Saturday, March 29, 2008

You heard it here first, hotard.

Settle in, fix yourself a purple hooter, microwave some nachos and get ready to be here a while. Like it or not, I'm going to be shoving every little detail of my whirlwind New Orleans trip down your throat much in the way that I managed to shove approximately 42 pounds of butter down my gullet in 3.75 days.

My dear friends, I give you:

Whiskeymarie v. New Orleans: Ma'am, just put down the fork, step away from the plate and no one gets hurt.

Day 1: 10:05 flight to Atlanta, one hour layover, then off to N.O.
I threaten my husband that I am going to try and work the word "hotlanta" into as many sentences as possible today. He is grateful that my anti-anxiety meds will eventually render me mute. I am seated on the first flight next to a very stinky hipster guy with really tight jeans on. Dude, it's called soap. Check it out sometime.

1st meal: Crappy salad and sweetened ice tea that we were assured by the waitress wasn't sweetened at the "Budweiser Cafe" in the Atlanta airport. And to answer your question- no. No, there wasn't a better option than the "Budweiser cafe". Trust me.

Both flights were on time, but unfortunately "misplacing" my luggage means Delta Airlines is dead to me now. I'm totally not inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner this year. Lucky for them I was so zonked out from the Ativan that I was unable to punch the luggage guy in the face, even though I really, really wanted to. I take his "what to do when Delta Airlines can't do its job and some disgruntled and underpaid airline worker goes on break early and just leaves your new suitcase sitting on the tarmac" brochure and we catch a cab to the hotel (3:30-ish)

Our hotel is lovely. Super clean, comfy, great staff and quaint in a distinctly Frenchy/New Orleans-y kind of way.

I need a nap at this point, it seems.

We lollygagged a while, then decided to wander in the city a bit.
I am officially in deep, deep love with the French Quarter. Every house has shutters, everything is painted in bright colors, music pours out from every nook and cranny, and you can take your drinks with you wherever you go as long as it's in a plastic cup. Bless your heart, New Orleans.

Dinner was casual, we ate here on my girl M's recommendation. I took her advice and had the muffaletta. Man, if calories weren't an issue I would eat a muffaletta every day for lunch, and possibly dinner, if allowed. Maspero's was my kind of place- sort of dive-y, but fantastic, simple food and $1 glasses of crappy house wine. Yum. Oh, and the Mr. had a GIANT plate of various fried fishy/shellfishy things.
The shrapnel that was the remnants of my sandwich:

After dinner I decided to hump a fire hydrant:

We took another of M's suggestions and stopped by The Spotted Cat after dinner for a drink and some live music. What a great place. Cramped, smoky and dark, with a really good jazz quartet playing. We didn't stay long 'cause we were POOPED, but I'm really glad we went.

*It was odd that there was smoking allowed EVERYWHERE we went. People were puffing away in restaurants, bars, stores, in the hotel, you name it. I don't smoke, but I have to say it was kind of nice to not see people huddled in doorways and alleys for a quick puff. Most places we went were open-air, and so the smoke really wasn't much of an issue at all. I kind of miss people being able to smoke wherever. I don't care what anyone says- it DOES look cool. Send your angry letters disagreeing with me to: Whiskeymarie, 1234 Drunkypants Lane, St. Paul, MN, 55100.

Remember these? They're everywhere in this city:

Lastly, a quick drink or two in our hotel bar, then sleep, glorious sleep.

Day 2:
Since everyone said we HAD to get beginets and coffee at Cafe du Monde, we decided to go there for breakfast. Call me naive, but I assumed that there would be additional food-like items available for purchase at this landmark, but nope. Nada. Overall, I have to say, "meh". I love deep-fried balls of doughy goodness as much as the next person, but I wasn't impressed with these. I've had better. Plus, I was kind of hoping to, oh- I don't know, have something along with my fried dough. Fruit? Nope, move along. We ate our dough balls, drank the scalding coffee and went about our business for the day, unimpressed with Le du Monde.

We spent the bulk of our day wandering around, just soaking in the city. We decided that Bourbon street stinks. Literally. Every few feet we would step into some unholy odor (garbage, sewer, puke, etc...) that seemed to hang thick in the air. None of the other streets had this stink. Bourbon street- what up?

We sat at an open-air cafe on the main drag/touristy street I can't remember the name of and had lunch. Every cafe had someone standing outside hollering for people to come in and eat, and every menu lists something as "world famous". I had one of the best bowls of jambalaya that I've ever had in my life. I wanted to go back for dinner, it was that good. The Mr. had gumbo and a muffaletta of his own. Maspero's muff was better, but this one was still pretty good. We had a couple of drinks, which would help explain our next move.

When, when, when will I ever learn to just skip the touristy crap? It's never a good idea, and it usually just ends up pissing me off in multiple ways.

So...we see this sign for Steamboat rides. Hey, that might be fun!, we muse. We can take a leisurely cruise down the Mississippi, relax a bit and just enjoy being somewhere warm. Yay! Boats!
We plop down $40 for tickets and wander around the riverside to kill time until the boat leaves. 2:00 arrives, so we head back to the landing to board.
A freaking LOUD organ playing circus music, 1,287,473 people waiting in line to board...ick.
In what was quite possibly my lamest attempt at a life of crime, I tried unsuccessfully to scalp my steamboat tickets. The dude looked at me like I was crazy. C'mon! Half price! C'mon!
We decided to suck it up and just go.
Me waiting in line to board:


Luckily, they had a bar, and the trip was kind of interesting and scenic. The bazillion other people on board made it less than stellar, and it was pretty cold on the water- but we lived.

I really should have signed us up for a tour with these folks:

*My new favorite insult word. You hotard.

Another nap, then a dinner I'd rather forget at a place whose name I have blocked from my memory. Turns out, there is shitty food in New Orleans- you just have to be super smart and lucky like we were to find it.

For our after-dinner cocktails, we wandered back off the beaten path near the Spotted Cat. We went to the Hookah Cafe, which was cooler than it sounds. We didn't partake of the hookah, but they made me a mean watermelon martini, and it was good & mellow people-watching. I don't get the whole hookah thing, but hey- I don't get a lot of things, so there you go.


Day 3:
I find myself wondering: New Orleans, why do you hate breakfast so?
In an city that doesn't seem to even wake up before 10:00, where all of the stores don't open until 11:00, and around dusk is when things seem to just get moving...why oh why was it nearly impossible to find breakfast of ANY sort around 10:00a.m? We seriously walked for about an HOUR before we found anyone serving anything resembling breakfast, and we ended up having unimpressive egg sandwiches at a sort of "self-serve" joint. Let's work on that one, o.k. N.O?

More walking, this time we wandered out of the French Quarter and into other districts in the city. One of my favorite things about New Orleans was the fact that there are gorgeous city parks everywhere you go. Statues, flowers, giant trees, people eating lunch, napping, basking in the sun, great public art...

We just plopped our butts on some steps in Lafayette Square and enjoyed the sun and watched people going about their business. I think that's my favorite thing to do when traveling.

Lunch was at another cafe in the French Quarter, not bad, but nothing special. I had a pretty good salad (I really needed a few veggies at this point) and the Mr. had gumbo again and really good sweet potato fries. We went to this particular cafe mostly because they had a 2nd floor terrace we could sit on to get a few more bits of sun and people-watch while having a few cocktails.

More walking, a little shopping, then back to the hotel for nappy-time.

We had dinner reservations at 8:30 for the Commander's Palace that night.
I say had because I canceled them.

Yes, I know. Sacrilege.
I get a reservation for a landmark, an institution- and I go and cancel them.
Let me explain:

Up to this point, we had been lucky to have eaten some really good food, for the most part. I knew that for our last big meal in town I wanted something really special, but I wasn't getting at all excited to go to the Commander's Palace. I wasn't really even looking forward to it.
When it comes to big-ticket dining, my instincts are rarely wrong, so I decided that I wanted to go to this restaurant near our hotel that we had walked by a few times so far. Something about it just seemed like it was our kind of place. I was done with the gumbo/jambalaya/muffaletta stuff. Now I wanted something that was "New Orleans with a twist".

Best decision I ever made, canceling that reservation, and making a new one.

We went to Stella!, a not-too-big cafe with an ambitious menu. This was easily one of the most inventive and interesting menus I've ever had the pleasure of choosing from. I was giddy just reading it.

We had white-glove service (which was a bit odd at first, I must say. The whole thing had an early 80's Michael Jackson vibe to it) in a dining room that can best be described as "fusion" decor. Think old-school foofy French meets Tokyo circa 2045.

Pre-dinner: A glass of bone-dry rose' for me, a Heindrick's and soda for the Mr.

With dinner: Fiddlehead Cellars 2001 "honeysuckle" Sauvignon Blanc. Heaven in a glass.

1st course:
For me- Veal and shrimp (yes, I took a chance and ate the gross little things) gyoza with tempura mustard raab and spicy peanut sauce. So. Freaking. Good.

For the Mr.- "Peanut butter and jellyfish" salad. Tempura-battered baby octopus and jellyfish with watermelon, cucumber and a light, somewhat peanutty vinaigrette. I didn't eat the wiggly things, but I tried the watermelon with the dressing. Holy crap. Delicious.

For me- Duck 5 ways: Seared, pepper-crusted mid-rare duck breast, mini "mu shu" style duck with summer squash, "lacquered" leg and thigh, duck miso broth and foie gras wontons. If there ever was a more perfect dish, I challenge you to tell me what it is. God I love duck.
For the Mr.- Miso and sake-glazed Black Cod with shark's fin omelet, wilted mustard greens, roasted spring garlic and lobster-scented butter. He just kept smiling and saying "this is soooo good" while eating this, so I assume he liked it. I tried the shark-fin. Odd, but good.

Dessert: (shared)
Dark chocolate cake with "hot buttered" pink lemonade, which can best be described as pink lemonade buerre blanc. My arteries cried a little just typing that.

One of my most expensive meals ever, but worth every penny and then some.

Back to the hotel for a drink at the bar, then good night.

We had to fly out earlier on Thursday, so we just had breakfast at the hotel. Not terrible, but not great either.

All in all, it was a pretty great trip.

This city has a feel to it like no other I've been to.
Laid back, welcoming, food and music-centered, and really, really pretty in a faded and elegant way. I felt instantly comfortable, like I had been there a million times before but still had a million things to see and do.
But most of all I liked just sitting in the cafes, a cold cocktail in hand and a plate of something delicious in front of me, watching it all go by.

Thanks, New Orleans. As soon as I lose the ten pounds I put on this time around I'll be plotting and planning when I can go again.
And again.
And again...



pistols at dawn said...

It's like I was there, which is great, because I can't afford vacations.

Also, I once canceled dinner reservations, but it just really confused the guy at McDonald's.

Anonymous said...

Breakfast in New Orleans = Bluebird Cafe - 3625 Prytania St

Christa said...

i think you just sold me on next winter's vacation.

McGone said...

At first I read that as "Hot Tard," and that is just disturbing.

I think I want to try this "Stella!" place, but I'm afraid that after that I would only be able to dine at place's with exclamatory marks in the name.

Glad you had a fun trip.

Chiada said...

Oooooh! Thank you so much for your retaurant reviews! Stella! sounds absolutely divine. Hub-E is a hobby chef in our house and likes to combine new and funky ingredients in ways most people wouldn't dream of. That menu is right up his alley. We've never been to "Nawlins" but I think that after reading this we're going to have to make a bee line there for our next trip.

H said...

That settles it - I want to go!!!

T.J. said...

I'm sooooo using hotard now.


Kate said...

I agree with everyone else (this time, sober). I want to go.

Glad you had a good break from The Suck (The Suck = MN in March).

NotSoccer Mom said...

wow, sounds like an awesome trip! look for a recap of my trip to hawaii (for which we leave A WEEK FROM TODAY!).

kirby said...

Duck five-way. That sounds like something you'd have to pay extra for in Hotlanta.

Flenker said...

Next time you go, you better take me along.
I don't know if I need to say again how jealous I am of you, but just in case, I am, and will continue to be extremely jealous of you.

Lollie said...

I'm with Flenker, and when we go next time (yes, I said we) I will take you all to two musts in N.O.: the best divey sidedoor hole in the wall downhome restaurant for the most amazing po'boys in the South and to the graveyard I went to in '95 (I'll have to ask my pal what the names of the restaurant and the cemetary are). Done deal?

Inarticulate Fumblings said...

I got lost after the cigarette machine... as in cigarette machine in the lobby of our hotel when "I'm going to the bathroom," as in he's in the shower and I suddenly need to step outside for some "fresh" air, as in Febreezing myself and acting as if I naturally smell like Pine, fresh laundry, and citrus.

thethinker said...

Mmm... muffaletta. You just made me very hungry.

gorillabuns said...

I love all the food in New Orleans only I can't seem to consume shrimp with their funky heads on them.

Mariposa said...

Wow, nice to be back here... ;) Had been running around the past days...and so so envious with you! I should travel soon! LOL

And, love the new insult word...I'm gonna steal that and try it soon! :P

Have a nice week!

Bubs said...

Glad you liked your trip! We just got back last night, and I'm going through my sadness at leaving New Orleans, and my eagerness to start eating healthy again at the same time.

Great post, and it looks like you had a swell time. Glad you made it to the Spotted Cat--we spend most of our time listening to music on Frenchman Street when we go now.

Sean said...

Stella was a nice choice and we look forward to ya'll coming back.

T said...

I, too, read it as "Hot Tard." In either case, it's a gem.

Glad you had such a good time—can't wait to hear more.

Jon said...

I'm so jealous! I had to spend the weekend humping local fire hydrants.

The Grand ChaHee said...

I'm totally going to quote you when I have to fight the Anti-smoking movement, when the anti-smoking movement comes to my town...

Kate said...

Welcome back and thanks for the review! I'm all about smoking everywhere, but I do understand about everything being open-air. In the Midwest - it just can't happen!

Stacey said...

Ah ha, some fab tips for when I head there next summer.

Thanks, WM. Glad you enjoyed your vacay.

wafelenbak said...

I know we went to Maspero's, but I can't remember what we got there. It's all a spicy, foody blur.
We also skipped Commander's Palace--next time try Antoine's for your foo-foo dinner. Soooo nice, but much more casual.
I'm a bit disappointed in your assessment of The Monde though. I am not sure I can read your blog with the same warm fuzzies anymore... ;) Beignets = heaven! (maybe it was just overhyped for you? admittedly I knew little of it before we went...)

feisty said...

love the photo on the boat with the drink!

this trip sounds like so much fun. and i've stuck it on my list (right after Austin, TX and another return to Portland, OR)

Nature Girl said...

Good Gracious! I think I just gained 10 pounds just reading this! and of course, now I can't wait to go someday! Sounds awsome!

So glad you got your luggage back too..

Sornie said...

Now that looks and sounds like a fun time!

LittlePea said...

So jealous.

I love your shoes in the fire hydrant picture by the way.

Student/Teacher said...

NoLa is a special town. My husband and I recently considered a coffee table book made solely of pictures of trash cans in NoLa. Hmmm.

punchlinewalking said...

Hotard is my new favorite word. Your trip sounds awesome...makes me sad we didn't end up going (I totally would have talked you out of the Steamboat ride), but now I have some great recommendations for when we finally make it down there.

MommasWorld said...

I have often wondered about what N.O. was like now and if it was suitable for visiting yet. I think the Governor, the Mayor and the Tourism Council should give you a big fat paycheck for your review. Why? Because now I WANT to go there!

Stefanie said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip. Glad to see it was warmer there than it was in Boston (or Minnesota)!

Katrin said...

How I wish I could go to someplace warm... How I wish I could have such a wonderful dinner... How I wish I could have a cold cocktail in my hand... How I wish my next half year wasn't so packed that I don't see enough time for a weekend away. :( You're one lucky woman!

180|360 said...

Hotard is perfect. I've always used the world pretard but this will serve an entirely different purpose.

Gorillabuns sent me here... :)

180|360 said...

That was supposed to read "word."

See- I am pretarded.

dguzman said...

I felt like I was there, especially when you mentioned me ("deep-fried balls of doughy goodness"). *blush*

welcome home!

Gretta said...

That, my dear, was fabulous.

I went to NO pre-Katrina, and I'm sorry to say it was still pretty grubby. But I LOVED the "to-go" cups for the drinkies, and what a great vibe that city has.

Thanks for the great share!

Siana said...

Isn't New Orleans amazing? I went there February '05 and the staff of the Holiday Inn in the Quarter were never the same afterwards.

John said...

I didn't tell you on Saturday, March 29th, 2008, but if I was in picture # 1, I would totally jump on you. Also, if I saw you humping a hydrant, it would totally make me hot. And then at the cigarette machine, I would but us some Kools.

elliquis said...

Thank you very much for writing such an interesting article on this topic