It’s the first Monday in January, 2016.
Regardless of what you do for a living, today is the day we get back to reality after 2 weeks of holiday celebrations. All the college football bowls are over, we have finally finished putting away all the Christmas decorations ~ of course, I’ll have Christmas tree needles to sweep up for a few weeks ~ and I am ready for a new year and new projects.
A week ago, we were in New Orleans for our annual after Christmas trip. If you missed our trip from 2014, you can read about it here. I want to share this year’s trip with you because everyone should go to New Orleans at least once or twice or a dozen times. There is no other city in the U.S. like it; part French, with a European feel, the best food anywhere and the special laissez les bon temps rouler vibe (That’s “let the good times roll”, for you uninitiated travelers.) Join Sweet Shark and me for our holiday in the Vieux Carre.
Christmas in New Orleans, 2015 ~ Part 1
Day 1 (December 26)
If you are flying to New Orleans, you’ll arrive at Louis Armstrong Airport, about a 30 minute cab ride from the French Quarter and Downtown. It’s a set $36 fare for 2. We arrived around 1:00 at the Hotel Monteleone, our favorite hotel for its location (Royal Street at Iberville), its lovely lobby and its famous bar, the Carousel. Our room was ready, we unpacked and started walking. You should walk in the French Quarter because that is how you learn your way around, people watch, and window shop. Our destination is Cane and Table, which opened a couple of years ago and had earned great reviews. We have never been and it’s on our to-do list. It’s on Decatur Street past Cafe du Monde and the French Market. By now, it’s 2:00 and we are hungry and thirsty. Since we have several stops to make, we order an appetizer of Triple Pea Humus (black-eyed peas, red beans, and 1 other pea I didn’t catch) with Yucca Chips. It’s delicious, light and the yucca chips are crispy and flavorful and we ate it all. The bartenders were friendly and helpful. I strolled out back to the really pretty courtyard where you can imagine a lovely dinner by candlelight.
Since we were on Decatur Street, we decided to stop at Santa’s Quarters, an awesome Christmas store. With a million ornaments and decorations to chose from, you can find a souvenir to take home. Every year, we buy another Mark Robert’s Christmas Elf for our collection.
Our next stop is Muriel’s on the corner of Chartres and St. Ann at Jackson Square. We always drop in Muriel’s for the ambiance and the Shrimp and Goat Cheese Crepes. We head to the bar in the back of the restaurant where it’s quiet and cozy and ask for Mary. She’s a great bartender and our favorite.
More walking just to stretch our legs and get settled in to the city. Royal and Chartres are our favorite streets, with the most shops and restaurants. I know Bourbon Street is the most famous one in the French Quarter, but we try to avoid it ~ just too noisy and crazy. Since it’s the day after Christmas, some shops are still closed.
For dinner, we have reservations at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse on Iberville between Royal and Bourbon, about a 2~minute walk from the hotel. You can’t walk a block in the French Quarter without passing a Brennan’s restaurant. They are all different and all very good. We haven’t been to Dickie Brennan’s in a few years and it’s good to be back. Sweet Shark and I share an appetizer of Fried P & J Oysters in a Chipotle~Tabasco Cream sauce. The oysters are hot and crispy and the sauce is spicy, but not too hot. We then share a Prime Strip (medium rare, of course) with roasted Brussels Sprouts. The steak was wonderful, but the Brussels Sprouts definitely needed some seasoning. But all in all, a great first dinner on first day.
I should mention that it’s unseasonably warm and humid for this time of year in New Orleans. No coats or jackets needed.
Day 2 (December 27)
The weather is still warm, but there is a bit of a breeze today. Since we missed our usual first stop at The Acme (Iberville between Royal and Bourbon) yesterday, Sweet Spot is determined to start the day there. He gets in line at 10:15 for the 10:30 opening (the line will be to the end of the block all day) and I join him just as the doors are opening. We are the first people at the back bar (the front bar is the oyster-shucking bar). We are happy to see Terry Lee (or TLee), our favorite bartender who is an institution. We catch up on kids, grandkids and the holidays. It’s early for lunch, but I order a cup of seafood gumbo and Sweet Shark orders a dozen raw oysters. (Disclaimer here: I love fried oysters and grilled oysters, but I can’t eat them raw since my dad tried to get me to eat one when I was about 6 and thought I had an eyeball in my mouth. Thanks, Dad.) Sweet Shark declares the oysters wonderful (he always makes his own dipping sauce) and I love the gumbo. A perfect way to get the day started.
For the first time in years, we walk through the French Market, full of food vendors and flea market sellers with jewelry, t-shirts, souvenirs and trinkets. It’s a lively place and we would stop for a snack, but our next stop is the Italian Barrel at 430 Barracks St. A good friend of ours has a cousin who lives in New Orleans and has said this is the place where locals go. The restaurant is small, but so lovely with brick walls and French doors on 2 sides and the bartender and waitress are Italian. We each have a glass of wine and share a platter of 5 different types of Italian olives with wonderful bread to dip in the olive oil. We end up sitting next to the mother of the chef/owner and she thanks us for coming. A perfect little mid-day stop. Italian Barrel will definitely be a dinner stop next year because the menu looks amazing and we love the atmosphere.
Next we are headed to another place on our t0-do list, Faubourg Marigny. This is a triangle-shaped neighborhood on the other side of Esplanade from the French Quarter. Its other boundaries are North Rampart Street, St. Claude Avenue to the north and the Mississippi River. The main street is Frenchman’s. The Marigny (pronounced mar-e-nee) has gained popularity in recent years for its funky, jazzy vibe, its late night music scene and bohemian style. As we cross Esplanade, we immediately sense a different look and feel to the area. It definitely lives up to its reputation. We walk around for awhile, stroll through Washington Square, a pretty little park, then head back toward the Quarter.
One thing I love about the French Quarter is the abundance of wonderful, little bookstores, some no bigger than a living room. I could spend hours perusing the shelves for interesting titles. We stop at Beckham’s Book Shop on Decatur and I find a paperback on New Orleans that looks interesting. More walking as we pass through Jackson Square, listen to some jazz and watch some street mimes. Heading down Chartres, we decide to stop in one of our favorite places, the historic Napoleon House at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis.
SPOILER ALERT: if you read my post on Saturday, you know what happened here, but I wont’ repeat the tale. Just check it out here.
O.K. after our adventure at Napoleon’s, we head back to the hotel for a nap and to regroup before dinner. We are both really excited about our destination tonight, one of the historic restaurants in New Orleans, Broussard’s on Conti between Bourbon and Dauphine. As you enter into the long entrance, the bar is in the back straight ahead and the dining room is to your left. The Empire Bar is elegant with an arched entry, marble floors and countertop, pretty lighting and white leather bar stools. Mike, our nice bartender, prepares a Manhattan for me and an Old-Fashioned for Sweet Shark. This is definitely a martini~sipping type of place.
We are led into the beautiful dining room. The menu is enticing. I select the New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. This is one of the best things I’ve ever had in New Orleans: tender, sweet barbecue shrimp with Crispy~fried Grits, Smoked Cheddar Cheese, Candied Pecans and Tomato Jam. It is heavenly.
Sweet Shark chooses the Pan~Seared Georges Bank Sea Scallops with a Pumpkin Mascarpone Ravioli, Ginger Rum Brown Butter and Spiced Cashews. Both dishes are perfectly prepared.
For our entree, we share the Pan~Roasted Breast of Chicken with Creole Maque Choux, House Smoked Oysters, and Spiced Tomato Jam. The chicken is tender, moist and very flavorful and I love the maque choux which is a combination of sautéed corn, onion, tomatoes, red or green bell pepper and herbs. It lends itself to many variations. The service is excellent and we have some nice wine to compliment our food.
I indulge Sweet Shark by walking back to the hotel through Bourbon Street. It’s getting loud, but not crazy yet; in another hour or two, watch out.
I’ll save the last 2 1/2 days of our stay in New Orleans for tomorrow. Come back and share the trip, the food and the fun with me.