26 February 2015

3 Muses - A good place to eat on Frenchmen St., New Orleans

We had a hard time finding a good place to eat on Frenchmen Street, during our January trip to New Orleans. Our son and all of the guide books and several other people recommended going to Frenchmen Street for music. Early in our trip, we walked through the French Quarter to Frenchmen Street and were frustrated. We ended up at a Creole restaurant that served lots of fried food. It was ok, but not really what we were looking for. After that, we went into a few of the clubs, but they were jam-packed and no chance to get a seat.

We had better luck when we came back a couple nights later. This time we had a reservation at 3 Muses. It was one of the few places on Frenchmen Street that will take a reservation, offer a creative menu, and present talented jazz performers.

Our reservation got us seated in time to catch the last set of the early evening performer and we stayed through the first set of the later performer. We enjoyed both very much. They weren’t big name jazz performers, but both were talented and entertaining. IMG_1046

The cocktail ‘program’ at 3 Muses is very creative. I had a cocktail called ‘Conjugal Visit.’ (I had two of them, actually.) It was made from rye, sorrel, Cointreau, and Lillet rouge. It was very good, very creative, and I’m struggling to figure out how to replicate it at home.

The food menu is equally appealing. The menu consists of small plates. You can order as few or as many as your appetite dictates. Our server told us to pick out a few. She would pace the kitchen in bringing them out. And if we wanted more, we could always order more.

We ended up only ordering three plates.

  • Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese stuffed dates. Wow! They were amazingly delicious.
  • Seared scallops with chorizo, lentils and greens. Tender, beautiful, and very flavorful.
  • Braised, barbecued short ribs. Fork tender and fantastic.

If we would have ordered one more plate, it would have been the lamb sliders. The people at the table next to us got an order, and they looked fantastic – thick and meaty and juicy.

So in the end, we got what we sought on Frenchmen Street – good food and good music in a comfortable venue. So, yeah!

25 February 2015

Local advice leads us to Café Amelie for lunch in NOLA

One of the things that really impressed me about New Orleans, during our trip there in January, was the friendliness of nearly all of the local people we met. They were cordial and welcoming and eager to share their personal tips on what to see, where to go, and where to eat. The day after we arrived was overcast and damp. I carried an umbrella all day but didn’t have to open it. So we spent that day perusing the shops and galleries in the French Quarter. At one of them, we got a couple of restaurant recommendations.

The way it came up, we were in the shop late morning, and we mentioned a restaurant on the corner where we planned to have lunch. The shopkeeper’s comment was something like: “Well that’s ok. But I think you’d like Amelie better.”IMG_0295

So we made our way over to Royal Street. It was only a couple blocks farther than the restaurant we had originally planned.

We were immediately charmed by Amelie’s quaint courtyard and regretted that the threatening weather prevented us from being offered an outdoor table in the courtyard. But not to worry. When we entered the restaurant, we were impressed by the warm, cozy atmosphere of the old carriage house that now houses the restaurant.

The food was great. I ordered a meatloaf sandwich. It may sound mundane, but it was anything but. It was served on a brioche bun with roasted peppers and a spicy, harissa mayo. Delicious. The plate also had a generous mound of green salad with a light dressing. My wife had a crab cake from the appetizer side of the menu. She thought it was very good with plenty of crab and only enough filler to hold it together. It was a light lunch for both of us, but just what we wanted – comfort food to chase away the rainy chills of the day.

There were several other items on the menu that looked tempting. Charred Brussels sprouts with dates and bacon and a balsamic glaze. Goat cheese and fig preserves with fruit and nut bread. Creamy burrata with tomato and crostini. And besides the sandwiches and small plates, they offer a fish du jour and pasta du jour which would offer a more substantial lunch.

We liked it all so much that we considered coming back for dinner. But on the evening we walked by, it was closed for a private party. So the lesson is, you probably ought to make a reservation.

Now, if you’re tempted by my review and want to go to Amelie, do be careful. Café Amelie is located at 912 Royal Street. As we were walking there, we mistakenly went into Petit Amelie first, which is right on the corner at 900 Royal. Petit Amelie might be a very nice casual place for a light bite. But our expectations were for a quaint and intimate café. It only took us a few minutes to realize that we were at the wrong address. You might like Petit Amelie quite a lot. But we were glad that we discovered our error and found Café Amelie for our rainy day lunch.

20 February 2015

Brunch at Luke = nice way to start a NOLA day

In my last post about our dinner at Borgne, I noted that one of my goals for our January trip to New Orleans was to visit at least one John Besh restaurant. Well, we actually did visit two of them.

On our last full day in the city (it was a Saturday), we planned to take a streetcar excursion to City Park and to see a different neighborhood. Anticipating that we probably would not have lunch, we decided instead to have a nice brunch. We looked at a few menus online and decided to go to Besh’s restaurant Luke, located in the Hilton St. Charles Hotel.

In my post about Borgne, I noted that the ambiance was too casual. Not a problem at Luke. When we checked in with the hostess, we were shown to a table in the dining room – white table clothes and a large glass wall looking into the kitchen. It would have been a great dining venue. But for this brunch, we actually preferred something more casual, and so we asked for, and were seated, at a table in the bar. The bar is really cool! It’s bright and open and bustling with activity. But note that even though we were in the bar, the tables still were covered with a white tablecloth.IMG_1043

The food was great. I ordered a tartine of Gulf tuna prepared Nicoise style. The rare and tender slices of tuna were artfully arranged on a baguette topped with wedges of hard-boiled egg, green beans, and olives. Along with the sandwich, I had a cup of crab bisque. The soup was rich and very flavorful.

My wife ordered a crab omelet. It was filled with an ample portion of crab meat as well as a house-made white cheese, tomatoes, and pesto. She loved it. She didn’t realize it at the time, but her omelet also came with an order of fries. At first she pushed them over to my side of the table. But when the server clarified that they were indeed part of her meal, she dived right in. The fries were very crisp (the way she likes them) and nicely seasoned.

I also had a cocktail, champagne au poire. It was a fresh pear puree with pear-flavored vodka, topped off with champagne and garnished with a sprig of rosemary. I’m not a big fan of flavored vodka, but this cocktail was so good, I may have to buy a bottle of pear vodka.

While we were sitting there, a couple came in off the street. They took a table in the bar and the server left them with menus. A few minutes later, they got up and left. I’m sure they thought this was like a hotel coffee shop. The server told us it happens from time to time. The prices at Luke definitely are not coffee-shop prices. But for us on vacation and eager to try another variation of John Besh’s culinary creativity, it was worth it.

On our next trip to New Orleans, maybe we’ll try Luke for dinner … and take a seat in the more formal dining room with a view of the kitchen.

19 February 2015

Go to Borgne for local New Orleans fish, seafood

The best meal we had during our January trip to New Orleans was John Besh’s fish and seafood restaurant, Borgne. As we planned our trip, our first visit since Hurricane Katrina, I had my heart set on trying at least one of John Besh’s restaurants. My wife and I looked at his different menus and finally decided on Borgne.

The restaurant is located in the Central Business District (CBD in NOLA parlance), in the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the Superdome. It was an easy five-block walk from our hotel in the French Quarter (also a Hyatt). On the way over, we managed to make a stop for cocktails at the Fountain Lounge in the Roosevelt Hotel where we listened to a duo performing jazz standards. IMG_0291

When we arrived at Borgne, we experienced our only disappointment about the restaurant. We felt the cafeteria-style ambiance did not set a mood conducive to the delicious food that we experienced. I mean, take a look at the video screens above the bar. Doesn’t it almost look like a bowling alley? And really? Molded plastic chairs?

Well, I don’t want to belabor the point, because the rest of the experience as great. We started by splitting an order of grilled octopus. It was difficult deciding which starter to pick. Several sounded good, including duck poppers or ceviche. I don’t even know if octopus is a local, Gulf catch. But we love it, and the appetizer we split was wonderful. It was gently grilled so that it was still tender, and it was served on a bed of hummus with a garlic and caper confit.

Both of our entrées were local fish. My wife’s dish was called ‘Gulf Fish Pan Rallado.’ I thought ‘rallado’ was the kind of fish. But our server explained that it was the style of preparing the fish, and that the fish was a local one called sheepshead. It was served with braised sunchokes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower with a Creole mustard sauce. Excellent!

I ordered ‘fish in a bag’ and it reminded me how good (and easy) it is to prepare fish ‘en papillote.’ I’ve made it a few times, but not nearly often enough. At Borgne, the server brought my meal still sealed in the brown ‘lunch bag’ that it was cooked in; he then snipped open the bag. A cloud of aromatic steam swirled up, revealing the contents of the bag. The fish was covered and surrounded by spinach, fennel, tomatoes, and caramelized onions. I enjoyed every bite, and I have resolved to cook fish in a bag at home … soon.

Our server was great. He was friendly, prompt and knowledgeable. He answered our questions but didn’t linger unnecessarily. IMG_1024

Like I said at the beginning, this was the best food we had during our whole 5-day stay. My only hesitation is the ambiance. Honestly, if you’re looking for great local fish and seafood, Borgne has it. But if it’s a special occasion, the casual décor may not suit the mood of the occasion, and if that’s the case, maybe one of Besh’s other restaurants would be better.

Here is a photo of the octopus appetizer we ordered. =>

After dinner, we wandered back to Bourbon Street and ended up at a dive bar where we had a beer and listened to some of the best blues music we’ve ever enjoyed.

Yeah New Orleans!

15 February 2015

Valentine’s dinner at Harriet Brasserie; great!

We always have a bit of a dilemma deciding where to have dinner for a special occasion. We’d kind of like to try something new. But we don’t want to be disappointed if a new restaurant doesn’t live up to the reviews. We could go to any of several favorite standby restaurants. But, like I said, we’d kind of like something new. IMG_20150215_0001

As we contemplated where to have a Valentine’s Day dinner this year, Harriet Brasserie solved that dilemma for us. It’s a favorite, reliable standby. But for Valentine’s Day 2015, they dispensed with their regular menu and instead provided a special fixed price menu. We liked the look of the menu (considerately posted on the restaurant’s web site a couple weeks in advance). So we got both – something new at a reliable standby.

It was a fun evening. Harriet Brasserie is located in an old firehouse, in the Linden Hills neighborhood where we bought our first house 38 years ago. Our children used to play on the fire trucks if the firehouse doors were open when we walked by. Since then, it’s been a couple of different restaurants. But Harriet Brasserie is by far the best.

The interior décor is casual and rustic. The service is friendly and attentive, and it was especially so on Valentine’s Day. For example, we opted to get a bottle of wine rather than the wine pairings that were offered with the menu. We were wavering between two choices. The server offered to give us a taste of each. Nice, but not unique. We tasted the wines and my wife was particularly excited about one in particular. Trouble was, we got mixed up which was which. No problem, our server said. He just brought us two more tastes. By the way, the wine we picked was a Tannat from Cambiata Winery in California. It was a nice wine to sip in between courses and it went particularly well with the braised beef that was the main course.

The only thing on the menu that my wife was not excited about was the oyster starter. So I ate hers. I like oysters, but I’m not an aficionado by any means. The kumamoto oysters that we were served were very small and not particularly briny. It was accompanied by an herby sauce that reminded me of pesto (not the caviar accompaniment noted on the menu).

The salad of sunflower sprigs was quite unusual and very tasty. The dressing was a little spicy, probably from the wasabi. On the plate was a small piece of rare fish – opa (opah?) There was a schmear of sunflower butter on the plate that we ate with the fish. We also liked the soup but it was garnished with sprigs of ‘micro cilantro’ which my wife did not like, since she’s sensitive to cilantro.

The main course was excellent. I loved the braised beef and the grilled prawn that was also served on the plate was very good as well. And the dessert was good as well (though I’m not much of a chocolate fan).

So overall, Harriet Brasserie is great for dinner any time. But for a special treat, watch for future chef dinners.

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07 February 2015

Meritage lunch = Wonderful mid-day treat!

In my recent post about Brasserie Zentral, I noted how different a restaurant can be at lunch vs. dinner, and I used Zentral’s sister restaurant in St. Paul, Meritage, as an example. Sadly, since I retired, I don’t eat lunch in St. Paul very much any more. But in early February, I was at the State Capitol until about 1 p.m., and decided to have lunch at Meritage.

Ah, it was sublime!IMG_1065

By the time I arrived, it was almost 1:30, and there weren’t many customers left. So I was offered a really prime table. That was nice. My server was friendly (as always) and relaxed (sometimes, during a busy day, the servers can be harried). She brought me a complimentary amuse bouche – a duck liver schmear. Yum.

I ordered chicken for lunch. The plate featured crisp roasted, boneless chicken thighs on a bed of spinach and roasted potatoes. I don’t often order chicken at restaurants. But for my last lunch at Zentral, I had chicken, and again at Meritage. It was very good.

Normally I forego dessert at lunch. But I had some time to kill, so I decided to go ahead an have dessert. Wow! Am I glad I did. It was a ‘financier’ cake with orange curd and a mocha cream. I loved it.

29 January 2015

New Orleans addendum

When I wrote the piece that I posted last night, about our January trip to New Orleans, there were a few details I neglected to include.

Fleur de Lys – You see it everywhere in the city. I’ve always known that it’s a common symbol of the city and that it traces back to the city’s French roots. But we had one local tell us that since Hurricane Katrina, it’s also become a symbol of the city’s determination to overcome the hurricane’s impact and rebuild.

Men’s fashion – We packed casual for this trip. We didn’t intend to go to any high class restaurants (I know that some require a jacket and tie). But I was kind of surprised to see many men wearing formal business suits even walking the streets of the French Quarter. And when I was shopping with my wife, I was excited that many of the boutiques sold bow ties and many jewelry and antique stores included cuff links and tuxedo sets for men.

As I mentioned in my original post, I did buy a bow tie. I saw it at NOLA Couture in the French Quarter. I was admiring the bow ties; I appreciated the styling and the fact that they are locally made. (Most ties I see are made in China. I don’t object to clothes made in China. I do object to paying a premium price for the ‘style’ knowing that it’s made with low-paid labor in China.) However the print I wanted wasn’t available as a bow tie. ‘No problem,’ said helpful clerk. He called the factory, determined that the they had silk in stock with the print I wanted. So they custom-made my bow tie and shipped it to me. Yeah!

I saw lots of fleur de lys cufflinks, and at one store I saw a set of cufflinks and fleur de lys tuxedo shirt studs. I was sorely tempted to buy them. I didn’t because I’m not sure where I’d ever wear them. However, if I ever get invited to a New Orleans Carnival ball, I’m gonna get them!

Sazarac – I’ve read that the sazarac cocktail was invented in New Orleans and was the first cocktail invented in America. It’s one of my favorite cocktails, and I make a pretty good one myself. Still, I did sample several during our trip to New Orleans.

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