Good eaters: me

Taking a departure from my usual focus on the remote(r) past, I’m writing about the three New Orleans eating places I went to on Monday of this week, the fifth and last day of my trip. On days one through four I ate at: Herbsaint, Lil Dizzy’s, Galatoire’s, The Upperline (twice), Lüke, Bayona, and – something totally different – Restaurant des Familles in Crown Point.

8:50 a.m. Café du Monde. Last chance for beignets, hot, delicious, and smothered in powdered sugar, most of which I tapped off, leaving behind a plateful of sugar a quarter inch deep. I’d just been reading about mid-19th-century coffee stalls in London and realized that the Café du Monde was one of them. In London they were patronized by street vendors and market men and women and I’m sure that was once true in NO also. Today it’s mostly tourists. The outdoor “porch” dining room was packed when we arrived — early, we thought — and by the time we left there was a block-long line. The Asian woman who served us barely spoke English and we wondered if she was related to the Vietnamese shrimpers we saw south of the city.

12:20 p.m. August. Less than four hours later, time to eat again, now at one of NO’s premier restaurants where I had the three-course $20.11 prix fixe ‘lunch.’ Not only was this the biggest bargain of the trip, it was clearly the finest all-round meal.
August’s dining room is high ceilinged, paneled, lots of browns, with all the hallmarks of an expensive, first-class restaurant such as oversized florals, spotless linens, heavy silverware (the knife swiftly restored to parallel position when I knocked it askew). Our waiter was nattily attired in a dark business suit while his crew wore white shirts, black ties, and long white aprons. I was dressed in an India-ink striped tunic stitched with mercerized Coates & Clark thread, lightly finished in a bath of Argo starch, over pants noir of Georgia cotton.
Yes, that gives you an idea of August’s pretentious menu language. But, getting past that, the meal’s presentation was exquisite and everything tasted wonderful, including my “pâté de champagne of La Provence pork with pickled wild mushrooms and seasonal marmalades” and the “creamy McEwen grits” which underlay my “slow-cooked veal grillades.” Breadstuffs arrived neatly pocketed in folded napkins. We started and finished with freebies: an “amuse bouche” of fish custard served in an eggshell; chocolate caramels and peanut brittle with the check. Did I forget to say house-made?
Funny moment: while we were eating a Sysco delivery truck pulled up outside the front window. I asked waiter #2 where it was making deliveries and he almost choked as he quickly swore, “Not here, not here!” I believed him.

6:30 p.m. Cochon. Though I really didn’t eat that much at lunch I began to doubt my capacity as dinner approached. In fact I was not up to the task, which may explain why I was less than enchanted with Cochon. As the name implies Cochon specializes in pork and associated pig products. It has a smoky aroma, bare floor and tables in light wood, an exposed brick wall, and a young crowd casually dressed. Where we sat we had an unfortunate view of kitchen workers taking smoke breaks alongside the dumpster. Plus obnoxious neighbors. Bummer. I ordered smoked brisket with horseradish potato salad but must confess I was not in the mood for the overload of salt and fat on the plate.
As we left Cochon I realized I was burning out on restaurants (only temporarily) and wanted to get back to my favorite homefood, fresh grilled fish and tri-color salad.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

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