If You’re Going To Stay On Bourbon Street…

Tourists go to New Orleans to go walk down Bourbon Street with hot pink foot tall plastic cups filled with booze. You know, for the most part. So it would seem antithetical to THE ANTI TOURIST that I write about a hotel on Bourbon Street, owned by Ramada no less, right? Well, yeah, right. But here’s the thing: I did find myself at The Inn on Bourbon a few months ago and while it was a lot of things I could have predicted (always awake with the sounds of Bourbon Street just below, filled with drunks walking down the halls, etc.), there were some things I honest-to-goodness did admire about this place and it feels only right to at least share those points.

1.) This might sound silly, in fact, it is silly, but I liked the soap there so much that I (shhhh!) took a bunch home with me.
2.) The beds were OUT OF THIS WORLD. I mean, oh man. I had the pleasure of having a suite with two king beds and I slept in both just for fun.
3.) The pool in the courtyard IS in fact a fun getaway from the noise of Bourbon Street, especially in the NOLA heat.

So, if you are going to New Orleans for Bourbon Street (and really, that’s ok! It can be fun! I had fun!) alone and are looking for accommodations right ON Bourbon Street, then yes, why not, try The Inn on Bourbon Street. It was totally comfy and as welcoming as they come.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Ok, Fine, Chef John Besh Impresses Me.

I won’t claim to follow the celebrity chef/trendy restaurant/foodiesnooty thing. I don’t. I walk into places and I eat. If I like it, I might write about it. Sometimes these places wind up having celebrity chefs–sometimes they are trendy restaurants that keep foodies buzzing over glasses of horrifyingly expensive wine. So sometimes these things impress me, but the impression is made pretty organically. Without dragging this on any longer, Chef John Besh impresses me.

And yeah. He falls into that category of Really-Well-Known-Chef-Who-Everyone-Talks-About. But, you know, there’s a reason for that. I tried out Besh’s Luke and August last year and went back this year to New Orleans to try out Domenica, Besh Steak, and American Sector.

All three restaurants do very different things. Domenica does the charming Italian restaurant with great ambiance (and I had a hot date!) thing. Besh Steak does the large, plush restaurant in the casino with, quite obviously, fantastic steak thing. American Sector does the Goddamnit, we’re Americans and this is our delicious fried food (in the museum) thing.

The pizza and meatballs at Domenica will bring me back there again next time. So will the perfectly assembled chandeliers. The steak from Besh Steak contributed to my birthday night being, literally, the best birthday ever. The sliders at American Sector give people a new reason to visit the World War II museum in NOLA.

So, ok, John Besh. You get my nod. But just know this: You’re getting it because you’re fucking good, not because I heard people saying you are.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Soniat House: A New Orleans Throwback

The Soniat House in New Orleans isn’t like a hotel at all. Nor is it like an inn or a bed and breakfast. What it is like is stepping back to turn-of-the-century New Orleans and visiting your very wealthy aunt at her estate. You knock gently on the thick front door that meets the East Quarter street and wait under the light of the lanterns for your warm welcome into her home. Once the door swings open and you kiss her hello, you drag your bags along the stone-paved and candle-lit corridor behind her. She escorts you past the flourishing courtyard in the center of her home on the way to your room.

Each room at Soniat House is the way I imagine rooms in old Southern mansions would have been—varying in décor from room to room, but woven tightly together with a common thread of eloquence and class. This is where Auntie Rose leaves you, but not without showing you around the room first. She pulls open the closet doors to show you spare linens, towels, and bathrobes. She carefully lights the fireplace so that you won’t have to hassle with it yourself. She grins as she shows you the Jacuzzi tub and leaves the television remote on your bedside table while instructing you to spend your free time outside. Before she kisses you goodnight, she subtly insists that you join everyone in the house for breakfast in the courtyard—a signature wake-you-up-the-right-way course of freshly made biscuits, jam, juice, and chicory.

Soniat House is just like this—minus the wealthy aunt part. It’s unlike any other place I have stayed; exuding unmistakable grace and impeccable style all while transporting you to an older New Orleans—a fantasy well-played in such a quiet and residential section of the city. But within a few blocks you’ll feel right at home with the notorious French Quarter you hear stories about, but not without the luxury of tipsily tapping your way back to your old-style room, engulfed in mystery and charm so thick you could choke on it.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward

GW FINS–Perhaps the best seafood. Period.

In the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans, a fabulous restaurant called GW Fins is tucked away on Bienville Street. Their cocktails are some of the best in the area (I only say ‘some of the’ to be safe, but they are, by far, the best cocktails I had while in New Orleans) and their food is the kind of stuff you hope to get each time you dine out. Their staff is warm and welcoming, their chef, Tenney Flynn, is talented and charming–and nothing short of an expert taste creator, and their windows are wide and romantic–providing views onto the street that are entertaining through a meal.

I tried just about everything my stomach could hold while at Fins. I initially went in only for appetizers and cocktails, but found myself so pleased with the quality of their food that I left the restaurant unbearably full–with no room for dinner.

On a recommendation, I made sure to try the lobster dumplings. White fish and lobster mousseline, shaved fennel, tomato concasse, and lobster butter make up these delicious dumplings that you can’t ignore should you find yourself dining out in the French Quarter. But the lobster dumplings were only the beginning. Order the Smoking Sizzling Oysters and you won’t be let down. Our waiters brought them over to us, proudly, as the huge oysters literally sizzled on a bed of salt. With a steak-like consistency, I already know this is going to be a dish I’ll be trying (repeatedly) to recreate myself from here on out. Chances are strong that I’ll fail. Miserably.

The Bigeye Tuna Tartare and Sashimi comes with wasabi vinaigrette and crispy wontons. As is my tendency, I dabbed on so much wasabi that my eyes watered when trying this tasty appetizer, but hey, I wasn’t complaining. The tuna might as well have melted in my mouth, so seeing clearly wasn’t my first order of business at the moment.

The Chilean Seabass was likely the favorite dish of both myself and my friend dining out with me. It came to us braised in a hot and sour shrimp stock with Enoki mushrooms, baby bok choy, and sauteed spinach. The dish was…how do I put this…FLAWLESS. The fish was cooked absolutely perfectly and gave us both a newfound appreciation for Chilean Seabass–probably because no one had ever done it quite as right as Fins did.

Although the Chilean Seabass took home the prize for best entree at Fins, the Wood Grilled Pompano was most certainly good–served alongside fresh artichokes, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, roasted eggplant, and saffron cous cous.

We had shrimp in a chipotle sauce that was smokey and buttery and thoroughly worth your buck when you’re in New Orleans.

Trust me, New Orleans is a food town, yes, but a lot of restaurants just don’t get it. Fins GETS IT and they get it perfectly. Do yourself a favor while you’re there. Try the Raspberry Lemonade and Espresso Martinis. They’re what dreams are made of. And for dessert? Have the Apple Pie. It’s freshly baked with a cheese straw top and served with ice cream. As I sit here writing about Fins, thinking fondly back on my dining experience, I’m sad. I’m sad because I know that most restaurants can’t live up to the standard Fins has now set for me.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Photos from: http://www.dkimages.com/discover/previews/1411/11288701.JPG

Tujague’s in New Orleans: A history lesson and delicious meal in one.

This peculiar thing happens to me each time I travel south: I suddenly feel more connected with the history of the US than I do when north. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I know. After all, many of the first colonies settled in the US are in the north and even my hometown in Ohio is rich with Native American culture and restaurants with names like ‘First Settlement’. But something about the south is spooky and telling and mystic to me. Be it the voodoo or Baptist churches sprawled along dirt roads, I am not sure, but when I am down there, I have an insatiable longing to dive as deep into history as possible.

When in New Orleans, there are a couple restaurants, I hear, where this can be done. But Tujague’s tops the list for me.

Tujague’s is New Orleans’ second oldest restaurant. Pitched right on Decatur street, the restaurant has stood, untouched by the likes of floods or war, since 1856. And the minute you step foot into this place–you can tell. There’s a certain musty air to Tujague’s–one that accompanies a history so thick it seeps through the cracks of the wood-panneling on the walls, which are decorated with framed pictures that have been signed by celebrities, a chef’s apron from 1936, rusting silverware, and a large clock with browning paper beneath the still-twitching hands. Quintessentially old southern liquor bottles sit on framed shelves amidst the decor madness and the large, rectangular room, is filled like a dining hall with 4-seater tables, draped in white-cloth.

And the warm, soulful history of New Orleans doesn’t stop showing itself at Tujague’s there.

Tujague’s offers one kind of dinner and one kind of dinner only: a full one. You will not, cannot, leave this restaurant hungry. Or dissatisfied. Because everything they serve here is not only traditionally Creole, but it is all delicious.

You’ll start off with an appetizer–Shrimp Remoulade. And it is perfect. This will be followed by Soup Du Jour–for which I had gumbo–and it was everything I could ever expect from a gumbo, and I mean that in the best way possible. This will be paired with the house speciality–the brisket of beef. They don’t call it their speciality for nothing. I eat beef extremely rarely and this beef made my mouth water. It could nearly stop any vegetarian dead in their tracks. As the tradition of the restaurant goes, you’ll be offered one of four special entrees, and I doubt you’ll be unhappy with any of them, although I only tried one: The Crawfish. I couldn’t have been more pleased with my selection, either. And just when I’d thought I’d had enough, the ever-charming waiters brought out coffee (in a glass, which I deemed a nice touch) and dessert.

Tujague’s was new to me when I stepped through the doors, but it’s a classic New Orleans staple to most others. I overheard one guest boasting to his fellow-diners how they were “In for a treat” with Tujague’s while another comfortably tossed me Mardi Gras beads as I enjoyed my Fresh Cap bread. And it’s true. Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower have all dined in that very same old, haunting room.

And if you’re in New Orleans, you’d better, too.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Luke: New Orleans.

If I owned my own restaurant, I’d care about my ingredients. (Or so I’d like to think). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or, well, even a professional chef, to know that the upbringing of livestock and produce plays a key role in every intricate aspect of a delicious meal. The peculiar tastes your tongue starts to detect after years of eating out at mediocre restaurants are normally honed to a broadened, but bland array of flavors. So when you finally bite into that fresh, locally-caught crab meat or baby turnip plucked especially by the chief chef himself before hitting maturity, you know you’ve sunk your teeth into something unordinary–something that was, as generic as it sounds, made with love. When in New Orleans, you can relish in tastes like these. It’s a city of soul and soulful food will make your mouth water faster than anything soulless–that’s one thing I’ve discovered through my journeys that I hardly think can be debated.

Wild singing and dancing filled the street of St. Charles Avenue as a parade passed by and I tried to figure out just how one goes about crossing a street during a Mardi Gras parade. (As it turns out, the police unlock the gates every 15-30 minutes during parades to let the drunken Mardi Gras-ers parade themselves like cattle to the other side of a street). My destination, Luke, was across the street at 333 St. Charles Avenue. And when I broke free of the heavily-packed flow of people, I made my way into the restaurant.

Luke is a diner and old-south-inspired restaurant with an elegant, and thoroughly tasty, menu. A bed of freshly caught seafood chills over ice behind the hostess’ podium and two-panel pseudo-rusted fans spin above the boisterous crowd below. The seating on the first floor presents customers with a glimpse of the Big Easy’s famous St. Charles Avenue, but the second floor is where I dined and where I recommend you do, too. Just a few steps up from the main floor sits a dining area where the center of attention is, naturally, the hard-working chefs just beyond the glass walls of the kitchen. Although it makes for a drooling, annoyingly impatient mouth, there’s something charming about watching your food cooked before you, and there’s something even more charming about being served by people who are passionate about the food.

I had the pleasure of having several waiters, all of whom were well-versed in the history of the food. Yes, I mean it: the ‘history’ of the food. Luke is one of four John Besh restaurants in New Orleans. All four restaurants grow their own produce and raise their own livestock on a farm in La Provence, just outside of Covington–about 45 minutes from New Orleans. Everything raised and grown from their personal farm is done so organically–without a single hormone injection or pesticide. Some of the animals are even fed with leftover bread from the restaurants. And if the food doesn’t come from their own farm, they make sure to buy it fresh from local farmers–making a point to strengthen and support New Orleans farmers at every possible opportunity.

I started off by trying a little bit of each appetizer. As someone who doesn’t regularly eat meat, I expect it to be good when I do eat it. My friend and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, after simultaneously spreading the rabbit pate on our sweet bread. It was jaw-dropping delicious. The pickled watermelon was next, leaving a sweet and sour aftertaste absolutely worth trying. Tiny house-made pickles decorated our cutting board filled with other samples like marmalade, hog’s head cheese with radish, stone-ground mustard, duck livers and Louisiana rabbit pates, and a pate de campagne of wild boar topped with gelee (which is code for pate of the cheek of a wild boar, topped with Jell-O version of Vitamin water). We paired our appetizers with the Champagne Au Peche and it sizzled the way a fruity champagne should–in my mouth.

With a nod of approval from the waiter, we ordered Louisiana Redfish meuniere with crab and roasted vegetables for our entree. Baby turnips and green beans stood next to our impressive entrees and our potatoes were replaced with the famous house-made french fries served here. (I say ‘famous’ for no reason other than the fact that they are pictured on their site’s main page. That’s all the evidence I need to deem something famous).

The redfish was crusted flawlessly and topped with big chunks of crab–an undeniably perfect meal. Just when I was sure we’d had enough, we ended up opting for dessert. While waiting for dessert, holding our stomachs in hedonistic agony, we were sipping on new savory beverages: The Bloody Mary and the French 75 (a lemon juice, Cognac, and champagne concoction). Both were grade A, and considering we’re both seasoned drinkers, alcohol connoisseurs, if you will, I say our grading system is law.

Dessert was every good feeling you’ve ever had packed into a tasty treat. We had Brendan’s Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice ream and a hot buttered pecan sauce and “Gateau Basque”–a vanilla cake with seasonal fruit and creme fraiche. They were comforting. They melted in our mouths. They were decadent. And they were in our to-go boxes when we couldn’t take another bite.

As I prepared to leave the restaurant, I stopped to take a picture of the gigantic photographs on canvas decorating the walls of Luke. Black and white images from New Orleans-past ornament the walls of Luke and, like everything else involved in the decor of this restaurant–it works. Wonderfully.

Would I recommend Luke? Yes. Hell yes. Even if this place didn’t have food, I’d recommend it for the sole purpose of mingling with the highly entertaining staff.

While in New Orleans, I also had a chance to check out one of the other four John Besh restaurants, August, and would also recommend it to anyone looking for an impressive classy chandelier-clad, fine-dining experience. Especially if shrimp and asparagus soup sounds good to you–because theirs was nothing short of phenomenal.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Jamila’s- a Diamond in the Garden District.

Tucked away in the Garden District of New Orleans, on an unexpecting residential block amidst centuries old antibellum mansions, lays Jamila’s- one of my all time favorite restaurants of all cities I’ve visited (thus far). A Tunisian treasure, operated by Tunisian husband and wife: Muncif and Jamila, the overall experience is enchanting.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tunisia, it is a North African country, next door to Lybia and Algeria, and residing on the Mediterranean Sea, so the cuisine is very much Mediterranean, serving traditional dishes with ingredients such as couscous, lamb, fish and seafood, and an array of vegetables, all of which is handcrafted by Jamila in traditional preparation- including cooking the meats in clay pots. Continue reading