it’s said brunch was invented here. The place is famous for its Bananas Foster with banana (obviously) cooked at the table with butter, sugar, cinnamon, rum and ice cream. I had it after grapefruit brulee (caramelised grapefruit, luxardo cherries, rosemary crème anglaise) and baked eggs creole (creole sauce, chaurice sausage, parmesan, and grilled country bread). Again the service was chatty, friendly and efficient.
Having thought I would never ever eat again, we then went to Domenica for lunch – probably our highlight of the trip in terms of culinary brilliance. We shared roasted cauliflower with sea salt and whipped feta; fried Tuscan kale with pine nuts, tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano; Burrata mozzarella with mint pea pesto, ciabatta and aged balsamic; and lasagne bolognaise with pasta verde, béchamel, mozzarella and pork ragu. It was simply amazing.
The chef here also owns Shaya, which has just won the James Beard foundation award for excellence (highly coveted in the city) and serves outstanding modern Israeli food (which I love) so we took a taxi out to Magazine Street for dinner. Here we indulged in Baba ganoush, Israeli salad, tabbouleh and Moroccan carrots with chermoula and mint. The size of the portions, normal in the UK, came as a bit of a shock in comparison with some of the gigantic portions we had been served during the day so we managed to eat most of them. Israeli food is a novelty in the city and was divine.
The next day we visited a disgusting restaurant called Johnny’s Po-Boys for breakfast – po-boy being one of the staple parts of the New Orleans diet. It did set us up for a culinary tour of New Orleans, which I can’t recommend highly enough, although it was a food tour where we didn’t get to eat any food: www.freetoursbyfoot.com
Our outstanding guide talked animatedly about the culinary history of New Orleans and how seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, muffulettas, jambalaya, hot sauces, Gulf Coast seafood, po-boys, crawfish/seafood boil, pralines and beignets had all became part of the city’s food heritage. So off we went to eat beignets at Café du Monde, gumbo and fried green tomatoes at Pere Antoine, pralines at Loretta’s, muffulettas at Central Grocery and Deli, and red beans and rice plus jambalaya at Napoleon House.
New Orleans was everything we could have wished for and more. A city that is rightly proud of its food heritage but not frightened to try new and exciting flavours and foods. We were told that there were less than 900 restaurants there prior to Katrina in 2005 – now there are closer to 1,200. It’s worth going for its food alone but the city is exciting, thrilling, vibrant, friendly and welcoming in every other aspect too. I have a list of restaurants to visit if you ever want to go – just let me know.
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Written by Ann Elliott, CEO of elliotts agency