Culinary Fireworks in the Big Easy (Part 2)

July 4th Weekend, 2015

GBRB Takes a New Orleans Holiday

Day three was also the 4th of July. We got up late, and decided to skip breakfast again. For lunch, Em and Bianca went to Cochon (not Butcher), to meet some people, so Mel and I went back uptown to celebrate America with some of the world's best fried chicken. Willie Mae's Grocery and Deli was our destination. It's a spinoff of the famous W.M. Scotch House in the Treme' neighborhood, long the subject of "best fried chicken" arguments (Her's is currently my favorite, but the rest of the "top five" in NOLA are pretty amazing too). Chicken

The chicken did not disappoint, but the sides (especially the green beans) left something to be desired. I let Mel pick, but next time I'll insist on the butter beans, which are much tastier (Fun fact: all of W.M.'s sides are vegetarian, but you'll never believe it when you try the butter beans).

After lunch, we wandered down to the FQ's famous French Market to buy some candles and meet the girls. I'm not a big fan of the Market, with its claustrophobic aisles, disposable souvenirs, and teeming tourists. But it's where the candles are, so OK. On this July 4, it had to be >95*, and it was packed. The girls wanted to look around, so I posted up in the shade with a refreshing pineapple snowball near a middle-school aged brass band and relaxed. Could be worse, right? Then it was back to the house for beers and relaxation (read: Naps).

The evening's plans called for food and fireworks, but many places were closed for the holiday. We settled on Mariza in the Bywater. This is a hip, high-cuisine restaurant that inexplicably doesn't take reservations, but it wasn't busy when we arrived around 7, and they sat us immediately. I tucked into the cocktail menu forthwith, and was pleased with all four (?), though again, I didn't take notes, so I can't describe them.

The food, I can describe. We started with a trio of cold plates: the cheese plate, meat plate, and one of the night's (five!) specials, a cured fish plate. The latter was my favorite of the three, though all the portions were a tad on the stingy side. All the selections were thoughtful and delicious, however, and there was abundant accoutrement of olives, jams, nuts, etc. For our second course, we tried the pepperoni soup, which I highly recommended based on two previous visits. This time, however, it was a completely different dish from what I remembered, with none of the saltiness I appreciated before, and completely different meat. It wasn't bad, but it didn't meet my expectations. We noticed that time was getting away from us a bit, so we moved on to mains, selecting the whole fish of the day and the duck ragout pappardelle. The fish was Drum again, slowly baked in paper to soften the inside, then finished with a pan-sear to crisp up the outside. The technique was well executed, and we picked that little fish clean. It could've done with a bit more seasoning, however, so I added a pinch or two of the coarse sea salt they'd thoughtfully provided. The duck pasta was pretty good as well, but also needed salt. Perhaps Mariza is worried about our health?

We left the restaurant much later than we'd intended, so we screwed up our plan to get down to the riverfront for the fireworks. We love the fireworks here (both for the 4th and NYE), so this was a major let down, but I kept my spirits up with, well, spirits. We partied into the morning on Frenchmen again.

Sunday morning the girls went deep into the FQ for beignets at Cafe Beignet (which I maintain is superior to the more famous Cafe Du Monde in every way). We went back to The Ruby Slipper, because our other favorite breakfast spot, the excellent Marigny favorite Cake Cafe & Bakery was closed. We had the corned beef bennie again, this time accompanied by the bar special d'jour: a bacon-infused bloody.

Mel wanted to do some shopping in the afternoon, so we dropped her off near the riverside mall, and the girls and I drove into the FQ. Unbelievably, we found a clutch parking spot right on Charters near Kingfish. This is another of my favorite cocktail spots, though it's on the pricey side, being in the FQ. Em and I each got Mint Juleps, which they make with about a cup of fresh mint, a dash of simple, and about 4-oz of Maker's Mark all crammed into a tall-glass stuffed with hand-hammered ice. Bianca got their extraordinary Pimm's Cup-- the best in the city. I got one myself, in plastic, to take with me.

We had reservations (though they were hardly necessary) for a late lunch at Mel's absolute favorite: the Vietnamese-Creole fusion gem Mopho. We started with 2 orders of the absolutely ridiculous crispy chicken wings. They're prepared a la confit with a rich lemongrass and ginger glaze. This M's favorite dish in the whole damn city, and it was hard to argue with her while eating them.
wings For Mains, Mel and I ordered up custom Pho. The pho here is truly beautiful, with an almost floral broth (available as beef, chicken, or veg.) that compliments your choice of high-end additions.
She chose grilled greens, crispy shallots, oxtail, and ribeye. Mine was identical, with the addition of a slow-poached egg. She prefered to enjoy hers mostly unadulterated, whilst I pitched in the obligatory sriracha, hoisin, lime, sprouts, and herbs. This pho, while not exactly traditional, might be my favorite in the world.

Bianca ordered a salad, which sounded good, but she didn't care for it. They happily took it back and deleted it from our bill. We also got a third round of wings, and I had a a couple of cocktails: the "tamarind sour," a perennial favorite made with Rye, and, believe it or not, a bobba Old Fashioned. I'm not a big "bobba-guy," and I've never had one with booze before, but this was pretty damn good. Mind = opened.

We had some more drinks in the evening, before winding up at another favorite of mine for a midnight dinner: Dat Dog on Frenchmen. It's the perfect place to hit up when your stomach starts growling in the middle of a late-night club crawl (they're open until 3am Friday and Saturday). Bliss

Good advice. I got my usual: the Bacon Werewolf, which is one of their amazing pork dogs topped with bacon, kraut, onions, and secret sauce. The duck sausage and crawfish dogs are out of this world too, and the drinks aren't that expensive either.

After our "pig out" (sorry), we made one final trip to the Frenchmen Art market, where I bought Melissa a cool necklace to remember the trip by. Sadly, this was our last night out in our favorite city.


Monday morning came early for Em and Bianca. And me, since I dropped them off at the airport at 5:10am, before returning to bed. When we did finally arise, we tried to hit Mondo for lunch, which would've been a second new restaurant for us. Sadly, Susan Spicer and Co. were away for a mini vacation. They were due to reopen the very next day. Drat. Next time.

We wound up back down in the CBD having lunch at Root, a place we'd had dinner once before (on that previous occasion, I'd liked it, but felt like we ordered the wrong mains). It seemed a bit strange that they were open for lunch on a Monday at all-- we appeared to be their first and only guests-- but we weren't going to argue. And wow, did they deliver.

I asked M, as I eyed the incredible charcuterie selection (available a la carte for $10 each, or in a chef's choice tasting for $55), "so, uh..., how serious are we getting here?" I was hoping she was down to get seriously serious, but she said "let's keep it under $100," which meant charcuterie was off the table. Oh well; that's just one more reason to come back. My disappointment was short-lived, however. We began with a lovely roasted beet salad, that was sophisticated and rich, thanks to the blu cheese, sunflower puree, and sweet potato hay on top.
Beets Next we got the "Sweat tea country fried wings."
Wings Those were really nice. Super-crispy and salty, and accompanied by fluffy butterscotch mini-biscuits with a fancy compound butter, and a smoked onion buttermilk dipping sauce. I thought it a completely successful elevation of traditional Southern fare (which is rare, in my experience).

Then we ordered one of their signature items: the Crispy Pig Ear & Warm Giardiniere Salad.

Pig Ear This one is a puzzle to behold, but I assure you, it's delicious. The crisp pig ear crackles agreeably when you bite it, but other textures abound, and the salt is balanced nicely with both sweet and acid notes. The dark-colored lacy substance you see in the picture is a brioche that they dye with squid ink and toast-- this is the one element of the dish that Mel didn't care for, but I liked having the subtle sweetness of the ink in the mix.

For our final dish we ordered a humble sandwich... that completely overwhelmed me in the best possible way. Bow down, all ye lesser combinations of bread and meats: the Smoked Veal Pastrami Sandwich is before you!

OK, it just looks like a sandwich in the picture, but seriously you guys... I can't even... sigh. It was extremely rich (Mel handed me half of her half, which I was super excited about, but still could barely finish), but everything worked so well. The duck was tender, smoky, and flavorful. The melted gruyere and pickled rutabaga remoulade brought creamy and tangy notes, respectively, and the honey fennel choucroute gave it some texture and further deepened the flavor profile. What an amazing goodbye from New Orleans.

But wait! Since we were already in the CBD, we took the oppertunity to ease the blow of our departure by grabbing sandwiches to go from the previously mentioned Cochon Butcher.
To Geaux

I actually tucked into my Cochon Muffaletta while starting to compose "part 1" of this trip write-up. As much as I love that sandwich, I have to say that 24 hours in the fridge doesn't do the bread any favors. The meats, however, are as nice as the day they were smoked.

So that's that. Another too-short excursion to our favorite city, and another five pounds of padding on your author.

Thanks for reading!

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