It is a full day of traveling as I leave Orange County at 9am and after a stop in Houston, I arrive in New Orleans a little past 4pm. It is my first time in NOLA and I am utterly excited about the next three days. After arriving at the hotel, I swiftly unpack, shower and rush to the first official Chowzter gathering with the entire group at Brennan’s. I am the second to arrive with the local NOLA Chowzter Kim already waiting at the bar. We are led upstairs where we will enjoy cocktails and appetizers before dinner is served.
We sip on champagne and wine, munch on delicious appetizers, which I have now forgotten, although I do remember eating quite a few of the non-oyster selections before our group of almost 50 sit down to dinner.
Our four-course menu starts with Oven Roasted Gulf Oysters. Since I am not able to eat these, so I watch my table-mates devour theirs and then eat mine. The oysters are roasted in a smoked chile butter, chives, manchego cheese and breadcrumbs. From what I can see, they are undeniably delicious.
The next course is a choice of two items. Seafood File Gumbo is again prepared with oysters which means I am to choose the other. I do, however, take a taste of my neighbors sans oyster and find that it is flavorful with a decent richness and depth, although not the best I’ve eaten.
My Endive & Asian Pear Salad is surprisingly good. The spiced pecans, blue cheese and honey vinaigrette combine together for a salty, sweet, tart finish.
The main course is again a choice of two dishes. Almost everyone at the table chooses Shrimp Creole Risotto which is delicious. The shrimp are seasoned well sitting on top of arborio rice in a bath of ginger tomato sauce.
One person at the table chooses Chicken Pontalba, a moist breast of chicken with Brabant potatoes (fried potato cubes made famous by Chef Emeril Lagasse at Delmonico) dotted with andouille and green onion. It reminds me of country fried potatoes. A Hollandaise sauce drapes the chicken breast.
Our dessert of Traditional Bananas Foster is prepared by Etienne, who explains the whole procedure to us, and ends his presentation with a pyrotechnic display of fire and fanfare.
After dinner, some Chowzters are eager to visit another restaurant, so we walk half a block down to Royal House for meal two of the night.
I am on a mission to try as many gumbos as I can. I’ve eaten home-made gumbo many times (my son’s dad is Creole so his side makes gumbo at family get-togethers) but am never sure if it is authentic or not because the nieces who make them have never lived in Louisiana. Chicken and Andouille Gumbo ($6/cup) is disappointing. The menu says traditional New Orleans style gumbo, but it is watery and lacking flavor. It is also very light in color signifying a light roux as opposed to a dark roux. I did not like this at all.
We select a couple of dishes privy to the area including Redfish Beignets ($10). These strips of tender fish is prevalent in New Orleans. Dipped in tempura batter and fried golden brown, they are drizzled with a “Crystal beurre blanc” sauce and cane syrup, giving it a hint of sweetness. We enjoy this very much.
Fried Alligator ($11) is indeed interesting. Marinated gator meat is fried crispy, however, inconsistent in texture. My first piece is tender and tasty, but the second has tough cartilage throughout making it difficult to chew. The other Chowzters experience the same thing.
After we pay our bill, the others agree it’s time to hit Cafe du Monde, five to six blocks away. It is 39 degrees outside and the four of us (from San Diego and Orlando) are all bundled up in winter gear as we traverse over to the iconic cafe for some beignets and chicory coffee.
It is 11pm and I am torn. Do I order the cafe au lait or not? I’m glad I did because it is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. I am not able to stop myself and before I realize, I drink the entire cup. I’ll have to admit, the beignets on this night are not impressive. They are lukewarm and a little dense. I take two bites and leave it.
As we leave each other in the hotel lobby, we decide to meet at 9am for breakfast the next morning before we join the others for the fried chicken meetup (there is another doing po boys). It is 2am before I settle in bed. It is a rough night. I toss and turn from the coffee I drink at Brennan’s (did not realize we were going to Cafe du Monde then) and then the chicory coffee after.
417 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Royal House Oyster Bar
441 Royal House
New Orleans, LA 70130
Cafe du Monde
813 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116