Cats in a Bath

Oh no… that didn’t seem to work so well!

Ah, this is more like it… so a couple of cats went to Bath!

At times, the sheer volume of tourist visitors to this internationally recognised city of historic and cultural heritage can be overwhelming. So, pick your timing for a visit carefully. Instructive street signage combined with an unusual welcome from a top-hatted bird might just help set a favourable tone!

But I’m sure what you, and millions of others, came for was undoubtedly a glimpse of the Royal Crescent. Always good to spend a few moments dreaming of what is and what can never be, I guess!

But climbing that hill while taking in a large dose of culture and history will surely require some sustenance. Maybe a chance to stretch the finances to indulge those fantasies of wealth. Well, fear not, award winning nosh is close to hand, not to ignore the tempting wine selection hidden behind the restaurant name… Corkage comes with great prior reviews, so let’s give it a look…

Amongst a wide range of liquid temptations, an enticing invitation from Puglia takes centre stage. With a little nudge from the wine waiter the more expensive vintage is ordered, in a nod to the opulent surroundings of this whole trip.

But the question is what to have with it? Maybe ‘spiced sweet potatoes with pickled red onion, lime and sumac yoghurt’ sounds a mystifying enough temptation. Then again, ‘frogs legs pan fried with grilled baby gem, lemon breadcrumbs and satay sauce’ would at least demonstrate the British openness to all things European, in the ongoing shambles of Brexitland. Then again, ‘colley fillet with wild rice, pan choi, tarragon hollandaise and chilli oil’ keeps swimming into vision. But the wine choice is red, so perhaps that ‘lamb rump with smoked mashed potato, roast parsnip and coffee jus’ is what’s really standing up to be counted here. But, wait a minute, ‘rabbit ragu with tagliatelle and mustard’ also comes hopping into view.

Decisions, decisions… with a further range of other tempting options putting up their hands for attention across a small but extraordinary menu. Then it comes to you… there is that most wondrous of phrases in the English language… ‘All of the above‘! And just then, you’re helpfully reminded that this restaurant does a small plates approach to dining. Not to be confused with tapas, no, not that small. Something that perfectly solves the ‘all of the above’ dilemma…

Such perfectly proportioned finery may even permit space to encourage surprise and more than a little admiration from a certain US based dessert aficionado. Why not bring on the burnt Basque cheesecake with mulled wine plums, garçon! After all, I’ve given in to more of these dessert temptations during this spring season than I have across the previous decade. However, I don’t think anything more than the world’s smallest spoonful of that chocolate affair, even with its rhubarb ganache, miso cream and crispy caramel, will pass these lips though.

Such a fine and delicate dining experience demands a post-meal walk; which is beautifully accommodated by this place of history and intrigue…

A comfortable place to rest is the next item on the itinerary, preferably with a seductive location for breakfast. Got that covered as well, as long as you’re not spooked by a strange equine companion closely observing you…

Until we speak again, perhaps there is a near perfect cappuccino to be found more easily than a recent US quest! Step forward Cortado, near Pulteney Bridge… and chill (return and repeat)!

NOLA: Distilling the essence

Born on a bayou, emerging out of a swamp, frequently in the eye of a hurricane, situated between the mighty Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, largely lying at or below the natural water table, wondering when the levees will break… (there are quite a few ideas for songs here already!). But, why would anyone visit, let alone live, in a place like New Orleans?

The French came here and lay the foundations for a Quarter. The Spanish came here and added to the architectural diversity. Creoles and Cajuns emerged here bringing their separate and unique influences on the diversity of Louisiana cuisine, amongst many other characteristics. Africans were brought here and contributed so much to a culture of celebration, emanating from Congo Square (now part of Armstrong Park). And, the British came here looking to expand an empire only to be defeated by the combination of a local bureaucrat and a pirate (Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte)!

Jazz music was born here, and exported to the rest of America and beyond as a young Louis Armstrong followed in the footsteps of his early mentors. It continues to thrive through virtuosity in the Preservation Hall, the clubs and bars throughout the city, and street musicians and marches.

The range of cuisine alone, from diners to fine dining, takes up many accompanying posts on this blog. From shrimp & grits to turtle soup, from crawfish etouffee to seafood gumbo, from boudin sausage to beignets… leave your mental recipe book behind because this is a whole new language!

How do you capture the essence of such a complex city of people, history, architecture, food, and music? And I haven’t even started on the quaint old streetcars on St Charles Avenue, Steamboat Nachez on the Mississippi, or the voodoo influences and iconic above-ground cemeteries, that include the tombs of notables such as Marie Laveau (the Witch Queen of New Orleans).

Well, I guess I need to sit down and think about that over a tipple of something special. The French Quarter just happens to be the home of the cocktail, with Sazerac being established in a pharmacy by Antoine Peychaud in 1838 on Royal Street. If I were to distil the essence of New Orleans perhaps that’s it right there in a glass! Just make sure you have an expert like my good friend Tom Seay (follower of this blog) to perform the ritual of creating your drink!

Until we speak again, New Orleans is a melting pot of influences, ideas, atmosphere and experiences, of cultures, a complex range of local cuisines, the birthplace of great musical traditions. Depending on your personal tastes and who you are it’s a friendly and welcoming place. You can take it or leave it, because essentially…

How to eat a whole city!

Step 1: You’re on holiday, so leave the usual routines behind. This isn’t just about casually checking what you’ve got in the fridge. You’re travelling to a special place, so remember you’re eating for your home country’s reputation… go for it and don’t hold back!

Step 2: Choose somewhere that’s well worth devouring… somewhere that offers a mind boggling range of culinary delights, whether you have any idea what you’re eating or not.

Step 3: If you’re including posh dining joints, check in advance if you need to book tables or not. You don’t want to create an international diplomatic incident when you turn up hell bent on eating only to be asked if you’ve booked a table. You know you’re eating the food, not the table… but if you’ve already been drinking UK-style traveller industrial quantities of alcohol your hosts may not appreciate any nationalistic cliches or sense of humour.

Step 4: Do some prior research and plan a route (however rough it may be). Don’t start with the first eating joint on the edge of town and work your way along the street. You may find you’re on a foreign version of Cardiff’s Caroline Street… where everything is a local variation of chips+!

Step 5: Snacking between meals is fine… you’re on holiday for ‘F’s sake’!

Step 6: Do some prior research on establishment opening times. If you’ve had the aforementioned UK pisshead level of lotion, don’t turn up to evening restaurants in the morning and brunch places later in the day!

Step 7: If you find yourself in New Orleans this is how to do it…

Who needs breakfast when brunch provides timing that better accommodates last night’s festivities? Two Chicks Cafe in the Warehouse District provides a perfectly good starting point to the day, particularly if you want to line your stomach with Papa’s French Toast with a side of Bacon.

Keep Google Maps to hand, as this place is a well disguised challenge for the casual unprepared customer. Don’t forget to have the freshly squeezed OJ as a psychological trick for believing you’re doing something healthy to kick off the festivities.

Don’t delay, you’ve a relatively short walk to the Streetcar Cafe on St Charles Avenue where something called Biscuit & Gravy will mess with any nonAmerican gastronomic sensibilities. Also, remember to wear loose clothing, as most American menus are designed to promote a larger version of yourself on exit than the one that entered!

The Palace Cafe on Canal Street is conveniently just around the corner, as you don’t want to be wasting too much time travelling between courses, do you? The signature Crabmeat Cheesecake can always be washed down with the addition of Turtle Soup… but remember to keep room for the Catfish Pecan. After all, it’s not every day you get such an opportunity.

Dessert anyone? You might need something to complement that strange French White Wine you’ve never heard of before! Louisiana Strawberries with whipped cream or a combination of Ice Cream flavours may help to settle down any initial rumblings from the digestive region.

You’re on the boundary of the French Quarter, so perhaps now would be as good a time as any to visit the historic (well, by US timescales) The Court of Two Sisters!

Buffet layouts don’t normally float my boat at any time of day… something about preferring food freshly cooked to order. But, a historic entrance to a courtyard setting like this with a Jazz trio accompaniment just demands that certain personal culinary judgements be left outside and picked up again on departure.

A classic Mimosa provides a basis for the relaxed enjoyment of a cold buffet followed by a hot buffet of Louisiana standards of grits, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee … not forgetting to top up your Turtle Soup levels at the same time.

Now may just be the time for a good walk… so I suggest a hike across the French Quarter to Bywater along the banks of the Mississippi River to Elizabeth’s where Korean Brussels Sprouts will provide a gear change before you get back to another variation on the Catfish theme with something entitled Bayou Breakfast. A side of Callas (me neither? but it’s worth a re-visit) will no doubt further extend your culinary range… nothing like some deep-fried concoction with a sugary maple syrup for accompanying any type of egg with your catfish (you’re in New Orleans, so of course, this all makes sense… well, to the locals at least!).

At least now you’re geographically out on a limb, and probably physically wondering whether your limbs are going to support your weight. So a lengthy walk back in the direction of the city should be quite timely. Do find one of the few benches in Crescent Park if you need a lie down for a minute or two.

After a brief rest reviewing your evening meal bookings, why not stop off for a chocolate heaven interlude at Piety & Desire over in the Garden District? The produce is locally sourced and handmade, and what a selection… even including the green one with a layer of duck fat! As you may have read in a previous post… the cappuccino isn’t that bad either.

Ready for an evening meal? It’s probably best to head over to the Treme/7th Ward boundary for a shift of gear from Deep South US to European fayre. The Green Room offers up an eclectic mix of Slavic originated dishes in a bar/restaurant vibe. The Blini Trio starter is of particular note, as it provided a mixed burst of different tastes with a much needed lightness compared to the entree Slavic Sampler. Kielbasa, kapusta, golubtsy, and pierogi all provided interesting flavours, but this meal is definitely a heavyweight designed for the demands of a colder climate.

Back in the French Quarter, a beguiling range of options are on offer, but if we’re gradually climbing a gastronomic ladder, it’s possibly going to be Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro for the next stop. It seems timely to go for an Arugula Salad at this point in the day, at least as an appetiser before diving into that Roasted Duck Breast and Lamb Chop combination of main dishes. The local Louisiana Strawberries make a second appearance decoratively accompanying a Creme Brûlée, and an after dinner Port for no other reason than I’m being coaxed against my better judgement into the world of desserts.

Muriel’s on the corner of Jackson Square just along from the cathedral brings us back to some quintessential Louisiana dishes done in what claims to be an historic setting (Note to locals: history to a European goes back further than last month!). Boudin Egg Rolls provided a delicately spiced appetiser that made me wonder why it’s taken me so long to sample this dish. The Oregon Pinot Noir complemented this dish perfectly. As for Shrimp & Grits, this is a dish of ubiquitous familiarity, but here it’s done with a delicate twist that adds a higher level of subtlety, adding some much-needed flavour to the grits. Switching to a German Riesling was definitely a good move with this entree.

Until we speak again, still got room for more? I hope so, as you need to check out the previous Dining Fine NOLA-Style post, because August Restaurant on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Central Business District offers the pinnacle of the New Orleans eating experience (other pinnacles may be available!).

If you’ve eaten all of this in one day the only question that comes to mind is… what’s wrong with you? I guess you’ll be too full to answer that one, and are likely to be focused on what’s for brunch tomorrow!