Twisted, beaded, braided: first night in New Orleans starts off with a bang
NEW ORLEANS - What a way to start a visit.
We pulled up in a taxi and checked into our hotel, the Dauphine Orleans on Dauphine St. in the French Quarter (see photo). After unloading our gear in a nice room across the street in their courtyard building, we checked out the hotel bar, called May Baily's Place. Like a lot of spots in this town, it was once a "sporting house" with lots of fun things for men to do.
In the old days it was one of the better known bordellos in what the hotel brochure calls "the fringe of the wildly infamous red-light district known as Storyville," a planned prostitution area where the New Orleans government thought it best to keep such things concentrated back in the late 1800's. Apparently some of the bordellos were beautiful, with large orchestras and chanedliers and polished dance floors. It all ended around 1917 when the U.S. Navy decided there were too many temptations for soldiers who needed to concentrate on World War I.
Anyway, the bar is fine enough, with fleur de lis wallpaper and old-time movies on a TV screen. Lots of smoking, which took me by surprise and not in a good way....
We no sooner got up to Bourbon St., just a block from the hotel, when a Mardi Gras parade passed us by. There was a pumping, fabulous marching band from a local high school that was pounding out a bright tune and thumping loudly on the drums, followed by several floats with folks dressed as pirates and princesses and, I think, maybe a chicken. I couldn't quite tell. As one would expect, folks outside the bars advertising 20 ounce beers for $3 were clamouring for beads and necklaces and all that, and I joined in, ending up with five or six shiny green, yellow and purple bead collections to hang around my neck.
Great fun, and unexpected.
May Baily's is a decent bar, but better for my tastes was a stop at the famous Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, a legendary place in these parts. At part of the bar you can sit at a rounded contraption and do slow circles around the bartenders in the middle, kinda like those revolving restaurants we used to love. I had to try a Sazerac, the legendary drink of New Orleans with rye, Pernod and bitters and vermouth. Mine came with absinthe instead of Pernod and it was quite tasty. I'm not big on licorice tasting drinks and I'm not a vermouth person, but it's a fun drink.
Most drinks at the bar, which has several other sections and seems to go on forever, were $9. Which is pretty good for a glam spot like the Monteleone.
A bunch of friends had recommended R'evolution, a fairly new restaurant in the French Quarter by local chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto, and I'm glad they did. It's a fabulous, fabulous restaurant with several styles of rooms, all with different feels, and a killer menu that puts some tasty spins on Cajun and Creole (I think) classics.
We sat in a bright room with black and white floor tiles and a view of the open kitchen, at least the finishing end of the kitchen. I was told the room is modelled after an old Italian deli in the area, so there's a large fridge with giant salami's curing inside in one corner, and bright red and white chairs. Tons of fun, for sure, and absolutely outstanding service. Just perfect.
We took our waiter's recommendations and tried the citrus salad with greens, cashews and grapefruit, which was quite good if a tad small. I had the "Death by Gumbo" soup, which was a small, tender and flavourful quail stuffed with New Orleans-style rice and surrounded by a bowl of thick, rich, dark green-brown gumbo with small bits of okra and andouille sausage, which I wish I could find in Toronto. It's amazing stuff, and the dish was tremendous.
We also sampled a very good gnocchi with lobster and, even better for my taste, some killer scallops with foie gras and celery. Only three scallops came with an order that cost $34, but they were large and absolutely perfect, with a light char that kept in the juices. An amazing scallops dish, for sure, but pricey.
On the other hand, we got a small dish of local greens with fiery pancetta for $5 and a good bottle of California Sauvignon Blanc was just $24. Try finding that in Toronto.
We didn't order dessert but after we finished they brought around a tall jewelery box with several small dainties in them, including tiny peanut butter cookies and Austrian tarts and a small chocolate with curry that was better than you might think. They also bring around a couple amuse bouche prior to your meal; a nice touch.
We got a tour around the restaurant after dinner, checking out the 10,000 bottle wine cellar and all. They have one Mouton Rothschild that goes for $21,000 and I wonder if some idiot who comes for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 might buy the damned thing.
The parlour room feels like a fancy French restaurant, with murals on the wall, while the Bienville room feels more like a modern bistro. The bar area is cool with an open display of liquor paraphernalia, and even a small camp stove once owned by Confederate leader Robert E. Lee. Not something you see every day.
Dinner for two with two appetizers and two mains, plus the wine, was about $140. Not bad. And a wonderful experience.
My room at the Daupine is quite nice, with an exposed brick wall and dark beamed ceiling and louvred shutters on the windows. The bathroom area is nice and the room is good sized. It's close to Bourbon St. but surprisingly quiet, and the courtyard area is quite pretty.
All in all, a great start. Doing a tour of the French Quarter today and then checking out of the larger Mardi Gras parades before having dinner at Arnaud's. Can't wait.