One Week In New Orleans

My train from Atlanta arrived late Saturday night. The apartment I’m staying in is only a couple of miles from the train station, but with all my luggage I figured it was worth catching a Lyft, which cost about $10. Got my keys and settled in.

The space is really interesting. Clearly one of those industrial conversions. I don’t know what the building was before they put apartments in. Some sort of warehouse or studio space. One of the legacies of the old layout is the 16 foot ceilings. They’re pretty wild. In an effort to make the space feel “right”, they’ve put in extremely tall doorframes. They’re not any wider than normal doorframes, but they’re probably around 9 feet or so. It means that the don’t feel “too short” compared to the ceiling, but they look extra skinny with the change in proportions.

Another consequence of the high ceiling is massive windows, which are lovely. Though the fact that the view is of extremely brightly-lit parking structures across the street, and the thinness of the blinds they have installed, means that it’s impossible to actually get it all that dark in the space. Fortunately, I’m not particularly bothered by light when it comes to falling asleep, so this is more a curiosity than a problem. Hopefully I won’t have any visitors where this really is a problem.

Capturing the lens flare here was not intentional, but is illustrative
Capturing shots in low light is always hard, but I think this communicates the situation with all the lights out in the bedroom

Most of my time in the city so far has been spent exploring the French Quarter and eating lots of good food. Which is mostly what I was hoping I’d be spending my time on in New Orleans.

Jambalaya, a biscuit, and beignets from Zesty Creole.

My first real dinner in the city was at Zesty Creole where I ordered one of my favorite Cajun/Creole dishes: jambalaya. It is, in my experience, hard to mess up, and pretty much always good. This was no exception, but I also had an uncommon experience with it. It’s rare that I eat a dish and think “there’s too much meat in this”, especially when that meat is well-prepared. However, the roux that was at the base of this jambalaya was so good that I found the abundance of chicken and sausage was slightly unwelcome because it meant that I was getting less of the most delicious part. Which, you know, is a fine problem to have. The fact that the biscuit and the beignets were also great put this near the top of my “eat here again” list.

Cajun pasta and fried pickles at the Fiery Crab

A lot of my meals have been relatively cliche things like jambalaya, gumbo, or etouffee. A situation that I find myself quite happy with. That said, sometimes I’m craving a change, so when I saw “Cajun pasta” on the menu at the Fiery Crab, I ordered it with the expectation that it’d probably be like one of those “Cajun chicken alfredo” dishes you see on menus at places like Chili’s. I was pleasantly surprised when this came out instead. Thin angel-hair pasta in a rich tomato-based sauce. I think what I really enjoyed about this is that it was not really an Italian-style pasta sauce. It was a lot closer to a tomato soup than that, and the pasta was just swimming in it. The flavors were great, and I really enjoyed this lunch.

Bo kho at Pho Tau Bay

While I’m seriously enjoying all the Cajun and Creole food nearby, sometimes I need a change. So I found a local Vietnamese place call Pho Tau Bay to grab lunch at. I was originally planning to get pho because, you know, pho is amazing, but they had this dish I’d never tried before in their soups section: bo kho. And it was delicious. I’d describe it as a slightly heavier pho broth with large chunks of carrot and beef in it. Still not a super-heavy broth, but it was great. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other places serving this in the future.

The “Taste of New Orleans” sampler at the Creole House

One thing that I’ve seriously appreciated on many of the menus in the French Quarter is the presence of a “Taste of New Orleans” sampler. The exact details differ from place to place, but generally speaking it’s a combination of gumbo, red beans and rice, etouffee, and jambalaya. Not every place has all four of those, and sometimes it’s pick-3, but it’s been a great way of getting a feel for the range of flavors that fit into a single dish. For instance, I haven’t eaten a lot of etouffee in my life, and I’m not even totally sure I like it, but I’ve had three or four different versions of it at pretty low stakes over the past week which is helping me figure out what I think of the dish. I’ve also just been enjoying the range of ways each of these can be prepared. I’ve had red beans and rice that runs the texture gamut from bean soup to basically mashed, and they’ve all been delicious.

Chicken gumbo with a side of creamed spinach at the Gumbo Shop

I feel like if you go to a place that has a dish in its name, you’ve got to try that dish. That said, I did have some trouble deciding which gumbo to order from the menu. I eventually settled on chicken and andouille under some kind of assumption that it’d be a good baseline (and it sounded tasty). In this case, it was a great decision. This was notably the best gumbo that I’ve had so far, and given all the “Taste of New Orleans” samplers that I’ve been ordering, I actually have some pretty good dishes to compare it to. I’ve also been eating a lot of soups and stews, and not a ton of vegetables, so I figured a side of creamed spinach would be good. Not a dish I have a ton of experience with, and this didn’t sell me on it. It reminded me a lot of stewed greens in the Southern style: mostly a vehicle for hot sauce. Not a bad thing for a dish to be, just not something I’m usually on the lookout for.

“Spicy cucumber salad” from Zhang Bistro
Spicy Szechuan hot wok from Zhang Bistro

Seeking yet another change of pace, I did a search for nearby Szechuan food, and Zhang Bistro turned up. It was a really interesting experience, but not because of the food. The food was great. Very in line with some of my favorite Szechuan dishes from NYC. Cucumbers in chili oil and spicy stir-fry were impeccably executed and delicious (even if they had a bit more sugar in the sauces than I would have done myself). What was especially interesting to me about this experience is that I think this may be the first time I’ve been to a Chinese restaurant where I didn’t see a single Asian person on the staff. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were folks in the kitchen, but I’m just not used to seeing a bunch of white servers in this kind of restaurant. This isn’t a complaint as the service was truly excellent, equal to the quality of the food, but it stood out enough that I figured I’d comment on it.

Cajun pasta at Snapper’s Seafood

It was raining steadily, so I went to one of the nearest places to my apartment that I hadn’t been to yet, and that was Snapper’s Seafood. Remembering how much I’d enjoyed a previous rendition of “Cajun pasta”, I figured I’d go for an encore. I knew that it wouldn’t be exactly the same since the menu described it as “creamy penne pasta made with chicken and andouille sausage and bell pepper”, but the bell pepper part especially made set my expectations in the direction of “Rasta pasta”, a mainstay of the West Indian restaurants in Crown Heights that is seriously loaded with bell peppers and super delicious. This particular dish was similar in some ways: a light cream sauce and penne, but didn’t have nearly enough bell peppers. I enjoyed this, but I’d say it compares poorly to what I was hoping it would be, even if that hope wasn’t really fair.

This weekend the first of the Mardi Gras parades start, and that’ll be an ongoing thing for two weeks, so I’m sure I’ll have more to share (and tons more food to eat). Look forward to it!






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