NEW ORLEANS: AN UPPER LINE, SOME BOURBON AND A BIT OF A DANCE
Well no dancing. Not on my part anyway. It is a long, long time since I got down on my bad self and, as far as I am aware, my father has never had a brand new bag.
But, it is very hard not to dance in this city even if it is like the most embarrassing of uncles at a wedding. The French Quarter, where I am staying, comes alive at night with the sounds pouring from Jazz clubs and from improvised jam sessions on street corners.
As my chum, Chris, told me “if you walk through the streets of New Orleans and you don’t start dancing, you are probably dead” He never quite explained how, if I was dead, I would be walking through the streets, probably some kind of local voodoo, but I got the general idea.
More of this later. First the up to date food and drink news that I know you have all been eagerly awaiting.
Supper was planned up at a small neighbourhood joint up in The Garden District. First though, a visit to The Column Hotel, formerly a mansion owned by a tobacco magnate and most famous for being the set of the controversial film “Pretty Baby” I had been told that the bar did a decent Sazerac. It didn’t. Not a patch on the one made at The Ritz Carlton. They made it with pre-made sugar syrup instead of muddling a cube, which made it cloyingly sweet. Not nice at all.
So, slightly dispirited, I scarpered from there and meandered slowly up to my restaurant de choix, Upperline.
Now, before I had been to Austin, I had never heard of this place. But, my chums in Texas said it was a must try and they are people of impeccable taste. Further research showed that owner, Joanne Clevenger is a bit of a local legend and has been running this place for over twenty five years.
Situated in a small house, the room is small and charming as indeed is the owner who immediately showed me to a table facing the rest of the room before sitting down next to me for a bit of a chat.
What can I say. I am a bit of a one for charming ladies of a “certain age” and Joanne is, how shall I put it, a bit of a force of nature (not perhaps the best choice of words to use in New Orleans, but you know what I mean) who has travelled the globe giving her the ability to talk to me about restaurants anywhere you care to mention including her own particular favourite, St John in London.
The menu is a mix of New Orleans staples, some reinvigorated classics and one or two things that locals may consider unusual. To begin, Joanne insisted I try her signature creation, Fried Green Tomatoes with shrimp and a red remoulade. Fried green tomatoes I understand originated because local farmers had pluck abundant unripe fruit from the plants to stop the branches breaking.
My first experience of them and not bad at all, with a coating of cornmeal and corn flour being suitably crunchy. The remoulade was a good accompaniment to the small sweet shrimp.
Now, ever since my days as a student when a roasted half duck was the height of luxury, I have been a bit of a sucker when I see them on the menu which is all to rarely these days. So, when I saw a dish called Tom Cowman’s (the first chef at Upperline) Roast Duck” on the menu, I kind of glazed over and ignored the other offerings.
It came with a roasted garlic and port sauce and a ginger peach sauce both served on the side. It was like stepping back in time to day when dishes like this were not considered kitch. Slow roasted, the meat was moist and the skin crispy. The garlic sauce was deep and rich, the uber sweet peach sauce was less to my taste, but still very good.
Puddings too reminded me of a Margaret Patten cookbook, and that is not an insult. Profiteroles were chewy with a creamy filling and bread pudding was suitably dense.
Chris had told me “ you wont get the best meal of your life in New Orleans, but you will find it hard to get a bad meal and it wont cost you the earth”
Upperline is probably the kind of restaurant he meant when he said this. There is nothing here to astonish apart from the fact that the food is good, the service kind and charming and the prices reasonable. The meal with two glasses of passable but not memorable wine, came to $64 ( about £30) It is just a comfortable, place to have a tasty meal and there are far too few of those places around these days.
After supper, I headed back to the Quarter for the pre requisite stroll along Bourbon St with its piss & vomit perfume.
It is what it is, a delivery system of alcohol for Frat boys and out of towners to get pissed quickly and cheaply while dipping in and out of titty bars.
For all that, once you get away from the strip of the Quarter with neon lights and “go cups”, to the places on Frenchman St, it comes to life with local flavour as bands play and residents enjoy themselves.
I am beginning to understand what Chris meant. With honest restaurants like Upper Line and the real music of New Orleans, you would have to be dead not to enjoy yourself.