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New Orleans Dining: Elegant to Funky

Gumbo to Mud Bugs

By: Charles Giuliano - May 07, 2008


The only limits to phenomenal dining in New Orleans are the number of days you spend in the city, after all, the norm is three meals a day, unless you cheat a bit, and the depth of your pockets.

Some of the most famous restaurants and chefs in America practice their craft in this city on the mouth of the Mississippi, with its mud bugs or crawdads from up in the Bayou, to the riches of the Gulf and its abundance of giant shrimp, succulent oysters or a wide range of fish and seafood.

Add to that the Cajun and Crole flavors that derive from the diverse people and cultures who have resided in Louisiana. It is the melding and blending of all those textures and flavors that result in the ubiquitous gumbo and jambalaya. Just about any restaurnat, shack, or hole in the wall, has  tasty and savory treats to serve.

If you can't get into one hot spot in the French Quarter, or are priced out of another, just move on down the line. During the afternoon we checked up on the menu at the famous K-Paul's. It was a bit steep for our budget, but a nice lady from California, in for the Jazz and Heritage Festival, was drooling and planned to come back for dinner. We would have joined her but managed to arrive early enough for immediate seating at the famous Acme Oyster House which is more of a down home, funky experience, but not to be missed. As well as easier on the wallet.

One way to sample some of the more famous and pricey spots is to drop in for lunch. Although many of the upscale venues open only for dinnerf. That strat5egy worked out at Muriel's on the edge of Jackson Square. The ambiance and service were superb but the cuisine proved to be less than thrilling. Astrid enjoyed her souffle but my seafood casserole had invisible oysters, tiny shrimp, a crawdad garnish, and was salty to the degree of being almost inedible.

A number of friends recommended Mother's which is in the downtown area away from the quarter. The abundant and inexpensive food is served cafeteria style. You order at the counter and the dishes are brought to your table. The atmosphere is funky and generic. The food is authentic and clearly the price is right.

We stumbled on some caterers cooking up a mud bug boil for a party by the pool at the Marriott. David, one of the chefs, was very generous in explaining the art of consuming fresh mud bugs. They were preparing several hundred pounds of the crawdads. Snapping off the body he showed us how to pinch the tail about half way up to squeeze out the succulent meat.

Every chance available I tried the gumbo and jambalaya which proved to be very consistent from elegant restaurants to  down home shacks including a diner when we viewed the destruction of the Ninth Ward.

Having toured the French Quarter all day we staggered back to our downtown hotel. We were too tired  for anything other than a local restaurant within walking distance. This proved  to be a Japanese restaurant. We were surprised to find Japanese restaurants all over the South and enjoyed an upscale one in Birmingham with friends. On another "lazy" evening, after a day of hard driving, we also had sushi in Nashville.

On our first night in New Orleans we tried to get into the Acme  Oyster House but the line was way too long. We found instant seating at Felix's across the street but the food was just so so. A few nights later we hit it just right around 6:30 pm and were seated at Acme. Even  at this "early bird" hour the lively and noisy restaurant was packed. Brilliantly, we started with the grilled oysters bathed in butter and smothered with grated cheese. Oh my. Be still dear heart.  In more ways than one. Upon leaving Acme the line was round the corner.

Surely we will be back. People just love visiting New Orleans. And we will start saving up for splurges at those famous restaurants. If you plan to stay in the Big Easy, just for a few days, forget about the diet. If you croke on all that spice, fat, and cholesterol, at least there will be a smile on our face.