Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dining Around New Orleans

The Crescent City is a haven for foodies. Although it’s renowned for Creole and Cajun, the two styles of cuisine it birthed, New Orleans has a wide array of international culinary choices. Hailing from Southern California where we have every kind of cuisine imaginable, we’ve decided to concentrate our dining on the foods that grew up here.

We choose the Cookin’ Cajun kitchen inside the Creole Delicacies gourmet store in the Riverwalk Mall for our first lunch. Chef instructor Saundra Green dishes us up some chicken and andoille sausage gumbo, red beans and rice, baked chicken, and Marti Gras salad. Cajun cooking just doesn’t get more real than this stick-to-your hips and thighs lunch. I sample the selections, but wind up with a huge plate of Marti Gras salad. Tara, who’s attending cooking school, and I try to figure out what the dressing is made of, but Saundra won’t give us a clue. She baits us by saying we have to come to a cooking class to get the recipe. Sold. I make a reservation for Thursday’s class.

Later that night a group of us from the ALEA conference head toward the French Quarter under the guidance of Tara, and discover Oliver’s Restaurant. Three generations of Arnaud Olivers run this charming Creole restaurant. I order the shrimp scampi, which I learn originated right here in the city of food. Tara, the most experimental of all of us orders the Rabbit. Now I must digress here because I’ve known Tara since she was ten. Let me tell you, this little girl was a picky eater. But then so were my two kids, Elisabeth and Jonathan. I discovered things they would eat heartily and would make them frequently. Tara loved my beef and bean burritos, so every time she was over for dinner I’d cook up some spicy ground beef, add the Rosarita refried beans, shredded cheddar jack, and roll it in a big flour tortilla. It became a standing joke that all I could cook was been and beef burritos. That Tara wound up in cooking school and is now ordering the Rabbit delights me as much as if she were my own daughter.

Wednesday night the ALEA attendees are treated to a night at The House of Blues. Our kids went out on their own for dinner and guess where they wound up? They call us from their booth in the dining room at the House of Blues to let us know the power’s out and the restaurant is dark and eerie. We’re bussed over in a drizzling rain, while lightning flashes through the dark clouds. We listen to the band do cover versions of classic R&B tunes before deciding the hors d’oeuvers are just not worth waiting in line for. We head down to the dining room and enjoy a good meal without waiting in line.

The next two nights we eat dinner in the hotel at ALEA vendor chow-downs. Hilton did well in feeding the crowd, but we’re happy when Saturday rolls around and we head down the road to Mulate’s for some Cajun cuisine. The food at Mulate’s is delish, but the atmosphere is better. A zydeco band is playing bayou music and several couples doing country swing on the dance floor. Before long a fine southern gentleman approaches our table and asks our 19-year-old daughter Elisabeth to dance. She accepts with a big California smile and he guides her to the square. She’s been country swing dancing with friends from college, so she picks up his lead and away they go.

Later he sits down with us and tells us his story. He says he’s so old he knew the Dead Sea when it was only sick. Actually, he’s 86, a New Orleans native and a Mulate’s fixture. He tells us about going through Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 and hopes he never has to go through another hurricane.

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