Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How I single handedly rebuilt New Orleans

The Sazerac cocktail was created in New Orleans. It is a strong whiskey (rye whiskey) based drink, with pre-civil war origins. I have been drinking these for a long time whenever I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is too busy drinking their sex on the beaches and sloe gin fizzes to realize what they lost, and it is a very rare bar that offers these, and an even more rare bar that gets it right.

New Orleans is still rebuilding from that bitch Katrina. My taxes help pay for the federal effort, and I have donated to hurricane relief when it was fresh in my memory. All of that is and was vital to the continued refurbishing of this important national treasure. But honestly, the people of New Orleans want to welcome you with open arms and receive the aid they really want... continued tourist dollars that allow them to be what they are.

So, in addition to my taxes, and some personal charitable donations I have made in the past...

My mission...

Rebuild New Orleans, one Sazerac at a time...

"Hurricanes are for tourists. Sazeracs are for natives."
1/2 teaspoon absinthe, or Herbsaint
(a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur)
1 teaspoon of simple syrup
(or 1 sugar cube)
4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 small dash, a scant drop, of Angostura bitters
2 ounces rye whiskey.
Strip of lemon peel

Life should come with a soundtrack... This will be one of my longest posts ever, as I do a final wrap up of my vacation... Go ahead, click the little arrow and enjoy some modern jazz as I review my efforts to restore New Orleans, one Sazerac at a time...

Our first night in town, we got in late... about 10 PM (my wife's inconvenient day job strikes again). But one of our favorite places is the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. It is a great place for a quiet rest following my 10 minutes of hopeing Bourbon Street has changed (it gets louder every time I visit). Classic old style bar (do you sense a pattern, I like the classic stuff) with a twist. Here I am, enjoying the first of many Sazeracs. The 1st Sazerac was perfect!

The aptly named bar features different embroidered African animals on the back of each chair, a wonderfully whimsical carousel top. The ceiling has fiber optic stars twinkling, If you watch closely (or have fallen down in a drunken stupor), you will notice periodically one of the stars shoots across the sky. Perfect for wishing upon a star that you will return soon. William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Winston Grooms (Forrest Gump) are among the famous authors who have enjoyed drinks at the Carousel Bar. Today, the Carousel still attracts celebrities, including some recent sightings – Michael Jordan, Dennis Quaid, Greg Allman and Sally Struthers (a meathead like me loves the thought that I am sharing a seat that Gloria sat in). There is an adjoining small nightclub setting with a piano. The bartender told us that Liberace used to stay at the hotel, and would often tinkle those very same ivories. No one was playing the night we were there, and armed with the sazerac courage, my wife and I sat down and played a sad duet of chopsticks. Yeap, me and Liberace entertain regularly at the Carousel Bar!

Our next night, we met up with my niece and her husband (by luck, they were attending a convention). They were staying at the modern TALL (50 stories plus... convenient to find when staggering home), Sheraton Hotel. Personally, this was not my first pick for a hotel, I prefer the classic to the modern, but it was convenient for their convention, so... This night, we started at the Pelican bar in the lobby of the Sheraton. But, proving that New Orleans works hard to entertain, I was thrilled to see a display of some of the artwork of George Rodrigue. Some of you may know of this artist work as the guy who paints the Blue Dog (click the dogs nose below to get to the web page of George Rodrigue.

I felt right at home, when I spied a Cow that was featured in the original Chicago COW PARADE collection. If you have never seen a painted cow, click HERE for a more detailed explanation. But, bottom line, around the world, artists have been asked to decorate fiberglass cows and these are displayed around a city. To date, 5,000 artists have participated, 100 million people have viewed the cows and 20 million dollars has been raised through charity auctions and licensing fees. Kansas city featured the cows one year, and it was great fun spending the year hunting them down. But I am digressing... The photo above is of me with the cow, and my 2nd Sazerac of the trip...

The Pelican bar is located in the center of the lobby of the hotel. It is a beautiful bar, reminiscent of a French Quarter courtyard with its magnificent tiered fountain, lavish landscaping and hand detailed wrought iron. The bartender did serve my Sazerac in a martini glass (should be served in a rocks glass only). But that mistake was overlooked by the quality of the drink. Perfectly proportioned, and a beautiful drink in a wonderful setting!

This was the night we went out with my niece's friends. 13 of us hit the town with no reservations, and no real plans. I already wrote in detail about my night at ARNAUD's. If you need memory refreshing, click HERE to read that story. But, I certainly headed to the bar to see what this classic old restaurant could do with that classic old recipe... top notch!

This bar is what I think of for a turn of the century (the last century) joint! From the beautiful wooden bar, wonderful little seats around the tables, full mirror, educated staff, professional bartender that really knows his stuff, this bar is a work of art. I do not know the rules about smoking, but they prominently display a fine selection of cigars, so I assume you can smoke in the bar. As I have already said, I loved everything about our night at Arnaud's, and the bar added to the magic... Perfect in every way (including my 3rd Sazerac)!

Next night my wife and I finally got to get into the swing of the amazing dining options of the city. K-PAUL's LOUISIANA KITCHEN, home to PBS star, Chef Paul Prudhomme. Classic old style New Orleans cuisine was largely based on French Creole cooking. Crawfish Etouffee is a fancy name for meat over rice, "smothered" in a sauce. That's French... That's Creole. And for centuries, French Creole cooking defined New Orleans cuisine. But in 1979, Chef Paul opened K-Paul's, and he introduced Cajun spices to the fine dining community that frequented the city. Overnight, blackened redfish became the defining dish of New Orleans. K-Paul's was not the first Cajun restaurant, but it was the first to become successful. It is difficult to believe, as New Orleans is largely thought of as "spicy", but pre-Paul, these spices were largely unknown outside of the swamps surrounding the city. Had there never been a Chef Paul, there would have never been an Emeril, had there never been a K-Paul's New Orleans dining would not look anything like it does today. Imagine, in our lifetime, one chef could have such an influence on the history of food.

This would mark the 5th time I have dined at K-Pauls, and it certainly will not be my last. Always just right, my wife claims that his Blackened Stuffed Pork Chop Merchand de Vin is her favorite meal ever. I usually order something different each time, but his Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Caper Dill Remoulade appetizer is among my very favorite items ever! And for dessert, don't miss his Sweet Potato Pecan Pie! Reservations are always needed, and here's a great tip for foodies... ask to sit towards the back. The kitchen is walled in with glass, so watching all the chefs makes for dinner and a show! And, here, I enjoyed one of the best Sazeracs of my trip (#4)!

My next Sazerac was a joy to behold... The historic ROOSEVELT Hotel is home to the Sazerac bar... Here's the details I lifted from their website...

Any bar can make a drink. Few make history.
Named after what many consider to be the world’s first mixed drink, The Sazerac Bar carries with it as much history and lore as its potable namesake. Just gazing at the famous Paul Ninas murals that flank the long African walnut bar takes you back to the grandeur of old New Orleans—a time when Huey P. Long would stroll in, order a Ramos Gin Fizz and spend the next couple hours talking to his constituents.
Restored to reflect the spirit of the original establishment, the elegant barstools and plush banquettes of today’s Sazerac Bar invites locals and visitors alike for well-crafted drinks and free-flowing conversation.
But this hotel/bar/DRINK comes with a story... the Storming of the Sazerac! The Sazerac Bar was always a bastion of men. Women entered only on Mardi Gras day. In 1949, though, the bar relocated to the Roosevelt Hotel and on September 26 the management opened the doors to both genders. In this famous photo of that day, the ladies completely crowded out the men. Ever since, women have claimed their rightful place at the Sazerac Bar. And the world is a better place for it. I drank my 5th Sazerac in a cathedral, and I worshiped every drop!

OK... I need to be careful here. Following the cathedral, we enjoyed a night at Emeril's New Orleans. And why careful... Well, of everything we did, everywhere we ate, this was the single disappointment. Now, I am not a reviewer, and I don't want to spoil any one's expectations. Whatever I say needs to be prefaced with the idea that Emeril has created an empire from the quality of his cooking and his innovation at the stove. Having said that, the meal just left me flat. Not much seasoning (certainly not stepped up a notch), and the presentation was... just average. Perhaps it is a matter of expectations, and I just had too high of expectations.
BUT... the restaurant is beautiful. Like K-Paul's, there is an open kitchen for dining with a show. If you click on the photo of my wife to the left, by the magic of the Internet, you will see a larger image. Emeril has filled frames glassing in different spices and seeds. With a light bulb shining, it is a wonderful image! The bathrooms alone are worth the trip, with lots of gold and sparkle.
And, as to my drink... This was indeed my biggest disappointment. The Sazerac is mostly a whiskey drink (rye whiskey). That is the strongest flavor in the drink. Sure, there is some flavoring, as well as sugar, but the drink should taste of whiskey mostly. Emeril's bartenders put too much of something in the drink, and it was just too sweet. It tasted of too much vermouth, but there should not be any vermouth in the drink. Sure enough, when i complained to the bartender, he offered to make one without any vermouth. Note to emeril (like he needs advice from me): experimentation is great, but rename what you create. If you substitute simple sugar with vermouth, it changes the drink. My 6th Sazerac left a literal bad taste in my mouth before the food even arrived. Ah well...
Next afternoon on my cocktail tour was an afternoon stop at Pat O'Briens Courtyard! World famous, this is a tourist spot that lives up to it's reputation. A BEAUTIFUL courtyard, open air and filled with plants and umbrellas and even a flaming water fountain. A hurricane from pat O'Brien's is on most people's must do list in N'Awlins. Live music enhances the atmosphere, and everything about the place was perfect!
Whether searching for a romantic evening under the stars, a fun night out with friends, or an afternoon meal with the kids, Pat O's Courtyard Restaurant is ready to serve your needs! It does take a little hunting to find, as the main entrance is the size of a courtyard entrance, with very little street frontage. But that's part of the charm. Oh, and when you order the drink, the hurricane glass can be yours for only $3 extra. A nice little souvenir. And Sazerac number 7 was fabulous!

Finally, our last night in the city, we dined at NOLA. Now, NOLA is also an Emeril restaurant; he has three in the city. I was a little concerned about trying another Emeril joint, but it was a Friday night, and I already made reservations. So, in for a penny, in for a pound... we bravely wandered into a GREAT dining experience!
First, the Sazerac was PERFECT! Look at that smile, compare that to the shot of me at Emeril's above... Forced smile vs a real smile. My 8th and final Sazerac was perfect! And the food was fabulous. We shared the crab cakes for an appetizer, and the bed of spiced corn relish the cakes rested on was an explosion of flavor like nothing else! Everything that was bland from the night before exploded at NOLA. My wife had the filet, that was over cooked, exactly as she ordered it (sadly, she likes her meat well done). But she did let me sample it, and it had plenty of flavor. Imagine what ot would have tasted like had it been medium rare... I LOVED my BBQ Salmon with a Creole Choux. I could not imagine much better...
Look at that smile! I had let the staff know that we were celebrating Jackie's birthday, and the arrived with a candle and the wonderful presentation. The Banana pudding layer cake was just right! It was the perfect cap to JACKIEtober, and she deserves every good thing that happened to us during the week.
And there you go. Tomorrow, I will be back with cooking posts (first day back, I smoked a couple racks of spareribs). If you've been lucky enough to have visited New orleans, I hope I wetted your memories a little. If you've never been, consider investing in the city with your tourist dollars. They need it, but more importantly, they want you there. From that terrific waiter at Arnaud's, to the piano players at 3 bars that all knew "our" song (Gershwin's the "Way you Look Tonight"), all the bartenders, the cab drivers who had great stories coming and going to the airport, right down to the maid who gave us turn down service with the chocolates on the bed... Everyone wanted us there, everyone wanted us to have the best time possible and there is no place like it in the world.
Charities and Government aid can and should rebuild the infrstructure. An entire city needs extra care that Americans are famous for. We should be taking care of our own. But tourist dollars and only tourist dollars will keep New Orleans what it was and is again. If those dry up, the working side of the city will continue. The oil rigs and their profits will keep the city running. But without tourist support, the heart and soul of the city will slowly die. A Vegas/Disneyland version of the French Quarter will replace it.

Before it is gone, and to keep it as it should be...

Next time you are thinking about a vacation,
even a long weekend away...

You really ought to give New Orleans a try.


  1. You really made the most of your 5 days! We love New Orleans so I could relate to the places you went and things you did. Great posts.

  2. OK you totally have me convinced I need to go there! Sounds like a tasty and fun trip!

  3. The anise liqueur must taste so strong. I am more into cocktails light and fruity...this might knock me out silly !

    ...and your wife Dave...Oh...She's SO PRETTY ! You guys make a charming couple... so sweet really !

  4. Love this and I was hanging on every word. My husband ate at Emeril's in Las Vegas and was underwhelmed. We've not been to either restuarant in New Orleans. I love Chef Paul's Remoulade. I've not been to his restaurant, but have a recipe from one of his cookbooks and it's absolutely delicious and I love making it for special occasions, as it is a 3-day process. It's his Shrimp Remoulade. I just love New Orleans and can't wait to go back someday. Thanks for taking the time to write all of this.

  5. Sorry to see this is the last post because I've enjoyed every word you've written. Love the glamour!

    You and your beloved look so happy and perfect together.

  6. The chamber of commerce should hire you as their spokesman :-). Your NO posts have been wonderful.

  7. I agree with Mary. Fabulous posts!

    You make it look so inviting.

    ANd your wife's cake....I want a piece. Can you make one up and share the recipe?

  8. You are so hilarious! All those pictures of you with your cocktails are really giving me a chuckle. I'm surprised you didn't spend half your time there totally passed out!

  9. Thank you for helping in the rebuilding of my home town. By the way, I love Sazaracs too!

  10. Well, you certainly "did N'awlins" up right, mon cher amis! So happy that ya'll passed a bon ton. My family always stayed at the Monteleone, when I was growing up, and George Rodrigue was one of my art professors in college! Loved all of your N.O. trip posts and that banana pudding cake looks fabulous!!!

  11. Oh my gosh, I so have to visit New Orleans now! I'll bet my husband would enjoy a Sazerac or two. The detail in the bars is amazing. I would be in a photo shoot heaven visiting those! I can't believe you dined at Chef Paul Prudhomme's restaurant. It sounds wonderful. It's a shame you didn't enjoy your meal at Emeril's. We were going to eat at his restaurant Table 10 at the Palazzo in Las Vegas our last trip but we ended up stopping there too early in the day. It sound's like his restaurants vary to a great degree. That layer cake looks scrumptious and Happy Belated Birthday to Jackie! Ok, we might have to reconsider going to Florida this year.

  12. oh i would absolutely love to go someday, what a fun trip!

  13. Living it up, aren't you?! ;) That was a wonderful post with great photos! I wish I was in New Orleans right now. JACKIEtober is such a sweet concept!

  14. Hey ... great post! Thanks for sharing... looks like a great vacation... drinking your way thru NOLA... K-Pauls looks like lots of restaurants where my other home is .... Saratoga Springs, NY... I love historic buildings... the charm just can't be matched by modern buildings...

    New Orleans is on our list of places to go when I'm finally done recuperating... I'm an IT consultant when I work (inconvenient day job)... and have quite a few free flights to use from Southwest... I will book mark this post for ideas of what to see and do when we get to finally go...

    Thanks again.

  15. Thanks for your fantastic review of New Orleans through your and Jackie's eyes! Its on my short list of places to go. And I will be trying some of those Sazerac's... Or perhaps I should make that plural. They sound like ass-kickers. Glad your back... now get out to yer grill!

  16. The beginning of this post cracked me up. The world can definitely be made alcoholic beverage at a time.

    I loved reading your recap about your time in New Orleans. It so makes me me want to go there! One of these days...

  17. Fantastic post Dave. You certainly did a whirlwind tourist fantasy of N.O. Don't you just love the Carousel Bar in the Montelone? Did you venture into the Blue Room at the Roosevelt? Just a tip Emeril's restaurant has always sucked big eggs, but stays in business because of the name. you are right about NOLA's it's always be consistent.

  18. What a fantastic post! I have never been to New Orleans but have always wanted to go! I love the sound of that cocktail!

    I want to thank you so much for your kind words on my blog. You made me smile!

  19. Sounds like you did your part for the local economy.

  20. Sounds like you and your wife had a wonderful time, especially with your Sazeracs! :)

  21. Hey - your wife is BEAUTIFUL.

  22. Holy long post...packed full of stuff to make me jealous!! You guys did some awesome livin' in N.O!!!

  23. Awesome post, Dave! I felt like I was right there with you guys. It looks like you had a great time! The Sazerac sounds good, but it's too bad I don't like whiskey. The smell alone gags me (don't ask...).

  24. Loved the post!! We actually stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel when it just re-opened in the summer and we know all too well the Sazerac bar! Great story of your trip - especially loved how the Sazerac cocktail became your guide! =)

  25. I am so glad you have crossed my path.. indeed this is a fabulous read, a treasured tale of your experience even though I am just now reading it, it could have happened yesterday... I agree with many of your commentaries of the restaurants esp K-Paul's.. he has left so many marks around the town, among so many restaurants he has cooked for... so many fine meals are still on those menus today...