From the big lights in the big city (New York City) my friends and I travelled down to the Big Easy (New Orleans, duh) for a Cajun-Seafoodtastic flavour explosion. New Orleans is a city apart in the United States. Louisiana in general, and New Orleans specifically, are truly and culture and identity completely unique to America. Located in the Gulf region of the United States (those states, humid in climate, bordering the Gulf of Mexico), New Orleans boasts a unique culture formed from the confluence of Spanish, French and African, food, culture and music.
We mainly hung around the French Quarter area, where the city was originally centered around. Now, the city has grown and gourmet & awesome restaurants, bars, b&b’s & cafes stretches out from Frenchman St, in the Maigny area (east of the French Quarter) to the Garden District.
The French Quarter was one of the few areas that was lightly affected by Hurricane Katrina. I read that it’s most of the outer suburbs which were highly affected and many still remain damaged and abandoned, even 5 year after the hurricane. But the French Quarter is still a hustle & bustling area, filled with hotels, restaurants, bars, strip clubs and masses of people walking down closed off streets, drinking gallons of alcohol out of plastic cups, otherwise called “to-go cups”. New Orleans is one of the few cities that allow drinking on the streets, only in plastic cups or bottles.
Other than great food, New Orleans is best known for Jazz music. I’m not a fan of jazz, or I mean I WASN’T a fan of Jazz music until I experienced New Orleans. I found the best place for Jazz music was on Frenchmen Street, especially at The Spotted Cat or dba. I went to The Spotted Cat twice to see the performances, and loved it both times! The upbeat energetic music really gave life to the area. People danced on the streets, strangers greeting one another, bead necklaces were exchanged. (Speaking of bead necklaces, New Orleans is second to San Francisco for gay friendliness. Mardi Gras bead necklaces were everywhere! In stores, the sidewalk, bins, etc… Leave a comment if you know what meaning of the Mardi Gras beads are.)
Let’s get back to the food… Trying to take advantage of the public holiday, I packed what most people would eat over a week, in just 3 days. For me, I had 3 things I NEEDED to eat in NOLA: jambalaya, crayfish & po-boys, all popular N’Awlins foods. I definitely ate more than my share over the 3 day eating adventure, so here is part one…
Desire Oyster Bar
Part of The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Desire Oyster Bar is located on the busiest, liveliest & dirtiest street in New Orleans, Bourbon Street. This street is filled with strip clubs, bars offering 3 drinks for $10, performers playing the best Jazz music you’ll ever hear on the streets, rowdy drunk loving life people (especially at night) and… rubbish. This made our table by the window perfect for people watching. I had no idea what to expect from NOLA, so everything I saw was a surprise and overly awesome!
Coming from Sydney, there’s no place else I’ve been to that has better oysters and I’d heard that New Orleans oysters were up there. Maybe it was just the type at Desire Oyster Bar, but it was nowhere close being as nice as Sydney oysters. Yes, it was ginormous, and one thing I love about oysters is the texture but for flavour, it’s the small ones which are the best. I’m not sure why, but we went to this place twice during our stay in NOLA and both times, the oysters just wasn’t as fantastic as I heard.
Crawfish (or crayfish) are freshwater crustaceans and tastes like a cross between lobster & shrimp. Some say crawfish is a small lobster – the hard shell resemble lobster but the meat isn’t as springy. Coated with a perfect dusting cajun-style batter, the Cajun popcorn crawfish tails reminded me of KFC’s popcorn chicken – delicious in my mind!
Po’ boy (or poor boy) is a long Louisana-style sandwich filled with a roasted meat or a fried seafood served on a french baguette. In New Orleans, their popular po’ boys contain either fried oyster or shrimp. I felt the baguette here was a lot softer and less crunchy than other french baguettes I’ve had. As I’m a pig and wanted to try both oyster & shrimp, we ordered the half & half po’ boy. I’m a fan of fried oysters, so that was definitely my favourite. Plus it was freshly fried & juicy! However, I feel you need to be a fan of that fishy-minerally flavour to like fried oysters. M liked the shrimp po’ boy due to the crunchy and sweetness of shrimp (but he loves anything shrimp!)
Desire Oyster Bar is just around the corner + 1 block from the tourist-popular ACME Oyster Bar, so if you’re not a fan of lines, this should definitely be plan B (if not even plan A!).
Desire Oyster Bar
300 Bourbon St
New Orleans, LA 70130
(connected to the Royal Sonesta Hotel)
Yo Mama’s Bar & Grill
“You must try the peanut butter & bacon burger. It’s TO DIE FOR.“, said a friend who recommended Yo Mama’s.
After our meal at Desire & a few drinks at The Spotted Cat, I wasn’t really ready to eat again, but in case I missed out, I was keen for the best burger in New Orleans. Yo Mama’s is one of many bars in the French Quarter area and at 1am, it seemed a little seedy, but I really wanted to try this burger! Unfortunately it was pretty dark inside and I didn’t get the best of photos, but OH-MY-GOSH, the burger was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. So DEEElish-ous, I went twice!
For variety, we ordered the Peanut Butter & Bacon burger and the “Bullfighter” – beef burger filled with HEAPS of jalapenos. The “Bullfighter” was so spicy I needed to take out half the jalapenos (and I didn’t want to suffer all night since it was just before bed-time), but the Peanut Butter & Bacon burger oozed with heart-clogging & dripping peanut butter. The bacon further added to the clog, but it was well worth it. For sides, we both got the mac & cheese. It may seem heavy, but the mac & cheese tasted “light” compared to the burgers and I highly recommend it!
NOTE to anyone visiting New Orleans, YOU MUST TRY THIS BURGER. The images really does not do this burger justice. Other than the burgers, there was around 30 different tequila drinks to help wash your burger down.
Even after my 1am meal, my tummy was still keen for brunch! It was best I stayed away from the heavy foods and go for a regular breakfast. Thanks to the ever so helpful Yelp (Really great directory for any place in the US), Eat was suggested. The interior was cute, filled with local N’Awlins decor.
My dining companions both ordered Eat’s famous egg breakfast meals. The Eggs Dauphine (stacked poached eggs, country ham, fried green tomatoes, and hollandaise, with a homemade biscuit) were ordered due to a curious soul wondering what fried green tomatoes were. Fried green tomatoes are just as the name suggests, green tomato coated with a crumb batter and fried. The Eggs de Provence were eggs baked in a black iron skillet, with a side of bacon and a homemade biscuit. Most of the breakfast items seemed to come with homemade biscuits (most Aussies know this as a “scone”), which is popular in southern cooking.
All in all, Eat is great alternative to most of foods you find in New Orleans that still keeps to the Southern, Cajun theme.
900 Dumaine St
New Orleans, LA 70116
Cafe du Monde
This is probably the most popular food destination for all of New Orleans. You know the yellow-coloured canned coffee that you find in many Vietnamese stores & restaurants? Yes, that’s right… THIS is the original French Market coffee stand that sells the “Cafe du Monde” coffee. Hundreds of people flood into the hall of the shop each day, just for a mug of a cafe au lait (coffee with milk) and their famous beignets. For the non-coffee drinkers, the beignets are definitely worth a visit here. Beignets is deep-fried dough, “sprinkled” (or should I say “heaped”) with powdered sugar.
A serving of the beignets will feed 2-3 people as a great morning, afternoon or midnight snack since Cafe du Monde is open 23.5 hours (with a 30 minute close break around 5am). With the amount of sugar on the plate, I thought it would be really sweet but to my surprise, it was more like fried bread with a nice hint of sweetness. Even not having a sweet tooth, I loved it and even bought some mix to make at home!
The seating hall is huge and is usually full during the day, but the turnover of people is quite fast so don’t be deterred by the masses of people. The place is a MUST-TRY if you’re in New Orleans.
Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70116
Cochon’s chef, Steven Stryjewski, was recently awarded the 2011 James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the south (of the US). If you didn’t know, the James Beard awards are known as “the Oscars of the US culinary world”. Also, Cochon was suggested by most people I asked for restaurant recommendations. The cuisine is not the typical Southern, Cajun fare you’d find in New Orleans. It focused more on meats, especially pork as ‘cochon’ in French means pig. And it was some of the best pork (and Southern-style food) I’ve ever had, ever.
Luckily for us, there were 8 mouths to feed, meaning we were able to try a variety of dishes. Appetizers are my favourite part of a meal. I feel that chefs put a lot of effort and thought into creating a dish that may make or break a person’s opinion of a restaurant (first impressions last remember!).
My favourite of all the appetizers were the wood-fried oysters. Even after being cooked, the oysters remained juicy and soak with a buttery garlic, cayenne pepper topping. These were unbelievable! But… the fried alligator… out of this world! Being a swamp area, alligator is on many restaurant menus in New Orleans. Most people say it tastes like chicken (like most other white meats) but together with the chilli garlic aioli, you forget you’re eating alligator.
In most of the US, coke contains high-fructose corn syrup, which makes it extra sweet and not-so-refreshing after a few gulps (that’s my thought). Coke bottled and made in Mexico is made with refined cane sugar and comes in a glass bottle. In my mind, coke was the go-to drink as the “thirst quencher”. Unfortunately, it’s switched to water for me as I find coke too sugary and chemical-like. However, this Mexican coke was surprisingly fresh tasting and natural.
Another drink to try is Abita-branded beer. It’s brewed locally in Louisiana, and should be tasted by beer-lovers, especially the popular Abita Turbodog (dark ale). I’m usually not a fan of dark ales, but I found the Turbodog had a pleasant chocolate flavour.
The Boucherie Plate is a mix platter of whatever the chef feels like at the time it’s ordered. The waiter informs us that he’s served three different plates so far tonight. Usually its some meat, pickles, cheese, mustard and pickle. The flavours married quite well together that everyone ate this in a flash.
Entrees (aka mains)
Our waiter was ever so helpful in explaining each dish and giving us recommendations. He told us his #1 was the Oven-roasted gulf fish and #2 was the Louisiana Cochon (pulled pork belly with pork crackling & radish). At times having 8 people dining makes ordering a blessing, if you wanted 2 different dishes there was always sure to be a person ordering the OTHER meal you wanted.
I opted for recommendation #1, oven-roasted gulf fish since I’m still a lover of seafood. There was a hint of spices sprinkled across the fish and the meat was perfectly cooked as each piece easily broke off in a neat fashion. There are no bones as it’s just a fillet off one side of the fish. This “fisherman’s style” fish is quite popular, it’s even featured in a demo video on myrecipes – looks quite easy if you have a wood-fired oven!
The Louisiana Cochon is slow-cooked pulled pork packed into a ball-shaped and deep-fried. The pulled pork were amazing and was bursting with flavour! I couldn’t stop picking at this dish. It was probably my favourite dish all night (to this day, I’m still thinking about how delicious this was). The cracklin was very crunchy, like to a crisp crunchy and the salad of cabbage & radishes soaked up the pork sauce. If it was normal, I would have licked the plate.
The Buttermilk fried soft shell crab was as tasty as fried chicken: crunchy, juicy and crispy! Who doesn’t love deep-fried foods!
The Oyster & Bacon sandwich seemed like a modernised-version of a po-boy, minus the french baguette. Just as with po’ boys, the oysters are deep-fried in a batter and served on bread with some lettuce.
Another dish with “green tomatoes” (I’m not sure what the fascination is!). This was a delicious side with a creamy white sauce. The green tomato gave it a tangy flavour and the crawfish gave this side some texture.
By the end of the meal (and 2 bottles of red & numerous cocktails), we were all really stuffed from our favourite meal in New Orleans that we didn’t attempt to look at the dessert menu. The restaurant interior felt like a farmhouse, with some communal and round tables. I’d definitely recommend making a reservation as there aren’t many restaurants situated around the area but Cochon is great for groups. There was even a table of 20 men here on a bachelor party. The service was very friendly & polite and if you need recommendations, ask away like we did. I think he had to repeat the specials to us at least 5 times (poor guy).
Even if you had one night in New Orleans, this is THE restaurant to visit. It may seem like a restaurant for meat-lovers but seafood-eaters will equally love this place.
930 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70195
That concludes Part 1 (actually day 1) of my New Orleans eats. Wait for part 2 as I showcase the best (and probably cheapest) cajun seafood I’ve ever had!