Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dinners in The French Quarter

With so many different restaurants to choose from and a slew of recommendations passed our way, the toughest decision of vacationing in New Orleans proved choosing where to eat dinner. Assuming they are all pretty fantastic, we probably couldn't have gone wrong had we chosen any one of the 20 spots on our list. It seems everyone from co-workers to cab drivers had a "must visit" spot and there was no way we could make each and every one (unlike our list of must visit bars.) Should you ever be faced with similar decisions upon planning a visit, I would highly recommend both Irene’s Cuisine and NOLA, respectively, our Friday and Saturday night dinner destinations.
After the days excursions we’d venture back to the Ritz to re-group and freshen up. Dinner was a necessary first stop before the Bourbon Street craze. It was a welcome respite; a time to linger over good food, bottles of wine and lots of laughs in a more relaxed yet formal atmosphere. (Formal in comparison to Hand Grenades and Hurricanes, relaxed in the sense that we’re not at a loud, rowdy bar - you catch my drift.)Irene’s offers lust worthy Creole-Italian cuisine in an old warehouse that underwent a transformation into a romantic setting housing multiple dining rooms with an antique-esque aura. It is highly regarded by the locals, and while you have to venture slightly off the beaten path it is still within the safe confines of the French Quarter at 539 Phillips St. It is definitely worth a trip and worth the wait. They do not take reservations and we were told to show up and hour and a half before we wanted to eat. The wait time (even though upon arrival were told 45 minutes) was closer to the hour and fifteen minute mark. We put our name in and ventured to a neighboring dive bar called Flanagan’s where we enjoyed some pre-dinner brews, a Miller High Life for me! Once we returned we were seated in one of the dimly lit dining rooms, offering a cozy table amongst the ever bustling scene. With smells of garlicky seafood wafting, a bottle of Pinot Noir already being poured and immediately being served a complementary Bruschetta, I knew we were in for an excellent meal. The bruschetta just slightly toasted with the warm fluffy bread quality still intact was topped with gooey melted mozzarella cheese and thick slices of tomatoes accented by fresh basil. This proved an exciting bread (if you can even call it that) course, starting the meal of on a high-note after such a long wait. A delightful appetizer came in the form of a Soft Shell Crab, the crustacean was skillfully fried in a light batter, the immediate texture beholding an airy crispiness giving way to sweet succulent crab meat. For my entrée I ordered the San Francisco style Cioppino ($23). Upon being served a huge oval bowl beholding shellfish bathing in a most luscious, velvety smooth saffron scented fennel infused tomato broth; I’d just about died and went to heaven.
From the plump gulf shrimp, to the well-executed mussels, the briny clams to the flaky fish, all of it was just a-m-azing. I can’t forget to mention those slices of ciabatta bread, achieving the not overly hard and abrasive but just crispy enough while remaining slightly soft texture. Seriously, this meal was perfect. Dessert saw a luxurious Crème Brulee and a rich Chocolate Hazelnut Torte in a vanilla raspberry cream sauce. The next evening we enjoyed a highly anticipated dinner at NOLA, one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants located in the heart of the French Quarter on 534 St Louis Street. Thankfully, NOLA takes reservations and we were seated promptly upon arrival for ours at 8pm. The famous chef is known for his "New" New Orleans style of cooking which is essentially Creole cuisine with Contemporary American twists. The decor is in line with the cuisine, emitting touches of historic French Quarter elegance with an upscale modern industrial feel. Weathered brick walls surround high arched windows and dark gray pipes span the ceiling, serving to separate areas of the large refined warehouse space. A brightly lit open kitchen lines the far perimeter. A giant chalkboard menu boasting a list of cocktails in bold colors is tastefully eye catching set against a brick wall in the center of the room. Speaking of cocktails, I couldn't pass up the Sazerac which is a local New Orelans variation of an Old Fashioned, often referred to as the oldest known cocktail in America! Made with cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe and peychaud bitters - the Sazerac is seriously strong and provided an excellent apertif! With our meal we drank a bottle of (unphotographed) Rose wine but unfortunatley it didn't impress us. It was lacking any real depth and variety to it. The shared appetizer among us were the Wood Oven Roasted Escargot Rockefeller ($12) with herbsaint, parmesan and herb bread crumbs. This was my first time trying Escargot, the chewy morsels weren't at all intimidating allthough I think that had a lot to do with the flavorful preparation and the fact that they were oven roasted. It was something about grabbing a snail from its shell that had turned me off in the past, but I'd eat Rockefeller style snails anyday! My entree of Grilled Atlantic Salmon ($28) came over a bed of black bean and sweet corn succotash mingling in a chimuchuri butter sauce with a tomatillo salsa. The succotash is essentially what sold me on the dish over the more traditonal orders of Shrimp n Grits or Gumbo. (Which I tasted - and they were excellent.)
A unique preparation made this otherise ordinary fish truly stand out. The salmon was grilled perfectly, displaying a nice char topped generously with what I think were dried onions. Their unexpected crunch added a welcome contrast to the soft flaky fish and flavorful succotash. Desserts were not to be missed! We enjoyed the Strawberry and Pistachio Bombe ($8) which was a creamy pistachio ice cream shell encasing a pink strawberry sorbet over a thick strawberry compote and sprinkled with toasted pistachios. But the clear winner in the dessert category was the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake ($7) with Oreo crumbles, raspberry compote and chocolate drizzle.NOLA being the more expensive choice and Irene's proving a longer wait, still our experiences at both these vastly different establishments were superb. From the service with waitstaff who went above and beyond, to the perfectly prepared appetizers and well executed flavorful entrees, to the expertly crafted cocktails and the extensive wine lists. I will fondly remember these dinners in New Orleans not only for the amazing food that lingers on my mind but also the fantastic company. The nights were still young, even we didn't know how young at the time...and so it goes.....
Irene's Cuisine on UrbanspoonNOLA Restaurant on Urbanspoon

15 comments:

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

I am loving your NOLA recaps - and these restaurants look excellent. The one night I had free, a group of us went to John Besh's August. It was incredible!

Jen said...

Your dining adventures never cease to amaze me! Sounds and looks like an awesome trip! The bruschetta looks AMAZING.

In and Around Town said...

Looks like you had such a fun trip! The food looks amazing! I definitely need to get down there

Melissa said...

That crab is making me drool!

Michelle Collins said...

Your recap posts are making me want to go to New Orleans even more than I did - everything looks fantastic!

Megan said...

I am so jealous of this whole trip. The soft shell crab looks amazing... as does that chocolate pb dessert!

Ali said...

The Big Easy! Ah, I have such fond memories of the French Quarter...life is so amazing there!

That bruschetta looks fabulous - and it was free - how awesome is that :D

Elizabeth said...

Shellfish doesn't even appeal to me and the cioppino looks good. As does the choc. peanut butter cheesecake, of course.

Meghan@travelwinedine said...

Can we plan a trip here? Really? It looks like such a delicious experience!

ChinkyGirLMeL said...

omg! food porn! Everything looks sooo good and soooo sinful! hehehehe. Have a yummy weekend

iheartvegetables said...

Wow that looks so fancy and fun!!! And meals with friends are always the best :) I want to try that bread with the cheese and tomatoes! It looks toasted to perfection!

We Are Not Martha said...

You go on the best vacations ever!! I've never been to New Orleans, but I've always wanted to go. Looks like food heaven :)

Sues

this free bird said...

That bread/crab dish + the desserts? Um, I need to get my *ss out of this house and go get some of that asap!!

Happy long weekend!
Carrie

Ameena said...

The truth is that until now I've never really had a desire to see New Orleans...but that bruschetta alone has changed my mind.

NOLA is definitely on my list of places!!

Alicia said...

Yum, that succotash would have sold me too - delicious!!!