A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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New Orleans

July 28th, 2005

Trolley Car on Canal Street

Trolley Car on Canal Street

New Orleans, dubbed the “city of sin” during the steamboat days in the early 19th century, is a town rich in history, and filled with adventure. These days New Orleans may be best know for Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, but the city is much more than just a party town. It has some of the finest antiques in the country, magnificent architecture, transportation is still by trolley cars, and it’s world renowned for its music and food.

New Orleans, Louisiana, located at the mouth of the Mississippi River, was the second most important seaport in the United States back in 1840. This area had great wealth as its economy flourished with the shipping of cotton, sugar and coffee. And although much of the shipping was used for commerce, the steamboats were also a major form of entertainment. Although the Civil War and the introduction of railroads may have been the demise of New Orleans’ shipping industry, the city has capitalized on its history of music and entertainment, and uses these as a major draw for tourism.

Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street seem to be the cornerstone of New Orleans

House of Blues

House of Blues

tourism. Bourbon Street, located in the French Quarter is lined with bars, restaurants, strip clubs, and other small shops with touristy items like T-shirts and beads. By noon, the bars all have 3 for 1 drinks signs in their windows, and several clubs have live music playing. It’s bizarre that people are allowed to roam the streets with their drinks, and mayhem is rather typical by five in the afternoon. But if you can look past the debauchery, there is some great music playing and some excellent food to feast on. Wandering up the street one afternoon I heard a rock band playing in the Korner Bar, the music was good, the bar was packed, and the dance floor was in full swing. Either on Bourbon Street, or the streets just to the side, are dozens of great spots to hear musi. The House of Blues, Howlin’ Wolf, and Snug Harbor Bistro are just a few spots to hear jazz, rock, blues, or whatever tickles your fancy. Although I will discuss the culinary treasures of the French Quarter later, I must share a
Acme Oyster House

Acme Oyster House

treat I had one afternoon. It was hot, and I had just heard a little music on Bourbon Street, and then I saw an oasis. Yep, the Acme Oyster House on Iberville Street. This is a no frills joint, if you sit at the bar you don’t even get a plate. But to have a half dozen plump oysters from the gulf shucked before your eyes for only $3.95 is a real steal. But Bourbon Street is not the only famous street in the French Quarter.

Royal Street runs parallel to Bourbon and is famous for its antique stores. There must be two dozen stores with some of the finest French antiques and furnishings. Crystal chandeliers, hugh armoires, and many more beautiful items. While walking on Royal Street I encountered a fabulous little shop specializing in beignets, that local treat similar to a sugar donut. Cafe Beignet may be a perfect spot to refuel during antique shopping. Further east on Royal Street is Pirate’s Alley, although

Cafe Beignet

Cafe Beignet

there is no real evidence that this alley was a pirate haunt or a slave market, it is a quaint spot filled with open-air cafes. There is also the Faulkner House, where the shelves are lined with William Faulkner first editions.This area is one of the most historic regions of the city, just walk two blocks south to the famed Jackson Square.

Jackson Square is a beautiful park dedicated to Andrew Jackson for the defeat of the British at The Battle of New Orleans. In the center of the square is a magnificent statue of General Jackson, and pathways stem out from the center like spokes on a bicycle with plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the scenery. The square is an active meeting place, and around the square is a beehive of activity. There is a fence that surrounds the park where artists hang their paintings. Other artists have easels and are doing caricatures. But painters are not the only entertainers on the square’s periphery, you’ll see tarot-card readers, jazz musicians, mimes, and clowns. The buildings surrounding the park are extremely well preserved, and this may be the prettiest part of the French Quarter. St. Louis Cathedral was built in 1789 on the site of two earlier churches that were destroyed, the first by a hurricane in 1722 and the second by fire in 1788. Next door is the Cabildo, which was design is 1795, and was the capital for the Spanish colonial government. It is also where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Cafe du Monde, the first coffee shop in New Orleans, is also across the street from Jackson Square. Up the street is the restaurant Muriel’s, a two story structure with a magnificent terrace overlooking the park. This building has a lot of history, however it seems like its real claim to fame is that it’s home to 21 ghosts. You may not be superstitious, but the view from the second floor of the spectacular architecture of these old buildings overlooking the square with beautiful ornate railings and ivy streaming down from the second floor will warm your heart.

Right near Jackson Square on the Mississippi River is the Steamboat Nanchez. In the 19th century, steamboats traveled up and down the Mississippi. There were as many as thirty steamboats docked in New Orleans at one time. The Natchez is an opportunity to travel back in time, visitors can take a two hour cruise up the river or take a dinner cruise featuring live jazz music.

As you cross Canal Street leaving the French Quarter, you enter the Business District. This area is well visited by those that like to shop. Canal Place is the city’s most upscale shopping mall. There is also the Riverwalk Marketplace containing over 120 stores. Amongst the shopping malls is the massive convention center which may be the biggest magnet for visitors to New Orleans. Across the street from the convention center is the new Harrahs Casino, the newest form of entertainment in town. This section of town is bustling with people, and it has the highest concentration of hotels. The Fairmont, The Pelham, and Windsor Court may provide some of the finest accommodations, however there are dozens of choices for the budget minded traveler as well.

My favorite area of town is the Garden District. This area was originally the town of Lafayette, but after the Louisiana Purchase this area became part of New Orleans. This was the area of town where the wealthy merchants and bankers lived. It is interesting as you drive west toward the Garden District you will pass through the newly renovated Warehouse District where old warehouses and factories were transformed into chic condos, hip boutiques, and art galleries – a cutting edge bohemian feel. Reaching The Garden District you’ll be amazed how perfectly this area has been restored and maintained; it captures the the feeling of the 1800’s with magnificent mansions surrounded by beautiful gardens. As you drive west along St. Charles Street you can see many of these beautiful homes. It is interesting to note that the trolley that runs up St. Charles was the inspiration for Tennessee William’s A Streetcar

Crape Myrtle Flower

Crape Myrtle Flower

Named Desire. The architecture of these mansions is spectacular ranging in style from Greek Revival to Queen Anne. The streets are lined with dramatic old trees and every block seems to explode with pink flowers as the crape myrtle were in full bloom. The main part of the Garden District is only one square mile, bordered on the north by St Charles and on the south by Magazine Street. Magazine is an interesting destination because of its many quaint shops and boutiques. Lastly there is another destination well worth visiting, Commander’s Palace, perhaps the most famous restaurant in all of New Orleans. This was the restaurant where famed chefs Paul Prudomme and Emeril Lagasse both got their start, and it continues to attract some of the finest chefs in the country.

The cuisine of New Orleans is rather unique, a mix of cajun and creole using local ingredients like: crawfish, shrimp, oysters, okra, and andouille sausage. Some classic dishes are: gumbo, jambalaya, oysters Rockefeller, crawfish etouffee, and barbecue shrimp. A common lunch choice is a po’ boy, a massive sandwich filled with whatever you desire, although oysters are popular. But po’ boy stands are not the only deal in town, you can go to the Acme Oyster House or Mother’s. Although I have not eaten at Mother’s, it was highly recommended, and has the longest lines in town. A few other restaurants worth visiting are: Bayou with its acclaimed chef Susan Spicer, Galatoire’s a classic in the French Quarter, Mr. B’s for some excellent barbecue shrimp and gumbo ya-ya, Upperline, and Jacques Imos. I remember eating at Paul Prodomme’s restaurant K-Paul’s about 15 years ago, he was the chef that put the blackening cooking technique on the map. I had a great meal there, devouring a massive soft shell crab. After the meal I saw Paul leaving the restaurant on his scooter, a thrill for a foodie like me. Although many tout that the food is still good at K-Paul’s, I would guess that things have waned since Paul is no longer in the kitchen . A few other classic restaurants of yesteryear: Antoine’s and Brennan’s may have also lost their luster. One of the most famous chefs from New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse, has two restaurants that get high marks: Emeril’s and Nola. I can’t comment on either, too much of a “bam” factor for me to want to visit.

New Orleans is a fun town, steeped in history, and filled with entertainment. I learned some history, heard some great music, saw some impressive architecture, and ate like a pig. I had a blast and can’t wait to return.

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