|Juicy plump barbecue shrimp at Mr. B's Bistro|
And no: New Orleans food is most definitely not all the same! In this post I am focusing on classic, old school establishments, but there are also many chefs who are experimenting and exploring the boundaries of a new New Orleans cuisine, and I'll talk about a few of them in a future post.
But first, let's talk about one of my very favorite things in the whole world: the barbecue shrimp at Mr. B's Bistro. This is always the first thing that Poppa Trix and I have when we arrive in New Orleans - we practically run there, before we've even unpacked our bags. It's likely doesn't resemble what you may think of as barbecue: Instead, the head-on Gulf shrimp are swimming in a rich broth of garlic, Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns, and butter. And I mean lots and lots of butter. And yes, you need to suck the brains out of those shrimp - they are sweet! Look again!
Note the bread. That is for sopping. And sop you will! You'll need an extra loaf, in fact, and it will arrive with its insides still warm and soft, encased in a thin crackling crust:
When you order this dish, they will bring you a bib. Wear it. You will make a mess.
Another dish you must get at Mr. B's is the gumbo ya-ya. Loaded with chicken and shrimp, the star is the roux. It is perfection ... layers of flavor, finishing with a subtle heat:
Don't judge me for what I am about to tell you: Next we had a second lunch. It was small! And it was at Galatoire's, a New Orleans institution:
But I have to admire a place that doesn't lower its standards, bend its rules, or change its traditions just to get more customers. It is what is is, and I always say if you don't want to abide by it, there are plenty of other places to go.
Truth be told, though, Poppa and I had a rather disastrous experience here one Friday night in 2008, but in retrospect that was our mistake. We didn't realize that people wait in line starting very early, or even pay ... um, unemployed people ... to wait overnight to save them a spot for Friday lunch. Witness the folks in this queue, which had already formed on Thursday afternoon:
Flash forward. This time we showed up around 2 pm on a Thursday, just in time to be able to watch as the noises and activity of the space transitioned from the bustle of lunch to the quiet lull before dinner. No one rushed us - we could have sat there all day and night. You already know that we had a couple of Sazeracs each, and we also had some crunchy, zingy shrimp remoulade, one of my favorite renditions ever:
|A lady must protect herself from the harsh rays of the sun! And so must I.|
Before I show you all of the amazing things we ate, I must let you in on a little secret: the night before, Poppa dropped the camera. He swears he wasn't drunk, and I'll leave it at that. But it did damage the lens (it's since been fixed) but from here on out thanks to a combination of camera damage and booze things aren't quite as sharp in the photo department. Maybe before you continue reading, you should have a little cocktail yourself? Just to even the playing field.
It's a small thing, but this garlic bread is off the hook:
My powers of food description fail me, because I cannot even begin to describe the subtle yet intense flavor of that absinthe-infused cream. I also thought I wasn't a fan of oysters, but this dish changed my mind.
We then had the wild game bird cassoulet and the Louisiana cochon de lait, or pig in milk. (I believe the dish's origin is in fact Cajun and not Creole.) Do you I have to tell you how good these dishes were? Behold:
|Cochon de lait|
All told, our lunch lasted a very Creole-like 3 and a half hours. On the way out we ran into one of those guys from the restaurant magnate table - this gentlemen owns at least one country club, I believe:
Believe it or not we did eat dinner that night, but that's for another post. Our other classic bites on our brief (not quite 4 day) trip were the chargrilled oysters at Drago's.
Of course we had to get a cafe au lait at the famous Cafe du Monde. Don't care if it's a tourist spot, that chicory coffe is heaven in a cup.
Happy Mardi Gras season!