Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 4, Touring New Orleans

We left our hotel and decided today was the day to see and do everything all the other tourists see and do in New Orleans. And so it goes.

We strolled by one of Emeril Lagasse's three restaurants in New Orleans -- this one is on St Louis St, and is called simply NOLA (New Orleans LA). We had reservations called in earlier by the concièrge at the hotel. Ah, the high life -- having someone else call for your reservations.

But hey, that's what the concièrge's job is, taking care of the hotel guests. Well, Charles got us reservations for lunch at 1:30, and it was only about 9AM, so we had plenty of time to tour the Quarter.

Right across the street is Johnny's Po-Boys Sandwich Shop. Now a po-boy, or poor-boy, is a traditional New Orleans sandwich made with French bread. Not the type of French bread we're used to, but due to New Orleans' high temperatures and high humidity, a very light, quick-rising, airy French bread. Poor-boys come in an innumerable variety -- y'all can put anything y'all want into it. We didn't stop in because we didn't want to spoil lunch at NOLA, and we were headed to the Café du Monde to try their beignets.

We turned left onto Decatur, found the Hard Rock Cafe where we'd stop later for souvenirs (we're Hard Rock freaks, I guess). A short walk took us to world-famous Jackson Square and St Louis Cathedral. The annoying thing was all the calèche drivers (mule-drawn carriages) who were hawking their tours incessantly, but I guess that's what a touristy area is like. St Louis is one of the oldest, still-active, cathedrals in the US, having been built in the early 1700s, and rebuilt in 1798 after the fire which destroyed virtually all of New Orleans as it was then.

We walked across Decatur, photographed this beautiful building on the corner of Decatur and St Louis St, and then went up to the "Moon Walk", not of Michael Jackson fame, but named after New Orleans mayor, "Moon" Landrieu, who pushed for riverfront development, and built a walk along the Mississippi River, maybe half a mile long. It's a great way to view the city and the river, as one can see "uptown" with its skyscrapers, and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MrGO) as well as the Lower Ninth Ward (we didn't go over there, where there is still massive destruction FOUR years after Katrina hit).

After leaving the "Moon Walk", our goal was the Café du Monde, world-famous for its beignets. Tourists MUST stop here (even though we preferred the beignets at the Café Beignet). We were standing in line ready to wait maybe 20 minutes, when some other tourists told us to go into the main building and grab a table rather than wait in line. So we did.

The place was busy, as one would expect of a serious tourist institution. However, the service was not very good, our server barely spoke English, and she did get our order wrong. We ordered two coffees and two orders of beignets, she brought three orders. Oh well, at $1.82 per order we weren't about to complain. We found the beignets definitely good, but not as good, in our opinion, as those at the Café Beignet.

After the beignets, we went back to the Moon Walk, and watched the trolley pass on its tourist route. We didn't take it because it just basically went back and forth on the same route we had just walked, so we ambled over to the French market. There has been a trading post at this site since before New Orleans was settled. The French built the first buildings here in the early 1700s, and it's been in continuous operation ever since. Today, there are maybe a dozen sidewalk cafes, a couple of restaurants, and a whole "flea market" section. While we were in the French Market, the rain, which had threatened all day, finally began to fall. We had left our umbrellas back in Kentucky, and we figured it'd be a quick shower. It wasn't.

While we were trying to avoid the rain, we came across a fully-decked out funeral hearse. New Orleans funerals are something different. Though we didn't see one during our stay, we certainly saw this funeral hearse. The idea is to celebrate the life of the deceased through dancing, music, and general reveling in the streets. This hearse would certainly give anyone a great send-off.

We ran from balcony overhang to balcony overhang, trying not to get wet. But with an inch and a half of rain in about an hour, we were totally soaked by the time we got to Central Grocery. (That's Barry in the wet maroon shirt and white UK hat) It's a small Italian grocery store but the line waiting for the muffulettas was out the door. People dripped on each other while buying this New Orleans signature sandwich. It comes in two sizes, gigantic (half) and humongous (whole).

They are made from a type of round Italian bread, about 10 inches in diameter, and maybe 4 inches tall. Split, the bread is filled with a concoction of salami and other meats, a couple of types of sliced cheese, and an "olive salad" which is basically four or five types of olives, chopped and spread on top.

Apparently all the muffulettas are the same, because they are pre-made, cut (half in two, whole in four), and wrapped in butcher paper. Total time to buy: waiting in line, 5 minutes, actual purchase 1 minute, final taste, PRICELESS. We put the sandwich in the handled bag (which by the way was invented by a man from Danville, KY), along with our other purchases from the French Market, and headed to Walgreen's, where I finally bought an umbrella. Of course, when the horse is out, that's the time to close the barn door, but at least we wouldn't get any wetter, now would we?

We waited until traffic on Decatur eased, then ran across to the Hard Rock Café. We didn't stop for libations there because we had a date at Emeril's NOLA and we didn't want to be too stuffed to enjoy that treat, to which we had been looking forward ever since we first planned this trip! So we just bought our usual souvenirs, and by that time, the rain was almost over. So back up St Louis St we went.

We arrived for lunch at NOLA about half an hour early, and weren't sure we could get in yet, but the hostess graciously took care of us. We rode an open elevator to the second-floor dining room, where we were seated. Now NOLA is not a budget restaurant, as one might expect. As we were seated, the hostess took our napkins and shook them out, then placed them on our laps. Never, ever, have I had anyone do that in any restaurant. We knew we were in a classy place. And here we were in soggy t-shirts and shorts, practically still dripping. Oh well, our money might still be good.

The lunch menu was, of course, elegant. Luckily I could pronounce almost all of the words in the listings. What really looked good was the (from the menu) "Hickory Roasted Beef Brisket with Orecchiette Pasta-Brie Cream Mac & Cheese and Honey Baked White Beans". Barry made that choice.

I took the "Buttermilk Fried Breast of Chicken with Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Smithfield Ham Cream Gravy and Sautéed Sugar Snap Peas".

The sommelier came by to ask what we would like for wine, and since we'd had a chance to look over the lunch menu, Barry ordered a red, and I a white. The bread server came by with a jalapeno corn bread, and a nice bruchetta. Then the meal. Everything was delicious, and we really enjoyed just BEING there as much as anything else. It was a highlight of the whole trip. Now don't ask how much lunch was, but let's say my first apartment's monthly rent and my first new car's payment were both less! We probably won't do it again, but it was surely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, since we use Emeril's "Essence" in nearly everything we cook, and had watched his show on the Food Network for years.

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel for a rest before going out for one more special treat. Good thing we had that muffuletta back in the room too.

We walked down Bourbon Street, which was beginning to get busy as it was getting dark. We turned right on St Peter Street, to Pat O'Brien's. The tour guides say, "it's the law" that you have to get a "Hurricane" here. The Hurricane is a fruity rum drink concocted here in the early 1940s.

Story goes that most of the grain which would have gone into distilling whiskey and other liquors was going to the war effort, so distilled spirits were hard to get -- legal once again, but just not available.

However, the islands of the West Indies produced loads of rum. Pat O'Brien had to buy 50 cases of rum in order to buy one case of whiskey, so he had all this rum he didn't know what to do with. He mixed it with fruit extracts and added rum, a cherry, and a slice of orange, serving it in a glass shaped like an old-fashioned hurricane lamp. The drink was named after the shape of the glass. So we had one. And one is about all you need!

In the courtyard of O'Brien's, there was this really unique fountain. It was lit with gas, so it had both the gushing water and the gas flame at the same time. Don't know why the water didn't put the fire out though!

After Pat O'Brien's, we stopped at a few other watering holes on Bourbon St, and came across an emergency rescue vehicle that looked as if it had been washed in hot water and shrank. We asked someone if they only charged "half price."

Anyway, thank goodness, we had that muffuletta back at the hotel waiting. Barry had filled the ice bucket with ice, put the muffuletta on top and covered it with a heavy bath towel, so it was nice and chilled for us to chomp on after a night of enjoying much of what the French Quarter had to offer.

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