"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I am not sure if I have made it clear in the last few posts on this leg of my journey, but I adore the good old US of Stateside.

I love it despite its people who can be naïve, childlike and often downright scary and I love it because of its people who are passionate, warm and hospitable beyond all European imagining.

I love it despite its TV where shows like “ Reba” can become hits and I love it because of its TV where shows like ‘ Curb Your Enthusiasm” can actually get made.

I love it despite its food which can be mass produced, packed to the gunwhales with steroids and chemicals and downright disgusting and I love it because of its food which can be hearty, honest and downright delicious.

After a few days in Austin which proved more of the latter than the former, I caught an early morning flight via Houston to New Orleans.

It was my first visit in five years when DH made a now infamous tour of Texas and Louisiana fitting in forty eight restaurants in a little over two weeks. Since that time, of course, it has been battered by Katrina, abandoned by its government and rebuilt by its resilient people.

I did not know quite what to expect and was pleased to see that, despite remaining signs of obvious damage, much has been done to repair the city particularly in the vital tourist hub around The French Quarter where I was staying which had, I am told escaped much of the damage anyway.

First jaunt was a few blocks towards the mighty Mississippi and Café Du Monde. The home of the New Orleans beignets and as shamelessly touristy as that would suggest.

I bought a pack of three ( I have not said that since I was about 17) with a cup of foul hot chocolate and managed to eat about one and a half of them before I began to feel the insulin levels raising to dangerous levels. I left the rest for the birds. More a case of list tickingthan any real enjoyment

After a much needed nap, I headed out to The Ritz Carlton to meet my chum Chris MacMillan, a legendary cocktail maker and Director of The Museum of The American Cocktail.

He was heading up The Library Bar and soon had that most New Orleans of drinks in front of me, The Sazerac. Made originally with Cognac and now with rye whiskey, it involves an absinthe washed glass, Peychaud bitters and a lemon twist. One sip and you soon begin to realise why they call this city “ The Big Easy” a true classic and one of the great tests of the cocktail maker’s art.

A short while later, we were joined by Chris’ wife Laura and after another drink, she agreed to join me for supper at Café Adelaide in the Loews Hotel.

Dedicated to the memory of Adelaide Brennan, whose famous saying was “eating, drinking and carrying on” she was one of the illustrious family whose restaurants, including Commander’s Palace, have become synonymous with New Orleans over the last seventy years.

New Orleans specialities abound. Turtle soup comes with a slug of sherry, Gumbo comes with fried okra and Oysters are served “crispy”

We began by splitting plates of “Dirty Duck Calas” which is another NOLA traditional dish of Dirty rice (cooked with giblets) mixed, in this case, with confit duck, sugar and spices and then deep fried. It came with a dipping sauce of foie gras and local honey. Deeply savoury and entirely delicious. More so than the other dish of “corndogs’ which were made from Shrimp wrapped in Tasso (a local ham) which I felt lost out to an overwhelming “crystal hot sauce butter”

I have, since I very first started coming to the USA on a regular basis back in the mid 90’s, been a sucker for soft shell crab. I order it whenever I see it on the menu and, on DH’s previous visit, had one of the best ever at Galatoire’s in The Quarter.

So, as soon as I saw it on this menu, the decision was made. The plate, when it arrived, caused that “God help us, how did they get all that on there” response which is so typical of eating in the States. It was piled high with the crab sitting on top of a pile of “coush coush” made from corn and blue cran and piles of heavily dressed salad.

Once I had deconstructed it a bit, the end result was really rather teriffic. The crab was crunchy on the outside and meltingly sweet on the inside. The salad dressing was not as heavy as I anticipated and, even the coush (akin to grits) were tasty enough to eat more than a spoonful or two.

Laura’s Grand Isle Shrimp & Grits gave up plump, sweet, shell on prawns on top of a mound of stone ground grits which made me want to reconsider my strongly held decision that I hated them.

Obviously, no human could eat dessert after a meal like this although, apparently, Americans can and a menu was presented that probably involved a thousand calories just reading it let alone ordering from it. We declined

Café Adelaide is also well known for its cocktail list and offers a pairing of cocktails to go with the meal. We had already had a semi skinful by the time we arrived, so limited ourselves to one of their signature drinks each in the form of a “swizzle” and a classic Hemingway Daiquiri which brought the bill to $105 for two (about £50)

Not too bad for a meal of punchy flavours, many of which were new to me, and which was served with great verve by Laura’s pal,

Now to sleep it off until tomorrow's Po-boy/Muffeletta fest

Did I mention that I love this country?

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