I have a secret weapon when it comes to recommendations for great New Orleans eats. A high school classmate went to LSU, fell in love with the city, and decided to stay in the greater NOLA area. He keeps a Facebook page chronicling his lunch outings: the New Orleans Lunch Journal. When I asked Beto for lunch suggestions, the first place on his list was Cochon Butcher. It was the first place we visited the minute we dropped our bags in our downtown hotel.
Coming straight from Puerto Rico and being greeted by a traditional vejigante mask in this renowned butchery, deli and sandwich shop? Priceless!
Our order: some of their famous duck pastrami sliders, pimento cheese sliders, a muffaletta (best I’ve had in the city), macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw. I wish I could have indulged more on the beers or wines by the glass during our lunch. Cochon Butcher is a place that begs for lingering and making a long afternoon out of the visit (provided there’s not a line outside).
For the after-race meal, we headed to the nearby Red Fish Grill over on Bourbon Street. Owned by the Brennan family, RFG is a casual eatery with a menu packed with Cajun items. I started with a cup of gumbo and my first libation post race… those finish line beers do not count! I had been dying to try Abita’s hard root beer and did. And there was a dozen Gulf oysters too…
We also got our share of oysters at the Lüke happy hour – Lüke as in the French brasserie owned by John Besh. The oysters were plentiful and at $0.75 each, we went crazy. I still don’t get why we were served saltine crackers all over town, but I’m not complaining. Oyster happy hours were the perfect snack to tide us over from those indulgent breakfasts until dinner.
Dinner time in New Orleans
Every dinner we had at New Orleans was special. Even when wondering how we could possibly eat a little bit more, we knew those meals were as important as the marathon when we decided to visit. After our carb-fest at Cochon Butcher, we had a lighter dinner at NOLA, Emeril Lagasse’s casual restaurant in the French Quarter. We always spring for their fork and knife version of barbecue shrimp, complete with a miniature biscuit. And after that, the rest of our dinners were at ‘new for us’ places.
On Saturday, we had one of the most anticipated meal of our trip: John Besh’s Restaurant August. The setup is gorgeous: floor to ceiling windows, impressive chandeliers and the largest, most beautiful bouquet anchoring the main dining room. The wine cellar is perched on a loft-like level in hardwood. Waiters felt more like butlers, always ready with your next cocktail (or sparkling water bottle) and a great recommendation. I shied away from taking pictures, but E documented every tasty bite. From the charred brussel sprout salad, the signature gnocchi with blue crab and truffle, all the way through the dessert, everything was wonderful.
Since we had a late lunch on Sunday, we wanted to keep dinner fun and light. SoBou fit the bill perfectly: street food inspired small plates and delicious cocktails. SoBou is helmed by Puerto Rican chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez, which shows in some whimsical touches in the menu. Gulf shrimp pinchos with tasso rest on a PR rum glazed pineapple slice. Yellow tail ceviche comes in tiny cones with a scoop of avocado ice cream. My favorite, the sweet potato beignets, float in a stream of foie gras fondue, with bits of duck debris and a chicory coffee ganache. Cafe du Who? In addition to the food, SoBou’s cocktail menu was inventive and delicious. E’s drink, the Sunset at the Courtyard, was a tasty combination of premium reposado tequila, Solerno blood orange liqueur, citrus, house made pomegranate syrup. It even came with a kitschy pair of SoBou sunglasses, even though it was well after sunset. 🙂
On Monday, we needed a break from all things Cajun and Creole. I secured a reservation at Shaya for modern, vegetable focused Israeli cuisine. I need to come up with a way to recreate their hummus with lamb ragú and crispy chickpeas at home. Their pita bread was freshly baked, and as pillowy as they come. We also tried their babaganoush, lutenitsa (Bulgarian puree of roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato), Israeli salad and beef short ribs.
For our last meal, we visited one of the newest restaurants downtown, Restaurant Rebirth, for modern Creole cuisine. We started with their take on beef tartare and carpaccio, served with bone marrow rubbed crostini. We moved on to a double cut pork chop served with bacon braised haricot verts, brabant potatoes and crispy shallot rings and the snapper with gnocchi, riesling poached crab meat, fennel-endive marmalade, and blackened lemon beurre blanc. The showstopper was a side of crawfish and tasso maque choux, aka, the best creamed corn you’ll ever have.
It’s been a few weeks since we returned home, and I can’t wait to go back to New Orleans. Seriously… it won’t be seven more years until we return. I’m happy to have brought a bit back home to tide me over until next time… pralines for our coworkers, a small painted fleur-de-lis canvas for my desk at work, and yeah… that marathon medal!