We recently took a trip to New Orleans. I had never been there, and it was on my list of places to go. I had heard many wonderful things about the city, and finally made time visit. So glad we did.
What struck me almost immediately was the vibe of this city. It has a very weathered, grimy feel. There is a feeling of old memories and a veneer of wisdom. In the French Quarter, the buildings are old and open, with high ceilings, peeling paint and cracks in the stucco. It is romantic and alluring. History oozes out of every crack and chip. It is seductive.
And the food.
I went off of my vegan regimen (see previous post on that story…) and took in all that the city offers. First, to get the beignet. We went to Cafe’ Beignet, as it was near our hotel. Ordered our coffee and beignets, and had a seat in the courtyard. It’s around 9:30 AM and there is live music playing. An awesome jazz/blues group at breakfast. The beignets were good; I confess, I’m not a big sweets person, but you have to try them, right?
On to oysters. Damn. They were perfect. Raw oysters tell the tale of the ocean like no other shellfish. Briny, but sweet and tender, they bring alive all of your taste buds. The gentleman shucking the dozen shown here has shucked over 3 million oysters, give or take. For real.
On to the best meal of the trip. We went to GW Fins, in the French Quarter. Known for its seafood, I had one of the best meals I have had in years. No joke. A delightful salmon carpaccio as an appetizer had the perfect blend of acid with the fish sliced paper-thin. My main course is a specialty known as “Scalibut”. It is a combination of scallops and halibut with lobster risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter. This was outstanding, cooked to perfection. The pea shoot butter added an earthy softness that pulled all of the flavors and textures together. Divine.
The service here was also the best I have seen in a long time. Nick knew the menu inside and out, and recommended the perfect wine pairings. He is spot on. This place is a do not miss; make sure to try it. (Dare I say, went we to Emeril’s and I think GW Fins is better..)
But on to my favorite ritual.
Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy”.
Absinthe is a spirit that has its roots in Switzerland and was made in the early 17th century. The mystique of absinthe was that it had hallucinogenic properties, which caused it to be banned for sale in many countries in the 1920s. Favored by artists, poets and writers, it was the signature drink amongst the Bohemian set. Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Ernest Hemingway all imbibed. Oscar Wilde stated about absinthe:
“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical in the plant wormwood, the main floral in absinthe. But you would have to consume enormous quantities for it to have any effect. The more likely cause of seeing pink elephants is the high alcohol content, up to 138 proof. It has a licorice taste from anise, along with other botanicals. I’m not a huge licorice fan, so I drink the “Mata Hari” brand, less licorice, more florals.
But one of the best things about absinthe is how you drink it. There is a ritual around how the spirit is prepared. The ritual conjures up images of bistros in France, with artists romancing show girls. Decadence, bawdiness, and passion. The ritual itself is as intoxicating as the spirit.
First, you need an absinthe spoon. (These are really cool, and I want an antique one!)
Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on the spoon.
Pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful green color.
Light the sugar cube so that it melts into the glass.
Add cold water to create the “louche”, the cloudy appearance the absinthe takes on when the water is added.
Sip and experience “The Green Fairy”.
My absinthe experience was in the “Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House“, a bar that is over 200 years old. The bar is like a stage set, with peeling paint and old carved woodwork. If you are going to try absinthe, this is the bar to try it in. With over 20 types to choose from, you will find one that suits your palate.
I was captivated by New Orleans. It is a magical, mysterious place. And you need to walk through it, to experience all of the sounds, the fragrances and to feel the pulse of the city.
And get to know the Green Fairy. Quite the lady.