Not one crawfish.

I read something remarkable in the New York Times while looking for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans:

Though the city has fewer people than it did before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it has 70 percent more restaurants, according to a count by Tom Fitzmorris, a local expert who does not include fast-food or chain restaurants in his tally.

I believe it. When you announce you’re going there or recently returned, everyone mentions crawfish. Of course you had the etouffe, or the boil, or whatever, at some high-end Creole showplace. Nope. Not even one. This was only my second trip there, and I still remember the disappointment of our meal at Galatoire’s, which we visited more than 20 years ago. Maybe it was a bad night or something, but I have a feeling it has more to do with all that damn tradition. I always remember, poking through a heavy cream sauce at whatever lies beneath, that a lot of the details of classic cuisines evolved because frequently meat and fish arrived in the kitchen in…not the best of shape, shall we say.

(And pardon me for lowering the tone, but I try to remember that whatever I pay for this meal before me, in 12 to 24 hours it will be on its way to the sewage-treatment plant. It puts a $52 lobster thermidor, mentioned in that same NYT story, in perspective.)

So you can have your K-Paul’s and Galatoire’s and Antoine’s and so on. Give me the smaller places which are, in many ways, much closer to the new places popping up in Detroit and all over the country, where the emphasis is on the best local ingredients, imaginatively prepared but lightly messed with. The best thing I ate all week? The shaved brussels sprouts salad at Cochon, one of the hot new places but still requiring less of its diners than the old guard. We ate there with Laura Lippman, a part-time local who knows what’s what. (She also has a new book out, “After I’m Gone,” which I predict you will enjoy very much. More on that later, or maybe later this week.)

We also had good Vietnamese food, Mexican food and yes, Louisiana food — po’boys and red beans and rice and muffalettas and gumbo and beignets and coffee with chicory, because you have to go to Cafe du Monde, that’s like a law. The worst meals were in the French Quarter, because they can get away with it.

We had a nice time. I walked too much and wrecked my feet, but it’s the best way to see the city. We stayed in an Airbnb place Uptown that was sort of a dump, but very economical. It was just a few blocks off Magazine Street, a gentrifying neighborhood with construction going on everywhere. Besides the dozens of new restaurants, there were also vintage clothing shops and bars and clubs and the proverbial music everywhere. I came to appreciate the city’s tolerance of alcohol, because it’s nice to take a beer to go and just stroll and window-shop.

We toured Tulane, which Kate liked well enough to put on her short list. (Notable alumni: Newt Gingrich, Jerry Springer.) We saw a snake slithering across the sidewalk, and gathered this was a pretty typical thing, along with lizards. We tried to get into the storied music clubs on Frenchmen Street, but none would let 17-year-old Kate cross the threshold, even with her parents. Fortunately, there was a great brass band on one of the street corners just tearing it up — four trombones, three trumpets, two drummers and a Sousaphone. We were enjoying a cool sangria at a cafe on the same street two days later when an ambulance pulled up and took an obvious OD out of one of those same bars, so it’s good to know they were keeping the wrong element out.

One day as we were leaving a cab, I noted a pair of men’s pants sitting on the seat. “These yours?” I asked the driver. No, they were from an earlier customer who was “pretty messed up,” he reported in one of those what-can-you-do voices. Bourbon Street has either changed, or I have — it’s almost unbearable after dark. (It was NBA All-Star weekend when we arrived, so it’s possible this amped things up considerably.) We rented bikes and saw parts of Treme and, of course, the Louis Armstrong statue and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery, in the Garden District. We rode the streetcars all over, even when the city seemed bound and determined to make that as difficult as possible.

We saw a lot, but not everything. You never see everything. That’s why you go back.

And now we’re back. We left behind temperatures in the 70s and missed two significant snow/ice/thundersnow events in Michigan, which left the driveway buried in ice, so much that we literally couldn’t get into our gated back yard when we returned. And just when I think I’ve accepted that it’s cold again but it will soon be as warm as New Orleans, guess what’s coming? Polar Vortex III: The Freezening. I can’t stand it.

But I’m back. Cold, but back.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' |

29 responses to “Not one crawfish.”

  1. Dexter said on February 24, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Welcome back. I was hoping for a review of some Frenchmen Street music bars; nothing you could do. The snake would have ruined it for me. I still kick myself in the ass because that night I was hitchhiking to New Orleans when I was a kid of 18 ended in a whiskey-beer drunk in Slidell and in the morning my buddy and I had to get back to the baseball team hotel and I still have never crossed L. Pontchartrain.

    Here, I would love to stop the process of these bakeries who supply grocers with Paczki boxes many days before Fat Tuesday. I hold to only eating them on just the one day. You only eat them on Fat Tuesday, people. Any other day they are just jelly donuts.

    Shameless, True Detective, and more House of Cards on the TV…I could not stand another night of the Winter Olympics . Total Olympic burn-out.

    And it’s jelly bean season…what could be more natural?

    The ice is horrible, just stinking horrible. It’s so hard to walk, especially carrying a few reusable grocery bags. My walking poles continue to keep me upright…no fall-downs yet. Big freeze this week, bicycling just a distant dream.

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  2. David C. said on February 24, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Our nephew just earned his master’s degree and is going for a doctorate in chemistry at Tulane. He loves it other than he is a gay man living in Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana. NO is Ok, but venture not too far out from that it gets scary.

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  3. Basset said on February 24, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Been there for recreational reasons four times and I still like PJ O’Roirke’s characterization – “high-crime drainage ditch.”

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  4. linda said on February 24, 2014 at 7:19 am

    When I was a wee girl growing up in Poletown in Detroit, paczki were everyday food, and I would often buy one at the bakery across the street from my grade school. During Lent, of course, they sold hot crossed buns which were a truly limited seasonal treat.

    We hadsomeeice thaw in Toledo this weekend so life is just a touch less hazardous, but not much.

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  5. Mindy said on February 24, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Cookbooks make great souvenirs. This is a great one; get it and prepare something from Nawlins yourself.

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  6. beb said on February 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Welcome home, Nancy.

    Thursday was one of those days when you think God is flipping through the weather channel. First we had some AM thunder, maybe some lightning as well but I don’t have a window where I work. Followed an hour later by an intense snow squall that left an inch or more of new snow, then it switched to rain, turning all the snow into slush. Then it froze.

    City workers finally got a view of the Emergency Manager’s bankruptcy plan. It involved a 34% cut in benefits but if we act right now that could be reduced to 26%. Wow, somewhere between a close shave and a cut throat! And there’s something unseemly about his carrot-and-stick offer which seems all stick and no carrot. I can’t help thinking that man is trying to scam us on something.

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  7. basset said on February 24, 2014 at 8:17 am

    O’Rourke, I should say, back when he used to be funny.

    Meanwhile, we’re on the short list for Google Fiber. Gotta love that.

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  8. Deborah said on February 24, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Beb, we had that same crazy weather Thursday in Chicago. First a thunderstorm, then sleet, snow, rain (lots of rain) but we had the added benefit of wind to make it really miserable before it all froze again.

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  9. Peter said on February 24, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Welcome back Nancy – the latest polar vortex episode wouldn’t be the same without you.

    Tulane is my niece’s alma mater – well, it will be, as she’s graduating in May. She was accepted at U of I, and got a scholarship there as well, but my sister added up the numbers and Tulane, even with a couple of round trip air fares per year thrown in, was cheaper. And warmer. And nicer.

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  10. Heather said on February 24, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed Cochon! That was definitely the best meal I had on my last trip there. We’re headed to Cabo San Lucas on Friday for a glorious week–it can’t come soon enough.

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  11. paddyo' said on February 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

    In 2010, I spent three weeks working in downtown N.O. at the federal emergency response HQ for the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill mess. Mostly excellent meals, but in our off-hours, the real treat was all the street-corner music. Especially a big, brassy, ever-changing band of teens, wailing nightly on the sidewalk where Canal and Bourbon streets meet. And at the free Satchmo Summer Fest in July, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, prominent in the HBO series Tremé, especially in the first season, played the show’s theme song down at the Old Mint.
    Most of Bourbon Street proper (improper) was an amateur-drinkers’ Jell-O-shots freak show, but the rest of the Quarter, pretty cool . . .

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  12. nancy said on February 24, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Yes, that was the thing about the Quarter — parts of it were simply awful, but you’d turn a corner, maybe two, and be in a different place. When we were there in ’91, we stayed in a guest house on Ursulines Street. I found it on our bike ride, although I think now it’s probably a private residence, or just the single most understated B&B on the planet. The street is lovely and quiet, and yet, just a stroll from the loudest, craziest action.

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  13. brian stouder said on February 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

    New Orleans sounds wonderful, PJ O’Roarke to the contrary notwithstanding.

    One thing we did in San Diego last year was cruise around and see where the crowds were after dark, and where they were at mid-day; and then pick one to try out for lunch – which worked wonderfully well. Plus, we took Mary’s advice and steered for local spots (rather than national chains) for lunch and so on, and that lead to good stuff (MXN was a particular fave!) every time.

    I will say that I knew where Nancy was headed, as soon as the parenthetical ‘pardon me for lowering the tone, but…’ popped up (so to speak).

    That is one bit of nn.c wisdom that has stuck with me ever since I first read it, and indeed it lends itself to several parallel observations (think of all the men who would go to a booby-bar and then spend more than what the good meal costs, just for watery beer and the accompanying sight of (equally augmented) boobs.

    Pam and I were gabbing yesterday (as we were shopping for refrigerators – which is another story), and she reminded me that our anniversary is fast-approaching, and with it our reservation at Cork & Cleaver…and you know what crossed my mind at that instant.

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  14. Carolyn said on February 24, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Cochon! Well done.

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  15. brian stouder said on February 24, 2014 at 11:44 am


    “Don’t leave without trying the fried alligator.” Travis H.

    “I highly recommend the rabbit and dumplings.” Nina O.

    “Braised pork cheeks – sooo tender and tasty.”

    The fried alligator does sound interesting…

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  16. brian stouder said on February 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    So is this the curse of nn.c?

    First, for Cooz, we spill coal ash and arsenic all over West Virginia and North Carolina, and now we’re dumping oil into the Mississippi at New Orleans…

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River remained closed at New Orleans on Monday following a weekend collision that resulted in crude oil spilling from a barge.

    Authorities involved in the cleanup and investigation planned a Monday morning conference call as they worked on estimates of how much oil spilled and when the river would re-open, a Coast Guard spokesman, Petty Officer Bill Colclough, said.

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  17. Basset said on February 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Now I have a Chuck Berry song stuck in my head… “go, go, go Tulane”…

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  18. Danny said on February 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Chess champ Kasparov says he would still be a Soviet citizen if Obama had been president instead of Reagan. He means this as a criticism, but it is also probably true.

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  19. Joe K said on February 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Rip. Harold Ramis,
    69 years young directed and acted in some of the funniest films ever.
    Pilot Joe

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  20. Julie Robinson said on February 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Beb, what an outrage. Does your union have any power under the bankruptcy plan? Screw the banks, the public employees should get the money.

    I had no idea Harold Ramis was that old, and though I see he died of an autoimmune disease which was probably unpleasant, it’s a relief to know it wasn’t another OD.

    As I drove in this morning I listened to a discussion about leftover pollution from coal mines; how it’s all over Appalachia and is a ticking time bomb that we haven’t seen the last of, on and on. Wonder how many of those springs are going into bottled water?

    My sister has a great technique for finding good food on vacation–she asks the locals she interacts with where they like to go. We’ve had some great meals that way.

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  21. coozledad said on February 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Alternative history is the domain of imbeciles and quacks, and Bush’s paid academic window dressers in the run up to the Iraq war. No one with a serious interest in history entertains the premises put forward by the shut ins and sociopaths who would have had Germany win WWI or Nathan Bedford Forrest elected president of Mississippasaw. But its enduring popularity testifies the the bucket of swill that pressurizes people’s skulls unless they have access to a solid liberal arts education.

    I got a Uchronia for you. President Johnson blows the lid off the Republican party’s treason in 1968. The Vietnam war ends seven years sooner. Ronald Reagan rots in a jail with Claire Chennault, Tricky Dick, and Susan Atkins.

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  22. jcburns said on February 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Yeah, I think Ramis made a major contribution to our culture, high, low, and in between. ‘Groundhog Day’ is a great example…”it shouldn’t be as good as it is.”

    It’s funny that he’s being remembered as much as he is as an actor, because these days I think he is/was about as much of an actor as Ron Howard.

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  23. Jean S said on February 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    tip for the next time you go to NOLA–yoga at the Cabildo. Nothing like walking through the Quarter early in the morning before everyone is out and about. And the space that the class is held in features chandeliers and overlooks Jackson Square.

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  24. MarkH said on February 24, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Anna Chennault. Her husband Claire died in 1958.

    Here’s a better, more crucial Uchronia for you, coozledad: JFK is the president he wants to be and everyone thinks he is. He comes clean on his lack of faith in the Vietnam war (“they hate us over there”, he is quoted as saying). He lets the backroom ’63 peace talks everyone knows is going on between Diem and Ho Chi Minh continue unabated, instead of cynically wanting to stop them until he was re-elected in ’64 and then end the war – on HIS terms. He actively prevents Diem’s assassination. Talks conclude in a peace between north and south, troops are pulled out. No Vietnam war. President LBJ gets to concentrate fully on civil rights, gets re-elected in ’68. And certainly no President Nixon, who is permanently relegated to the political scrap heap. Crucial info from Sy Hersh at 21:00:

    jc, I agree, Ramis lacked screen presence along with acting ability. But what do you expect when you dare to share the screen with Bill Murray. Wrote some great material, though.

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  25. coozledad said on February 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    History is full of Republicans pushing for a negotiated settlement with the North? And Diem didn’t shit the bed by persecuting the Buddhists? There’s a couple of significant omissions in that argument.

    I’m not sure Henry Cabot Lodge would have proffered another solution to the Diem problem besides a Mossadegh style coup. It’s just more of that Churchill and Kermit Roosevelt dick swinging. Kennedy made the mistake of many other Democratic presidents- assuming that Republicans will ever act in good faith, assuming they will not negotiate directly with an enemy to get at power and the money. It’s an error. And it’s an error Lyndon Johnson and his FBI realized when they caught Richard Nixon negotiating with a foreign power against the interests of the United States.

    I think Johnson is complicit in a slight way. He should have revealed the subterfuge and let the country decide what to do with the Republican party. I suspect it would have been grisly.

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  26. Deborah said on February 24, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Harold Ramis was on the board of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, which is an organization for and about Neurofibromatosis or NF, which is the condition my daughter has. They changed the name to what it is now fairly recently which I thought was a stroke of genius when it comes to fund raising. Nobody knows what NF is but everyone can relate to children with tumors.

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  27. brian stouder said on February 24, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    He actively prevents Diem’s assassination.

    This one lost me at the bakery.

    Diem was murdered a week before JFK was; President Kennedy allowed this to happen.

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  28. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Hat tip to Friend of NN.C David:

    Lovely tribute, with gentle foregrounding of Ramis’ Buddhist leanings. If you haven’t already, you should watch:

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  29. LAMary said on February 25, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I liked most of Harold Ramis’ movies, but the first report of his death I heard said he is credited with inspiring Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler. This made me reconsider.

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