Published August 23, 2012
You can’t keep a good city down – especially not one with such phenomenal food and drink traditions as New Orleans.
This week marks the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster and among the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
But while the good people of New Orleans may seem languidly inclined to the laissez les bon temps roulez side of life, don’t be fooled. While they slowly but surely have rebuilt their city, New Orleans' food traditions have also simultaneously dug deeper and reached further afield, deliciously so.
From old standards to new innovations, here are a few Crescent City dishes that keep this city’s flavor going strong:
For 130 years or so, Commander’s Palace has been providing locals and tourists alike with some of the most elegant food in town. Owned by the Brennan family, this Victorian Garden District destination is set somewhat ironically across the street from one of the city’s most famed cemeteries, Lafayette No.1. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time, it’s a must-visit in NOLA for decadent, timeless dishes like pecan crusted gulf fish topped with a tangle of Prosecco-poached crab meat, or classics like their hymn-worthy turtle soup. Frightened of the notion of tasting tortoise? Don’t be. This traditional Southern spooner goes beyond mere potage, and ventures into rich, almost gravy-like territory, drizzled in sherry and comprising more than 20 ingredients (including, among others, veal stock, Creole tomatoes, bits of boiled egg, and spinach) to coax its complex, cultured flavor to the fore.
This spot has not yet celebrated its first anniversary, yet it has made waves for chef/owner Phillip Lopez’s molecular feats of gastronomy, like the much-discussed smoking of scallops in a neat little cigar box. When you wander into the casual-yet-modern, friendly dining room with its cheerful neon-green chairs, reclaimed wood tables, and super friendly staff, you’ll see that you don’t need to feel familiarity with the sous-vide set. Lopez’s color-outside-the-lines kind of cooking is utterly approachable. But if you find yourself intimidated, just show up at lunch and order up a smoked veal pastrami sandwich with melted gruyere and pickled rutabaga remoulade on marbled pumpernickel rye or the playful house-made potato chip-encrusted Gulf fish sandwich, and you’ll quickly come around to Lopez’s an experimental state of mind.
Inarguably, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a Brennan’s brunch packed full of Eggs Benedict in lemony hollandaise, cheesy, creamy Oysters Bienville, and a torched flourish of Banana’s Foster (all accompanied by a Kir Royale, of course!). Yes, it’s expensive; yes, it’s extraordinarily decadent, but the tableside fire show Foster’s finale with its luscious denouement into caramelized sugar, vanilla ice cream, and warm slices of banana is well worth surrendering to.
If ever there was proof that NOLA cuisine is mightier than Mother Nature, you can find it at the perennially packed Cochon. Chef/co-owners Stephen Stryjewski and Donald Link brought this casual creative Cajun-southern charmer to the Warehouse District in 2006, less than a year after Katrina hit when the city had barely even begun the slow climb back to life. But when you fork into their tender, herby rabbit and dumplings, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, or rich and righteous chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo, you’ll understand quickly how Cochon thrived against all odds.
This humble, quirky little spot isn’t much to look at - and its name conjures up something more akin to southern California than southern United States -- but what comes out of the tiny little kitchen here is nothing less than big, bodacious flavor. Since 2009, the Goddess has been defying its unassuming looks, as well as attempts to pigeon-hole just what exactly the menu is. But maybe, that’s what makes it thoroughly New Orleanian. Just as this city is mélange of European, African, French Canadian, Vietnamese, and a multitude of other ingredients, so are the influences of Chef Paul Artigues’s flourishes in dishes like the shrimp and Nieman Ranch pork belly bahn mi or the unforgettable pulled pork and salami sandwich, pressed with banana peppers, roasted pineapple, aioli, and melted Manchego on traditional New Orleans French bread, not to mention the attention to detail on the well-thought-out craft beer, wine, and cocktail list.
As one of the most classic NOLA spots in the French Quarter, Antoine’s tuxedo’d, genteel waiters have been serving and satiating Crescent City standards since 1840. This, after all, is the ancestral home of Oysters Rockefeller. The butter-laden breaded oyster dish-- inspired by then-owner Jules Alciatore -- was declared, so the story goes, as rich as the richest man in the country at the time, John D. Rockefeller. The recipe has never been divulged, but apparently among the just-under 20 ingredients are absinthe and spinach. Order a few plates before diving into a dish of buttery Lake Pontchartrain trout and crab, and finish with the ultimate sweet walk back in time, Antoine’s special baked Alaska. Ask nicely, and you’re likely to get a tour of the special dining rooms, like the spectacular chandelier-laden Rex Room, hung with dozens of black-and-white Mardi Gras king and queen pictures and costumes.