July 30, 2011

New Orleans: My First Meal and What Was Almost My Last Meal

I landed in New Orleans at just about supper time on a Friday evening. I rode a shuttle bus full of librarians from Kenner to downtown New Orleans. The ride was pretty interesting, since the driver kept pointing out sites we were passing, like levees, above-ground cemeteries, the Superdome, and "neutral ground." In New Orleans, they don't call the medians in the center of the street medians, they're neutral ground because in early New Orleans the French and Spanish could do business by meeting in the "neutral ground" between each group's side of the street. We passed Magazine Street where the Mardi Gras parades pass. We arrived at the New Orleans Convention Center, which is a mile long! And before Katrina, there were plans to expand it to a two-mile long building!

I met up with my friends and we freshened up at our hotel, the Iberville Suites, then walked a very short distance to the Acme Oyster House, on Iberville and Bourbon. There was already a line out the door, but it moved quickly. It's difficult to describe the smell outside, which wasn't pleasant in the least, certainly not what you want to smell before dinner. The smell wasn't from the restaurant; I attribute it to the drunks staggering around Bourbon.

Acme Oyster House

Before we were even seated and had menus, I knew what I wanted - oysters, of course! I got half a dozen oysters on the half shell and half a dozen chargrilled oysters.

Acme Oyster House

The chargrilled oysters came off the grill topped with butter and cheese. Honestly, I preferred the raw variety.

Acme Oyster House

I also got a bowl of red beans and rice for good measure. I can eat a dozen oysters as an appetizer, so I needed something else. Red beans and rice is one of my favorite Creole dishes.

Acme Oyster House

My first meal in New Orleans was very good, but not quite a home run. For breakfast on Sunday morning, I walked from my hotel around the French Quarter and ended up at Croissant d'Or. Getting in was the hardest part. The building looked to have two entrances, but the first door I tried was locked; only the "ladies' entrance" was open. I don't know why or when the separate entrances originated. I wolfed down an almond croissant before taking any photos. There were very pretty stained glass windows along the wall I sat next to. Eating right beside a foot didn't diminish my appetite in the least.

Croissant d'Or Patisserie Croissant d'Or Patisserie Croissant d'Or Croissant d'Or Patisserie

That night, my friends and I decided to try to get into Green Goddess for dinner. I don't remember when the torrential downpour started, but since it seemed to rain around 8 pm every night in New Orleans, I'm guessing it was around that time. We were almost soaked by the time we reached Green Goddess, and though they didn't take reservations (a rarity in New Orleans where the best restaurants practically require them), there was a long wait and no room in the tiny restaurant for three dripping wet travelers. The hostess suggested we try across the street at the Pelican Club.

We entered the Pelican Club, which looked rather snooty, and that made me feel awkward about the puddles forming around me as I stood inside the doorway. Shoes squeaking, we walked to our table. I opted for escargot as an appetizer.

Pelican Club

The snails came baked with a mushroom duxelle and puff pastry. I foolishly popped a boiling hot bite in my mouth. It was one of those situations where as soon as the food is in your mouth, you know it's much too hot to chew, but then you're in a social situation that prevents you from aborting the operation to spit it out. So I severely burned every taste bud on my tongue. My situation did not improve throughout the meal. My next course was the trio of duckling: leg confit, pan-seared breast, and Asian BBQ duck with Louisiana citrus and cranberry sauce (which inexplicably came with blueberries), with green beans and corn on the side.

Pelican Club

Despite a track record of eating successfully for many years, I had another dining mishap with the duck. I took a bite of the medium rare duck breast and chewed and chewed, but the meat seemed to be so soft and cooked so rare that I made no headway chewing it into smaller pieces. After making what I thought was a sufficient attempt, I swallowed the bite of duck, but it felt like a ball of fat in my throat where it lodged. I started coughing and choking loudly. Not my brightest moment. I held my linen napkin to my mouth and pondered my options while continuing to cough. Could I run to the bathroom before passing out? I imagined myself being sent home to my parents in a pine box after choking on undercooked duck. How embarrassing.

Somehow the bite of duck came unstuck and continued on its way, and I was able to finish the meal without further incident. Needless to say, the Pelican Club was not a positive dining experience.

Nobody wants to hear about mediocre food, but the tales are about to get much better. I promise.

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

Here's one to make you feel better. I had a lunch with some people from a major independent movie studio, and we are at lunch in a typical West LA restaurant(i.e. hoity toity). I ordered the vegetable panini, which was awesome (I could drink the garlic aioli). Anyway, I am halfway through the lunch when my slab of eggplant shoots out the front of my sandwich onto the table. Thankfully, everyone laughed with me. But still!