What I Ate on My Summer Vacation: Day One

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Hubby and I are back from the most incredible trip to New Orleans. We ate, drank, (did I mention ate?) our way through the Big Easy, tasting and often devouring the beauty of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Hopefully, you have already ‘liked’ That’s SO Jenn LLC on Facebook and were following my Twitter feeds to see all the incredible meals we enjoyed, but in the event that you didn’t, I’m going to share it all right here. WARNING: Do not read this on an empty stomach. Hunger will ensue. (I already had to get up for a snack three times before finishing this post.)

For the rest of the week, I invite you to join me on my travels as I fill you in on everything that filled me up. Here goes:

After a wonderful breakfast (salmon pizza with capers at the airport’s trendy Crust Restaurant that we ordered from an iPad at the table!) at 6:30am, and then finishing our trays of food on the plane, we were certainly ready for lunch (ha) when we arrived at our suite in the elegant Windsor Court Hotel. We had reservations under the same roof at The Grill Room, and were fortunate to have the place completely to ourselves for the first portion of our dining experience. Hubby and I cuddled up in a curved, tufted booth for our first official meal in NOLA.

The creative menu of Sous Chef Timothy Mohon whom I had the pleasure of meeting, offered traditional food with a twist. We started with an amuse bouche, a one bite flavor sensation cleverly served on a ceramic spoon. Salmon roe was nestled onto light, whipped salmon mousse with crunchy rye croutons that sent my palette soaring.

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The chive basil pull apart rolls (I must learn how they do that!) and fresh butter sprinkled with black sea salt was the perfect way to start a meal. I would take this over the typical bread basket any day of the week.

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For my entrée, I went straight for the po’ boy, a New Orleans staple. The sandwich refers to the actual bread, flaky on the outside and pillowy when you tear into it. The perfect base to stack just about anything on top–traditionally fried meat or fish, mayo, lettuce and tomato. Chef Mohon created a lighter version by incorporating a truffled chicken salad with grilled romain, pickled onions and roasted tomatoes which married beautifully with a side of hand cut herb fries. You know, the kind you wouldn’t dare put ketchup on. I cleared my dish so thoroughly you’d think we hadn’t been served yet.

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Hubby had a similar result from his braised pork belly sandwich with creole mustard BBQ, housemade pickles, roasted onion and chips. Needless to say, I ate off of his plate as well.

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We wrapped up our meal with dessert. Obviously. I went for the classic beignets, served unconventionally in bite size form, with a strawberry rhubarb infusion. The tart berries and fresh whipped cream took it to a whole other level. And that was lunch.

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In between meals, we walked around to explore the French Quarter before heading out on the Natchez steamboat for a few hours. It was 85° and sunny, with a welcomed breeze on occasion. Jazz music played inside, while we enjoyed an aptly named Jazz Punch and Pimm’s cup on a bench overlooking the water.

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Once we returned to land, we enjoyed checking out the street performers and popping in and out of stores filled with paintings by local artists, antiques, and of course, sweets. After making a few stops to sample pralines and butter pecan ice cream from the many candy shops lining the bustling streets, we headed over to Tableau for some cocktails on the balcony overlooking the picturesque Jackson Square. As we learned on one of our tours, many of the buildings and residences in the area built balconies out of necessity. Fortunately, they also have lovely aesthetic detail and offer an ideal, romantic viewing spot during sunset. We each sipped on an in-house specialty. Mine was their Le Passant, a fragrant mixture of Tanqueray gin, St. Germain, Elderflower, Yellow Chartreuse and Grapefruit.  We dubbed this as one of our favorite moments; a spontaneous early-evening break from moving full steam ahead, to peace and serenity.

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Once we finished our cocktails, Hubby and I got ready for dinner at one of Chef Emeril Lagasse‘s three establishments, Emeril’s New Orleans in the heart of the Warehouse District. Again, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the chefs, who graciously introduced himself and took my card. We were waited on by a team who like a well-oiled machine, were sure everything was in its place and we were completely satisfied. Upon arrival, Hubby was handed their wine book. No flimsy one-sheet list here. This dated back at least 30 years with its content updated, yet original binding in tact.

When we looked at our dining options, our waitress referred to our ordering indecisiveness as “The Emeril’s problem” referring to the menu reading so well that it was hard to choose. Fortunately for us, we didn’t feel the need to land on just one thing.

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To begin, a sampling of three breads were placed on each of our plates: a warm sweet potato roll (I quickly asked for seconds!), rosemary focaccia and a down-home corn muffin.

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For our amuse bouche, we had a duo of tuna tartare in a crispy rice shell and a watermelon gazpacho shooter. The creatively presented juxtaposition of savory and sweet showcased both the fresh catch and the summer fruit in a winning way.

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For our appetizers, we tried each of their bruschetta offerings. The first, a muffaletta version utilizing the regions olive salad as a nod to the traditional sandwich. The crostini was served with our favorite, burrata mozzarella, as well as molinari sopressata, arugula pesto and a citrus vin cotto. Next, a seasonal special, consisting of pickled Alabama peaches, fresh burrata mozzarella and aged Smithfield ham. Both equally special in their own way, full of complexity and dynamic taste.

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We then moved on to a fresh angel hair pasta tossed with Louisiana crawfish tails and a spicy Creole cream sauce. The back palette of heat was complimented by the succulent seafood and thin noodles. Almost an infusion of Italian and southern flavors. I am always intrigued when fish is served with grated cheese over top. Here, it totally works.

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Next, we enjoyed the seafood and andouille gumbo. There was no way we could go to Emeril’s restaurant and not taste this classic dish. The surf and turf collaboration made this stew-like soup a memorable one for sure.

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For my entrée, I ordered another special, bronzed sea scallops with saffron creamed Georgia sweet corn, oven dried cherry tomatoes, spring ramps, ice wine gastrique and tarragon. It was a tex mex meets soul food fusion. The hickory smoked scallops were complemented the garlicky al dente ramps and rich buttery corn with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized dessert wine element. Brilliant.

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Hubby’s maple-chili glazed chicken fell right off the bone, allowing for the perfect forkful of tender meat, local brussels sprouts and apple smoked bacon. The addictive side of roasted garlic rigatoni mac n’cheese made this feel like an upscale homecooked meal.

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And then came dessert, along with gratitude for wearing clothing that required no buttoning. The Oreo crusted peanut butter pie with a caramel drizzle came highly recommended by the waitstaff, so clearly we weren’t going to offend anyone by not trying it for ourselves. The crunchy peanuts and chewy brittle added an additional texture to the otherwise delicate, mousse-like filling. The salty flavor caught me off guard at first, but was immediately balanced by the chocolatey crust and sweetened whipped cream.

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The refrigerator-cold keylime ice box pie with torched cinnamon meringue and honey graham crust was the greatest we’ve had, and I’m not even offended that Hubby chose this over my own keylime pie. I did too.

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Lastly, but probably the biggest standout for me was the banana cream pie. Piled high and studded with fresh bananas and a smooth, almost sugar cookie dough-like pudding resting on a crumbly graham crust, topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate shavings. It was heaven. Chef Wolfgang Puck claimed this as one of the best things he’s ever eaten. I am right there with him.

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Although I always have a separate compartment for dessert, Hubby and I only got through half of each piece. We wanted to save these indulgences for a time when we hadn’t just finished so much food first. We weren’t sure if there would ever be such a time, but we wrapped them up and kept them in our hotel’s fridge. Fast forward a few days later when we were heading off to the airport: In an effort not to waste an ounce of these masterpieces, we brought all three pie slices with us. After getting our boarding passes, we whipped out plastic utensils, found a seat and plowed through every last bite before going through security. No one was going to take this away from us.

                          Come back tomorrow to find out where we dined on day two. It’s only just begun!

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