It’s been 2191 days since Katrina changed our lives forever. Back in early 2005, New Orleans was on an upswing in almost every facet imaginable. One of those facets was the historical highs we were seeing in tourism.
Six years later, we are seeing folks from all over the world return to our city in droves. We are now reaching those pre-k highs, and blowing them out of the water. In the next 18 months, we will yet again show the world how a first rate city handles events like The Men’s Final Four, The 2013 Super Bowl, as well as our annual Mardi Gras all one after the other.
For me, when I leave New Orleans, I’m sort of thrilled to be getting away and experiencing my destination and all it has to offer. Like clockwork, within 48 hours, I catch myself daydreaming about the smells, the tastes, the people, and just about every bit and piece of home. No matter how many breathtaking places I visit and great folks I meet, there will never be another New Orleans.
Every human being I talk to about New Orleans absolutely loves it without hesitation. I’ve always taken our tourists for granted, mostly thinking of them as a necessary evil. Y’all don’t throw stones just yet. I certainly appreciate their devotion to our city and the inability to resist the magnetism of NOLA.
With that said, in collboration with The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, and inspired by their “Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown”, I hit the streets for a few days as a bonafide tourist in the city I love more than anything. Here’s how my wanderlust staycation played out.
THE HOTEL MONTLEONE
In my opinion, historically, there’s no other New Orleans hotel more regal in stature than The Hotel Montleone. Of all the historical properties around town, or even in the French Quarter, The Montleone is New Orleans. From the moment I stepped through their storied doors, I was met with comfort and enthusiasm from the staff, and was very well taken care of. For the most part, as a tourist in other cities, I don’t ask for much or for that matter need much. I always had fresh towels and toiletries, never waited more than a few minutes for my vehicle when I needed it, and the high speed wireless internet was a huge plus.
Above all else, the hotel itself is breathtaking. From the ornate exterior to the unique Carousel Bar, as well as the rooftop pool & patio, It could not be any more illuminating. I truly could have spent 1/2 a day photographing just the intricate details in and around the property.
One of the highlights for me was to end my nights in the Carousel Bar located in the hotel’s lobby. Besides having the best Pimm’s Cup I’ve ever had, the staff is welcoming and engaging. Besides, who could resist the signature Zapp’s “Crawtator” chips they serve at the main bar.
I loved the history and the uniqueness of the hotel and would certainly recommend it to anyone visiting the city. To learn more about the history of the hotel, visit this link.
Breakfast & Spa Treatment at The Ritz
I checked into The Montleone Hotel Sunday evening and hit the town running. I’ll have to admit that I hit the town a little too hard, and after a handful of the best Pimm’s cups ever in The Carousel Bar, it lead to a bit of a hangover the next morning. I stumbled down Canal Street in a zombie like fashion to The Ritz for breakfast in their stunning M Bistro.
With new Executive Chef Vinny Russo at the helm, things were bound to be breathtaking. I’ve had some great meals at the M Bistro, but for this meal I was looking forward to what new Chef de Cuisine, Emily Dillport had up her sleeves. I’ve heard around town that her new breakfast/lunch offerings were second to none, and since my head was pounding, I was in need of some serious grub and several au laits.
Emily graciously started us off with “The New Orleans Breakfast Hash Shredded Yukon Gold potatoes, crispy Andouille sausage, Holy Trinity, one poached free range organic egg, cayenne hollandaise” which instantly fell to the bottom of my stomach and quickly got the blood pumping. Dainty and uber rich, the hash blew me away with it’s texture, simple ingredients, and complex flavors. My hangover was well on it’s way to not being stuck on stupid.
Next up was their stunningly delicious Bananas Foster French Toast. At the base of this decadent dish is their house made brioche bread, topped with a perfectly executed fosters brulee sauce and freshly cut bananas. Just fantastically dense and perfectly sweet.
Just when I thought I couldn’t fit anything else, my second wind swept me away and the final course of the morning arrived, their signature steak and eggs. Now this is no Denny’s Grand Slam or Ihop meal ordered from a laminated menu, it’s a carnivore’s dream. An insanely fresh fried egg laid comfortably atop a stack of colorful potatoes, and placed next to a 7oz NY Strip cooked perfectly medium. Digging in would be an understatement. With the meaty goodness in front of me, I couldn’t help but to channel the spirit of Fred Flinstone and get to it.
After my second Au Lait and my stomach full of goodness, my hangover became the jealous pushover sibling of it’s sister pure happiness.
Life was about to get even harder as I walked over to the men’s spa for my “Marie Laveau Love Massage”. I donned a plush Ritz robe and headed down the hall to the voodoo priestess’s room of love and proceeded to be relaxed. The combination of southing background music, insence and oils, and the constant removal of tension the massage provided, made wanted to book another appointment instantly. I did find out, *wink *wink, that locals receive a 20% discount Monday – Thursday and is considered to be one of Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Spas in North America. Feeling revived and renewed, I was ready to attack the rest of the day.
921 Canal Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
PH : 504.524.1331
Lunch : Napoleon House
After walking up and down Canal Street people watching and ducking in and out of the shops along the way, I figured it was time for lunch. The steam breakfast had provided was fading fast and what better way to replenish than with lunch at The Napoleon House. Serving classic New Orleans fair since 1914, The Napolean House is a spot I’ve always wanted to visit. I walked in and was instantly ported back to the early 1900′s, where it seems nothing has ever changed within their walls.
I grabbed a seat outside in their courtyard and proceeded to order one of my favorite sammiches, the Pastrami po-boy. The Pimm’s cup that accompanied my po-boy although fantastic, was a close second to the one’s I devoured the night before. All in all, the po-boy bread was hot, light, and crispy, with thin sliced pastrami covered in provolone cheese and topped with mayo and lettuce. Can’t go wrong with such a thing. Classic and delicious po-boy.
Old New Orleans Rum Tour
The combination of breakfast and lunch caused me to head back to the hotel and take a power nap. Curtains pulled and A/C blasting, I slept for an hour or so before I headed over to tour The Old New Orleans Rum base of operations. Founded by famed New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos, Old New Orleans Rum offers 4 different types of rum from their standard silver to their limited edition 10 year aged rum.
The tour was packed with folks and our guide kept us highly entertained and informed. I had no idea there was so much that went into the distillation and production of rum and to have one located in NOLA is certainly natural. Old New Orleans Rum is now offering complimentary transportation from around the city featuring tour guide Bob Songy. Weekdays only.
2815 Frenchmen Street
New Orleans, LA 70122
PH : 504.945.9400
Dinner: Bourbon House
I had always heard great things about Bourbon House, but had failed to make it in. Located towards the Canal Street side of Bourbon Street, Bourbon House is one of the premier properties within the Dickie Brennan’s stable of restaurants. Bourbon House prides themselves on offering some of the freshest local seafood from sea to table.
I can’t tell you just how impressed I was just walking in. I’m not sure what my expectations were, but they were blown out of the water with some of the best seafood and all around service I’ve had in quite some time. My friend and I started out with some cocktails and champagne shortly followed by a small yet succulent rangoon like starter.
Service was brisk and timely especially when it came to our next course, their specialty “Plateaux De Fruits De Mer” which included :
A selection of fresh shucked oysters on the half-shell with local caviar, boiled Gulf shrimp, mussels, marinated crab fingers & seasonal seafood salads. I doubt that it could have been any fresher than what was sitting in front of us. A few minutes passed after we were done and the short repreave was interrupted by one of the best ceasar salads I’ve ever had.
Our main courses arrived and I didn’t think it could get any better. Until I took my first bite of the Grilled Pompano white beans, pancetta croutons, basil, spinach, tomato Leidenheimer French bread and charred tomato emulsion. Such bold flavors working seemlessly together highlighted by pancetta and finished off by the charred tomatoes. Just divine.
My friend wisely chose the Redfish on the Halfshell new potatoes, balsamic glazed red onion, lemon butter, which even though I didn’t get a chance to sample, looked equally as good as the pompano. In hindsight, I should have snagged one of those new potatoes.
To top it all off, the dessert arrived, and with just enough room left over, we were able to sip our brandy milk punch, and nibble on a trio of desserts that included :
New Roads Pecan Pie local pecans, vanilla bean gelato, caramel sauce, praline | Bananas Foster Icebox Tart New Orleans Rum gelato, cinnamon crème anglaise | Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding milk and dark chocolate, bourbon sauce.
Entertainment : Preservation Hall
To top the night off, we strolled down St. Peter Street to Preservation hall. Shamefully I’d never been to PH, but after seeing such a spectacle, it’s hard not to be inspired by the history and significance it provides. Here’s some background on the hall.
“Preservation Hall is located in the French Quarter, just three blocks from the Mississippi River. The Hall has served many functions over the years. Originally built as a private residence in 1750, the hall has evolved into a tavern, inn, photo studio and an art gallery. The inside of the hall contains portraits of the musicians who first filled it with the beautiful sounds of New Orleans Jazz.
Preservation Hall opened its doors in 1961. The hall was created as a sanctuary, to protect and honor New Orleans Jazz which had lost much of its popularity to modern jazz and rock n roll. Allan and Sandra Jaffe, the hall’s founders, wanted a place where New Orleans musicians could play New Orleans Jazz, a style, they believed, should not disappear.”
Besides hearing some of the most timeless and classic New Orleans tunes played some of the most gifted musicians, it was the joy the music seemed to bring to everyone who attended the show. Folks were smiling from ear to ear, embracing each other, and just soaking it all in. It was a great experience for me to see that first hand. It was a great ending to a great first day of my staycation.
Breakfast : Cafe Du Monde
Of the places I’d visited, Cafe Du Monde was one in which I was all too familiar with. There’s not much to say other than it’s a sight to be seen and enjoyed. Even early in the morning, there’s folks relaxing and getting their day started with a classic Cafe Au Lait and beignets. Always consistently good, the beignets are to die for, but it’s the coffee that I go for. There’s nothing like Cafe Au Lait from New Orleans anywhere else in the world. It has a texture all it’s own and a flavor that not even Seattle Green Goddess can replicate.
Lunch : Galatoire’s
Of all the places I planned to visit during my staycation, It was eating lunch at Galatoire’s that excited me the most. The history, old-line standards, and just the sheer old school swagger the place exuded had always piqued my interest. It’s a mystical place and was thrilled to have finally been able to visit.
Below is a little history about the place…
The grand dame of New Orleans’ old-line restaurants, Galatoire’s has remained committed to culinary excellence for more than a century. Under the guidance of the fourth generation of family ownership, it is her time-honored customs that still bind this renowned restaurant. Above all others, her rich tradition of serving authentic French Creole cuisine at a level that raises consistency to an art form. It is often said that the beauty of Galatoire’s is that things never change. Even after 100 years, ageless New Orleans favorites grace her menu just as they did in 1905.
Our server was everything I had expected and more. He had the table-side manner of Dean Martin, and the professionalism of Ronald Reagan. Prompt and helpfull, he waltz to our table with our every whim. I ordered another Pimm’s and proceeded to order.
My salad arrived simple and perfectly fresh with just the right amount of balsamic goodness. The hot baguette played the best friend of the remaining dressing on my plate. I ordered the Filet medium, bearnaise, and a side of barbant potatoes. The filet was delightfully charred on the outside with a pink center. The potatoes were light and crispy and paired well with the filet. It was what I expected and even more. The food is top notch, but for me it was more about the experience.
Tour : The Southern Food & Beverage Museum
Located at the end of The Riverwalk, the Southern Food and Beverage museum houses some of the most interesting collections of history I’ve ever seen. I could have spent hours looking and learning about everything from sugar cane to absinthe. Well know brands and not so well known brands come to life in the museum and teach us all about what it was like to live life in New Orleans 50+ years ago. Liz Williams and company have done a masterful job with collecting and document our culture food and beverage history.
Here’s a bit about them in their own words…
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. We opened our doors on June 7, 2008 at the Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Our first exhibit on the history and influence of New Orleans beverages opened in June, 2004 at a temporary location in New Orleans. Our goal in opening the temporary space was to give the public a taste of what we hoped to create as we built support and solicited donations for a permanent home. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. It brings all races and ethnicities to the table to tell the tale, from the farmer and the homemaker to the line cook and the celebrity chef. And it is be fun, with tastings and other food-centered events that capture the essence of Southern foodways.
500 Port of Orleans Place Suite 169
New Orleans, LA 70130
PH : 504.569.0405
Dinner : Meson 923
Located in the heart of the warehouse district minutes away from the French Quarter, Meson 923 is such a huge surprise. Elegant and modern in both it’s interior and it’s menu, the food is just as unique. After perusing the menu earlier in the day, I was enticed by several items on the menu and couldn’t wait to try them. My friend and I started off with some selections from the wine list, and a light corn and crab soup that totally blew me away. Combination of the sweetness of the corn and tenderness of the crab meat was fantastic. Our next appetizer was the beautiful and delicate Hamachi * compressed jasmine rice, pickled mango green curry vinaigrette which was clean and bold.
For my main course I ordered the Slow-Roasted Duck Breast fava bean and hiutlacoche risotto,corn pudding and guajillo chili duck reduction which was like nothing I’d ever had. The risotto was some of the best ever and the duck breast was cooked to perfection. The reduction glazed around the edges of the dish reminded me very much of a marsala which I absolutely loved. My friend had the Sautéed Redfish quinoa, jumbo lump crabmeat, sweet potato, smoked tomato vinaigrette which she could not stop raving about. The service was totally on point and we could not have asked for more.
Here’s a little bit about Meson 923 from their website…
In a city of noteworthy dining, one bold new establishment is making everyone sit up and take notice. Mesón 923, located in the heart of New Orleans’ revived warehouse district, is the height of industrial chic. Raw surfaces of exposed brick, dark wood, and bronze leather provide a simple and restrained backdrop for the sophisticated cuisine of executive chef Baruch Rabasa, whose Catalan ancestry informs his contemporary interpretation of classic New Orleans dining. Incorporating nuances of modern cuisine from both Spain and France, he highlights and updates the origins of authentic New Orleans in an intriguing Old World – New World blend.
The first section of his menu devoted to crudo is a deliberate nod to the influence of Italy. Appetizers and entrées likewise celebrate seafood, but feature other undisputed darlings of the deep South – pork, and pork belly, and duck — as well. The ingredients are pure and minimal; the preparations are unpredictable yet consistently delightful. The open air balcony wrapping around the renovated 19th-century warehouse, with its bare teak tables and no-reservations policy, redefines restaurant elegance. Mesón 923 is fine dining without the white table cloths, New Orleans cuisine without the preconceptions. It will challenge your expectations – and have you plotting your next visit before you’ve ordered dessert.