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NEW ORLEANS
by MAtthEW WExLER

I

If you’re wondering if it’s possible to go to New Orleans on a culinary expedition and skip beignets, jambalaya, and gumbo, the answer is a resounding yes. A 72-hour stint in the Crescent City reveals an intoxicating blend of old and new: re-imagined Creole- and Cajun-inspired dishes, a sophisticated cocktail culture, and creative, welcoming people who want you to feel at home in their beautiful city. While savoring the food, wine, and spirits here, I am happily reminded that New Orleans is all about enjoying life to the fullest and sharing your passions with the people you meet along the way. That is a big part of what makes this destination an international favorite for millions of people.

LANGLOIS CULINARY CROSSROADS
You could tackle New Orleans “on the fly” and dive into its food culture unabashed, but this is a destination where knowledge is power. Understanding the region’s food history and the primary differences between Creole and Cajun will help decipher menus around town and ensure that your dining experiences run the gamut from decadent to country cookin’. While the city boasts a number of recreational cooking schools, Langlois Culinary Crossroads, founded by Chef Amy Cirex-Sins in 2012, is the new kid on the block and offers informative, handson experiences set against the backdrop of a former-Sicilian market in the heart of the Marigny district. Claimed by French explorer Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle in 1682, New Orleans has classic French technique at its culinary roots. It was in 1704 that a group of French women, tired of the limited imported ingredients, stormed the French governor’s house and demanded more varied food products. Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, Sieur de Bienville ordered his cook, Madame Langlois, to teach the women how to adapt their recipes using local ingredients. This exchange became the first recorded cooking class in North American history. More than 300 years later, Sins and her

Arnaud’s

team offer participants the opportunity to understand, through taste and technique, the impact of German settlers, African slaves, the Spanish, Acadians (Frenchmen who had settled in Nova Scotia and were eventually exiled), and Italian immigrants on the region’s food evolution. Cheat sheet: Creole cuisine tends to be more refined and often uses tomato; Cajun cooking is more rustic (think one-pot dishes like gumbo) and features different cuts of meat, wild game and sausages. You’ll get a hybrid of both styles when you spend an afternoon or evening at Langlois. The oyster and artichoke soup is decadently finished with a pour of heavy cream and a briny mollusk. Boudin cakes incorporate the obligatory chicken liver, rice, and a hefty pinch of Creole spice. Banana Foster crêpes ooze with cream cheese filling while the pecan praline bites rival those from Aunt Sally’s, Loretta’s, or the bevy of other confectionery stores throughout the French Quarter. But it’s the sum of the parts that make Langlois worth the visit, and a mouth-watering reminder that New

Orleans’ melting pot beginnings have perhaps defined the only true “American” cuisine. 1710 Pauger St. Tel: 504-9341010. www.langloisnola.com

ARNAUD’S
Opened in 1918 by French wine salesman Arnaud Cazanave, Arnaud’s is about as classic Creole as you can get. The restaurant’s four generations of colorful people and history come alive in a massive space that can seat upwards of 1,000 customers at a time. Archie and Jane Casbarian acquired the property in 1978 and their children, Archie Jr. and Katie, continue to maintain the high level of service that keeps Arnaud’s at the top of its game. Start your meal with soufflé potatoes that are twice fried and light as air. These starchy bites put the French fry to shame and are served with Béarnaise sauce. They’re also great alongside a bowl of turtle soup, which according to the recipe, begins with a roux (a classic thickener of flour and fat) cooked to the “color of a well-used penny” and finished

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with a splash of sherry. Oysters Bienville, topped with shrimp and mushrooms in a white wine sauce, is an Arnaud’s original and not to be missed. Entrées run the gamut from fresh fish like speckled trout meunière (finished with a Creole brown butter sauce) and pompano Duarte (topped with Gulf shrimp and tomatoes) to hearty meat dishes such as Louisiana Quail Elzy (stuffed with foie gras mousse) and filet mignon Charlemond (presented with both a mushroom sauce and a generous dollop of Béarnaise). For a final flourish, café brûlot (for two or more) is prepared tableside by one of the tuxedoclad wait staff. The spiked coffee combines citrus rinds with cloves, cinnamon, orange Curacao, and a triumphant flame of brandy that will have you appreciating Arnaud’s high ceilings. After dinner, be sure to sneak upstairs to the Germaine Cazanave Wells Mardi Gras Museum. The collection features more than two dozen costumes worn by the daughter of Arnaud Cazanave, who reigned as the queen of the Mardi Gras ball from 1937 to 1968. The mannequins (custom designed to look like Germaine), and their bejeweled gowns would put even the best drag queen to shame. 813 rue Bienville. Tel: 504-523-5433 . www.arnaudsrestaurant.com
Pecan Pie Bread Pudding at NOLA Oysters Arnaud

NOLA
Emeril Lagasse has been a mainstay in New Orleans’ restaurant scene since opening Emeril’s Restaurant in the Warehouse district in 1990. Two years later, he opened NOLA in the French Quarter and today is the chef-proprietor of 13 restaurants nationwide. While the multi-level venue may need

a bit of a facelift, the food is still at the top of its game. Overseen by Chef de Cuisine and New Orleans–native Josh Laskey, NOLA’s menu is a delightful intersection of Creole and Cajun dishes with a few wildcards thrown into the mix. Miss Hay’s stuffed chicken wings exemplify this hybrid style, incorporating pork, shrimp, rice noodles, ginger, and garlic, and served with a Hoisin dipping sauce. Duck confit and fried-egg pizza drizzled with truffle oil feels like a book on loan from the library of Wolfgang Puck, but is delicious nevertheless. Where NOLA’s menu soars is with its dishes grounded in Southern roots like barbecued shrimp with a rosemary biscuit, buttermilk-fried chicken with bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes, and cornmeal-crusted catfish with dirty rice and cracklings. NOLA’s cocktail menu features the usual suspects like the Sazerac and mint julep, but also forays into new mixology territory with specials such as the rue St. Louis, an intoxicating combination of cherry vanilla bourbon, Luxardo cherry liqueur, and orange water. Whatever you choose to drink, it’s worth raising a glass to Lagasse himself, who established the Emeril Lagasse Foundation in 2002 to support children’s educational programs. To date, the organization has donated more than $5.5 million to causes in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and on the Gulf Coast. 534 St. Louis St. Tel: 504-522-6652. www.emerilsrestaurants.com/nola-restaurant
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Photo: Emeril's Homebase

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TABLEAU
One of the most recent notable restaurant openings in the French Quarter comes from one of the most influential personalities in New Orleans’ restaurant scene: Dickie Brennan. “We’re just Irish immigrants who started to do French food,” says Brennan of his father’s humble entrepreneurial beginnings as a saloon owner who began serving pub food that became so popular they eventually opened a restaurant across the street. Subsequently, the family bought Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s destiny was cast. After honing his cooking skills in Paris, he returned to New Orleans to create Palace Café in 1991. Under the supervision of Chef Ben Thibodeaux, Tableau, which opened in 2012, pays homage to Brennan’s New Orleans roots with classic French Creole dishes that utilize regional ingredients— all presented within a soaring space adjacent to Le Petit Theater, one of the country’s oldest community theaters dating back to 1916. But the real drama comes out of Chef Thibodeaux’s kitchen, beginning with the Grand Royale, an overflowing seafood platter of crabmeat ravigote, shrimp remoulade, truffled crab fingers, and oysters en brochette. Ignore the fact that you may have eaten barbecued shrimp and grits at every other restaurant in town because Tableau’s are the consummate rendition, featuring jumbo, head-on shrimp lathered in a sauce of beer, Worcestershire sauce and garlic, and served alongside stone- ground grits with chévre cheese. Hearty meat dishes such as veal and beef tournedos are available in demi portions as part of a multi-course meal, and if you’re feeling truly decadent, “accompaniments” like Cabildo (Gulf oysters poached in Creole bordelaise with butter and garlic) or Trist (jumbo lump crabmeat and artichoke hearts) can be ordered as an entrée topper or as a sinful spoonful served on top of freshly baked bread. Pastry Chef Stephanie Bernard pulls out all the stops with an expansive dessert menu that will leave you wishing you had skipped the mid-course, but fear not, you’ll find room. The menu, featuring nearly a dozen amazing creations in all, draws influences from refined French pastry techniques as well as rustic Cajun recipes. Hot chocolate pot de crêmé spins a classic dessert upside down with the addition
Tableau Chicken Two Ways

of cayenne pepper, house-made marshmallow fluff, and caramelized cocoa nibs. Strawberry shortcake macaroons playfully marry delicate meringue cookies with strawberry pastry cream, fresh strawberries and vanilla bean Anglaise. But it is the Tart a la Bouille, a Cajun sweet-dough baked with vanilla custard, and finished with an old New Orleans spiced-rum caramel sauce that will have you leaping to your feet (if you can manage to get out of your chair after such a meal) to give Tableau the standing ovation it deserves. 616 Saint Peter St. Tel: 504-934-3463. www.tableaufrenchquarter.com

THE SOUTHERN FOOD AND BEVERAGE MUSEUM’S CULINARY LIBRARY
For those foodies whose culinary interests reach beyond the shallow waters of bloggers and reality TV, a visit to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s newly opened Culinary Library offers access to the country’s largest privately held cookbook collection—nearly 12,000 volumes and growing. Located in Central City, the neighborhood itself offers a snapshot of New Orleans’ rich cultural past. Originally settled by plantation owners seeking large parcels of land for

their estates, the neighborhood eventually became a hub for Sephardic Jewish immigrants and then later the African American community. The library opened in October 2013 while the museum’s new location across the street is slated to open in spring 2014. If you’re lucky, you may run into SoFAB’s Director and President Liz Williams. Once a JAG officer in the US. Army, Williams is a (friendly) force to be reckoned with, spearheading the mission to position New Orleans as a premier destination for food research and education as well as a great culinary destination. Conceptualized in 2004, the museum began as a temporary exhibition and has grown to include demonstrations, lectures, and tastings. In addition to cookbooks, the depository collection includes pamphlets, historical menus, mixology books, entrepreneurial references, and just about anything else food related. Once complete, the museum will occupy approximately 30,000 square feet and include a Culinary Innovation Center, along with the yet-tobe-determined repurposing of a 1923 oyster delivery truck. It doesn’t get much more New Orleans than that. 1609 Oretha C. Haley Blvd. Tel: 504-569-0405. www.southernfood.org

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