Monday, July 30, 2012

New Orleans - The Music

There's nothing quite like the sounds of New Orleans. Having developed quite the obsession with jazz over the past few years (my favorite Pandora station is Louis Armstrong), it was very thrilling to hear it live, where it came from, where it should be heard. I danced a lot, got chills from the extended wails of trumpets, I got teary-eyed from the soulfulness of it all. When can I go back?

Just what I needed. Our first night strolling the Quarter we came upon these street musicians; one violin, one guitar, and one trombone. What were they playing? Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and it was awesome!

Chuck Perkins and Voices of the Big Easy performed at one of our receptions and they were incredible! The Mardi Gras Indian was beautiful. Chuck Perkins is an amazing poet; his poem, New Orleans gives me chills every time.

This Dave Matthews artwork is located on the walls of Jimmy J's Cafe (yum). I almost bought it but their credit card machine was down. Hearing all the jazz in the city reminded me of some of DMB's music. Love them!

Our trip to Algiers led us to a quaint pub featuring live music by Some Like It Hot. This female-led jazz band was one of my favorites! She rocked it!

These guys provided some fabulous music during our visit to Cafe du Monde. The guitar player just randomly came up and joined them. 

By far, my favorite night, favorite moment, favorite memory of New Orleans was my experience at Vaughan's Lounge. It's a low-down, dusty, hot, tiny shanty bar in the Bywater neighborhood that features legendary jazz trumpet player Kermit Ruffins every Thursday. We danced, we sang, we sweated like crazy, squished up against the crowd, and drank ice cold beers. It was exactly what I wanted to experience in New Orleans. We even got our picture with him! Thank you Kermit!

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Orleans - Garden District

During my trip to New Orleans, I visited the Garden District for the first time. The neighborhood was quiet as we strolled through, "ooo-ing and ahhh-ing" over the beautiful colors on the homes, intricate iron work, and sheer history of it all. Then we stumbled upon the cemetery. Some graves were from the 1700s and were filled with family members up through today. It was beautiful, eerie, and humbling all at once. The trees were incredible, and yes, I hugged one, say what you will. I was mesmerized by the beads that hung in some of them. When where they tossed there? By whom? How long have they been there? Roots tear through the concrete everywhere, a fight between nature and modern architecture. Magazine street was lined with quirky cafes, cute shops, and inviting bars. I will definitely spend more time in the Garden District on my next visit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Orleans - Cityshots

I was very fortunate to be on the 49th floor of the Sheraton New Orleans; floor to ceiling windows overlooked the city with a view that stretched all the way to the Gulf. It's a beautiful city, bustling and twinkling at night. The Algiers ferry provided a great view of the cityline from afar, and I never got sick of the amazing balconies in the French Quarter (some day, I will rent one). The giant banana trees in the Quarter are massive and some actually had bananas! Music, lights, movement, color! Ahhh New Orleans!

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Orleans - The Food, Part 2

And the New Orleans food adventure continues! Per our server's recommendation at Borgne, we decided to head to Domenica Sunday evening. It's located in the beautiful historic Roosevelt Hotel and has a FABULOUS happy hour: half off drinks and pizza from 3 - 6. The pizza and the company were amazing!
The Adventures of Valocrat

Yes, I started a meal of pizza and beer off with bread. But this bread...OMG. It couldn't get any better. I had the margherita pizza and shared a side of Brussels sprouts with my friend. She had the roasted eggplant and veggie pizza. All were divine. I mean this is the best pizza I've had since Seattle's Serious Pie and that is one SERIOUS statement coming from me. It's perfectly thin, the sauce is heaven, and even better, they deliver within a one mile radius of the restaurant. So yes, I'll admit, I had it twice. Oh, but it gets better!

When our meal was coming to a close we got a big surprise...Mark Wahlberg walked in! And he was seated right behind us! He was with his children though so it just didn't feel right to say anything or ask for a picture. However I considered three options: (1) Ask HIM to take a group photo of US [hehe] (2) Write Mark 4 Eva on my stomach and flash it to him [Fear fans anyone?] or (3) Casually stroll up and say, "Tell ya mutha I said hello!" [from an SNL skit]. But alas, I did none of the above. I did manage to snag a pic of him ordering...

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Orleans - The Food, Part 1

New Orleans may be my favorite city so far in life. There's something alive about it. The history, the live jazz music echoing through the streets of the French Quarter, the colors, the FOOD, the people and their friendly laid back style...I could go on and on. Because I worked from about 7:30 am - 7 pm most days, my time and proximity were limited to the French Quarter, Garden District, and the Bywater. That said, these are ideal locations to be limited to! Because I took so many photos, I've decided to break them up into several posts. Hope you enjoy! Of course, I'm starting with my food experience...

The Adventures of Valocrat
My first evening was spent at John Besh's Borgne (please excuse the blurry iPhone pics). Chef Besh did not disappoint! We started off with the Creamy Canary Island Goat Cheese A La Plancha Sauce "Mojo Verde" -- WOW. It was so delicious. We ended up dipping the amazing Borgne bread in it! For my entree I had the 10-clove Garlic Louisiana White Shrimp (with potatoes and roasted red peppers). And yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. My friends had the Fried Soft Shell Crabs with Lemon Grits that melted in my mouth. Luckily, everyone shared a bite! It was a great start to New Orleans fare.
Sunday morning we headed to Stanley Cafe in Jackson Square in the French Quarter. For me it was all about ambiance at this place. High ceilings with cooling fans, vintage tile, and lots of mahogany (said in Ron Burgundy voice). The potatoes were fried in bacon fat so those were out for me (bummer) but they serve a mean mimosa!
Monday brought lunch at Johnny's Po-Boys. I'd seen it on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and HAD to get my hands on a shrimp po-boy. It is definitely a dive, but the po-boy was perfection. That evening we had a scrumptious dinner at the Palace Cafe...NOTHING tops their made-by-tableside bananas foster!
By Tuesday I was feeling rather "overindulged" with delicious hearty food. I discovered it's rather difficult to find healthy and vegetarian/vegan food in the French Quarter area. After some internet research, I discovered Merchant, a fabulous coffee/soup/panini cafe with delicious vegan options! A giant arugula salad with roasted tomatoes and THE BEST mushroom soup I've had since the Greenbrier Resort really hit the spot. I came back here twice to eat!
Thursday we headed for Bayona, headed by chef Susan Spicer. While dinner is quite expensive, the lunch is pretty reasonable...although be prepared for a long service, it's quite slow. For a starter we tried the Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms in Madeira Cream. Wow, I wish I'd ordered this plus a salad for my meal. It was exquisite! I had Drum (fish) with Mussels and Lentils for my entree and honestly it was just OK. My friends had Scallops in a Spicy Peanut Sauce that was delicious! While this meal was good, it wasn't my favorite in New Orleans. I'm glad I didn't go for dinner!

In order from top to bottom:
(1) A new favorite wine, the Drylands Sauvignon Blanc, it's fruity, crisp, and light, the perfect summer wine!
(2) A delicious display of goodies at sweetshop Sucre in the Garden District. I had a cup of triple chocolate gelato...oh yeah. 
(3) Sobou, the new restaurant at the W Hotel French Quarter, opened the Monday we were there. It's a very trendy little spot, which I expect from the W Hotel. I had this delicious fig salad with spicy marinated yellow carrots.
(4) Last but not least, you cannot leave New Orleans without having a fresh beignet at Cafe du Monde...perfection!