By Kathie Beckett
Fall is the perfect time for all of you food fanatics to sneak away for a long weekend to New Orleans, affectionately called NOLA. Hop on a plane leaving Atlanta and you’ll be in the Big Easy in just a few hours for a weekend immersion into some fabulous food.
New Orleans marked the 5th anniversary for Hurricane Katrina on August 29th, and in just five years, has come back with a strong offensive, especially on the food front. There are actually more restaurants here now than there were before Katrina. It’s a food mecca: you’ll find everything from typical Cajun and French offerings to Italian, Vietnamese, and even Latin American. It’s this melting pot of flavors that makes New Orleans so unique.
Chef Phillip Lopez
Executive Sous Chef Phillip Lopez of Rambla (who previously worked under acclaimed chef John Besh) said it best: “New Orleans is a big melting pot, and we have so many difference influences here. We’re undergoing a culinary revolution here in New Orleans: there’s a younger generation of chefs in this city who feel this progressiveness. We’re willing to try new and different things, and we’re sparking a fire down here.” Lopez recently featured a fresh cheese board and a caramelized pork belly (with eggplant puree, capers, grapefruit and olive) as well as duck confît on his menu board. (www.ramblaNOLA.com) [Ed. Note: Chef Lopez has recently opened his own restaurant: Root; learn more at www.rootNOLA.com.]
Right down the street from Rambla is another of my favorite restaurants: LeForet on Camp Street. (www.leforetneworleans.com) I’m not the only one who thinks it’s fabulous: New Orleans Magazine named it the Best New Restaurant of 2010. LeForet pays homage, in a very sophisticated way, to the French countryside.
Le Foret's food takes you to the French countryside.
The flavors of their food whisk you from their fine gourmet Parisian dining scene and plant you squarely back in the fields of France. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by what’s in season: fresh, earthy vegetables, sweet creams, and the fresh game from the day’s hunt, perhaps duckling, quail, or rabbit. My dining companion had the breast of duckling baked in a sugar crust with seared fois gras, and I couldn’t resist the tenderloin of nature-fed beef. Next time, I’ll try the Trio of Farm-Raised Rabbit Basquaise or the Colorado Saddle of Lamb.
We stayed at the fabulous International House, www.ihhotel.com, (also on Camp Street) so walking to everything, including Bourbon Street, helped us walk off the pounds.
SoFAB features a unique living history of food and drink in New Orleans.
Walk over to RiverWalk (near Harrah’s Casino) and take a quick tour of the Southern Museum of Food and Beverage (SoFAB). You’ll learn some interesting things about the history of some famous Louisiana restaurants, learn about specific Louisiana foods, and even find out more about the history of that quintessential NOLA drink, the cocktail, in their Museum of the American Cocktail exhibit. Local chefs often show up to give you a taste of their best offerings, and SoFAB often has a lecture series. We just missed one on that curious French drink Absinthe. (www.southernfood.org)
Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walk down Bourbon Street. On your way, stop by Palace Cafe (a Dickie Brennan restaurant) and try the banana foster beignets: sweet banana beignets served with a classic sauce of brown sugar, butter, rum, cinnamon and banana liquor. If you prefer savory, go for the crab claws or New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp. www.palacecafe.com
If you are weary of seafood and craving a great steak, make a reservation at Chef Donald Link’s Herbsaint; www.herbsaint.com. The 2007 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef/South, Chef Link creates classics like a perfectly cooked steak and frites, along with staples such as grits and dark roux gumbos.
As you waddle–er, walk–back to your hotel, remind yourself that you’ll return to your diet as soon as you get back home.
Then next morning, after chickory coffee and beignets at Café du Monde, you might want to visit The National WWII Museum. Whatever you do, make time to see “Beyond the Boundaries,” the new 4-D movie by Tom Hanks; it lasts about 45 minutes, but it’s an incredible, awe-inspiring journey that you will remember for years.
If you’re hungry after the movie or after walking through the museum, stop by Chef John Besh’s The American Sector restaurant across from the Museum and try his housemade Bologna sandwich, shrimp in a cup, or the housemade foot long all beef Sector frank. It really is a foot long hot dog.
If the weekend is winding down and you’re forced to head to the airport, stop by Mother’s or Central Grocery for NOLA’s famous Italian cold cut sandwich made with olive salad: the Muffuletta. They can package it for you to take on the plane.
I’ve often thought that I could live in New Orleans, but after gaining what must be at least five pounds, it might just be better to keep on visiting New Orleans, and dieting before I get there…and for a few days after I return. I think I’ll make it a goal: eat my way through New Orleans, one restaurant at a time.