NOLA: Post-Katrina

June 07 2007 - 2:41 PM

If you watched the news enough, you might not want to ever set foot in New Orleans.  Recently it was announced that the National Guard would need to police the city.  The media would also make you believe that New Orleans was a ghost town.

Being in New Orleans challenges a lot of widely-held views.  News stories would make you believe that Katrina’s damage affected mostly the poor.  (A three-hour Katrina bus tour showed in fact that  many suburban areas were completely devastated, consuming bouncy castle shopping malls and subdivisions.)

The good news, however, is that nearly all historic areas of New
Orleans are open for business and will not fail to disappoint.  If you
walked into a cave before Katrina happened and was plopped in the
French Quarter you would not even be aware of the damage.

Anyway, about the food,  and what I love about New Orleans is that
it values its traditions to rival and (arguably) top the most
tradition-valuing European societies.  From family-owned restaurants
and businesses around for well over 100 years to unique cuisines on par
with French, Italian, and Spanish traditions there is nothing quite
like NOLA in the U. S.  Here are a couple highlights:

* Central Grocery invented the muffaletta sandwich apparently in 1906
(and even today I have yet to try one better). It’s to the point where there
are there are long lines of locals and tourists alike.  What makes the
olive salad on salami, mortadella and provalone so good to me is a
mystery–but it’s not a salty ground up mush like a lot of mufaletta

* Another draw, Cafe du Monde, has been servings powdered-sugar
topped beignets (square doughnuts without holes) and coffee with
chickory since 1862.  The place depends mostly on tourists in part due
to location but also because it focuses mainly on two things that it
does very, very well.

* Around since 1905,. Galatoire’s is one of the famous New Orleans
traditional restaurants.   Like a lot of traditional New Orleans
establishments, men must structure gonflable wear jackets for dinner (and most patrons
choose to wear ties), and locals are happy to oblige.  The website
proudly says “The menu does not change”.   After the hurricane, locals
were furious when the restaurant bought an ice machine (previously ice
was hand-chipped) and started accepting credit cards.  I had the
crabmeat sardou, which was served on artichoke hearts with creamed
spinach and hollandaise sauce.   The old-school feel of the restaurant
was charming, and it felt like a lot of the people inside knew each
other as well as their waiters.   Galatoire’s food is very good, and
though it may not be the top place in New Orleans it more than makes up
for it in atmosphere.

We also chose a more contemporary restaurant, the Cafe Adelaide
inside the Loews Hotel, which is run by the renowned Brennan family.
The meal was a twist on traditional creole with very good seafood
dishes.  Sadly the place wasn’t packed with people, but the waiter told
me it was an off-week.

Other highlights included pralines at Aunt Sally’s and sazeracs at
Lafite’s Blacksmith Shop (a bar in a building lit only by candles).
And sorry hurricane lovers, but sazerac is the true New Orleans
cocktail, made of rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters (a New Orleans
concoction), absinthe (or something similar), sugar, and lemon peel.

One word of warning: most restaurants are only open until 9 p.m., so
you might want to take that into consideration.   Also, sadly, the
crowds are down from what they were before, which may benefit you
personally but unfortunately does not help the people who live there.
My fiancee and I were thanked several times for helping the citizens
of New Orleans benefit from what is one of their mainstays: tourism.