Please enjoy this Guest Post from my friend and fellow foodie, Karen D'or.
Each journey I’ve made to New Orleans— about a dozen over the last four years— has its own unrivaled flavor; it was in your city that my love of adventurous dining began. I can adamantly testify, as a relatively new convert to the religion of New Orleans’ food, that each time I visit I discover another layer of deliciousness.
The first food foray began in 2010: my daughter and I were lost and roaming the outskirts of the Riverwalk mall, when we found some nice tourists from San Diego who directed us back to the streetcar stop. As we were waiting, they explained that each year they trekked to NOLA because they were foodies: their annual goal was to discover great new spots for both fine and budget dining. With our Lonely Planet guide in hand, daughter and I made a quick and brilliant decision to become foodies ourselves.
As a new NOLA food devotee, I spend a great deal of personal energy evangelizing to my friends. Since we were both celebrating our 58th birthdays in the same week, it was not hard to convince my dear pal (from our oh so long ago college days) to spend six days together eating and drinking NOLA-style. With two birthdays, Halloween, and the Giants World Series win, there was much to celebrate.
Here are a few dining highlights:
Dressed in SF Giants gear for Halloween, we exited our Uptown lodging and headed east on lively Magazine Street walking towards downtown. The day was hot and our blood sugar was low after a late arrival the night before. As we strolled down the street, partaking in desultory window-shopping, the chalkboard posting, “Blood Orange Donut” caught our attention and we quickly crossed the street to a very popular District.
District’s donut (they also serve sliders and brew) hit the mark delivering a glossy-glazed masterpiece of fried dough with a nice jolt of citrus flavor. Helped out by the congenial, handsome District server, and a couple of robust iced coffees to go, we found our own pre-lunch sugar jolt — sans beignet lines.
My friend wanted to experience John Besh’s Restaurant August. August was a destination early in the foodie experiment — and I was fully on board to try it again. Once we arrived, I noticed that the ambiance seemed somewhat different from my inaugural visit. Was it me or was it August? The bar is now located just off the lobby, and our welcome seemed a bit more outgoing and friendly; in addition to the young hostess, a couple of suited men (no, not John Besh!) greeted us and showed us to a cozy table in the second room. This spot, nestled underneath one of the interior stairways, was less exposed than tables in the front dining room, and all the rooms were filling up with happy diners.
My friend immediately noticed the restaurant’s unique smell: old wood, a tinge of mustiness, and years of cooking aromas had all sunk into the walls to evoke the scent of an old Southern home. We settled in with a well crafted Sazerac and a sparkling clement. Our servers, Ryan and George, were fun, gracious and around just enough – they even chatted with us about our beloved World Champion SF Giants. I chose the $20.14, 3-course prix fixe special beginning with their country-style pate alongside August’s perfect baguette. My main course was shrimp and white beans, a comforting and intriguingly spiced main dish. My enthusiastic friend enjoyed her fresh beet salad followed by crispy-skinned pompano over an outstanding celery puree sauce. Wisely, we split August’s deconstructed ‘candy-apple’ panna cotta. I am not generally a panna cottta fan, but this dish turned me around. Pastry Chef Kelly Fields added caramel corn, pop rocks and apple sorbet to recreate the sweet, tart crunchiness of a caramel apple. The panna cotta texture was superb. To top it off, they brought out complementary birthday sweets. August has amped up its already great hospitality and the $20 Friday lunch special is one of the great values in town.
The next night we went to Donald Link’s Pêche — another standout of a stellar eating/drinking trip, and my second visit. Unfortunately, it didn’t start well: I had a headache, members of our party were late arrivals, staff tried to seat us near the drafty doorway, and we had to fuss a bit with the hostesses for (thankfully) a better location. Once we settled in, cocktails included a ‘perfectly made’ cosmopolitan and a refreshing on-the-rocks lemonade/vodka number, all of which helped to ‘take the edge off’ our bumpy start.
Four of us — including chef/blogger Carrie Stuckwisch and my daughter who has taught elementary school in New Orleans for over three years now — split a beautifully timed and very fun meal starting. Starters and sides included spicy tuna dip, curried mussels, pasta with crab, a pumpkin and goat cheese mélange— and the fantastic deep fried Brussels sprouts coated in chili oil. (Allison, our sweet server, thought we might have wanted to order more food but our quantity choices fine.) A thoughtfully chosen French Sancerre went well with all of the above and particularly our entree: whole Redfish bathed in herbs. Carrie skillfully carved our flaky, tender fish, which we proceeded to wholeheartedly demolish. We topped off our Pêche feast with a piece of salted caramel cake and a slice of key lime pie that complemented each other— and ended up having a wonderful Saturday night in spite of a few glitches early on. Pêche is very popular and deservedly so: Chef Ryan Prewitt and his team recently won two James Beard South awards. For a group dinner, in a charming and lively atmosphere, Pêche is one of the best choices in the downtown district.
I’ll be back soon: I understand there are 15 new restaurants opening in 2015!