I spent four days in New Orleans recently and got distracted from eating dumplings by all the other great food available to me. Here is a run down on my experiences eating in New Orleans.
Acme Oyster House – Acme is definitely a tourist destination and it shows in the lackluster service, but luckily the food is still great. Acme served the best raw oysters I had on the trip, fat, succulent and flavorful, and they also served the best Po Boy sandwich – try the fried catfish and oyster Po Boy. The only time you can get in without waiting on line is from 2 to 4 in the afternoon or very late at night.
Mulate’s – This a big sprawling restaurant-bar-club located across from the Convention Center and has nightly live music and a dance floor. I had a good seafood gumbo here that was spicy but lacked a depth and complexity of flavor that I tasted elsewhere. They served a fabulous Boudan, which is a sausage made of pork and rice, it is like dirty rice in a sausage casing. The filling had a very soft consistency, similar to blood sausage, and could almost be spread on bread like a soft pate. I really liked Mulate’s for sitting at the bar, snacking and listening to music.
Luke – Luke is part of John Besh’s empire of restaurants and, since we ate there twice, there is a lot to say about Luke, some of it good.
- The Bad – the oysters at Luke were weak, they were not the fat and succulent specimens that Acme serves and two of them I sent back because they looked suspect. The sausage sampler entree was also pretty bad, the three sausages lacked salt, spice, herbs and flavor and mainly tasted of grease – we couldn’t tell the difference between the wild boar sausage, the pork and onions sausage and the Bratwurst.
- The Mediocre – the roast pork shank was delicious, but the pork belly that came with it seemed undercooked and was tough and lacked flavor and the sausage that also accompanied the shank was bland and greasy. The Boudan they served up was decent and had a meatier consistency than the Boudan at Mulate’s, but was not as tasty. The cocktails tasted watered down and the service was hit-or-miss; the first night service was excellent and the second night it was poor.
- The Good – Luke served up the best charcuterie plate of the trip and had an excellent pan fried drum fish. My advice is go there for a charcuterie plate appetizer and then have dinner elsewhere.
Mena’s Cafe – Mena’s is a cafe in the French Quarter, which, while located down the street from Acme, has somehow managed to stay off the tourist radar. They serve the absolute best sea food gumbo I have eaten in New Orleans. Mena’s is only open for breakfast and lunch, and yes, I have had the gumbo for breakfast at 10 am. The wait staff always seem a little grumpy and you have to be ready to order when they ask you what you want.
Cochon – This is the best known member of Donald Link’s family of restaurants and overall lived up to its reputation. For appetizers we had the fried livers with spicy jelly, which was great, and the summer ham with cheese straws. I thought the ham was a solid effort, but lacked a depth of flavor and certainly wasn’t worth twenty bucks. The catfish courtbouillon was one of the best dishes I ate on the trip, the stew sauce was thick with chunks of tomatoes and had an incredible depth of flavor, but yet didn’t overwhelm the catfish; there was a lot of balance to this dish. The cocktails were strong and well mixed by tattooed hipster guys with oldie-timey beards and mustaches.
Herbsaint – This is another Donald Link restaurant and is a much more of a fine dining experience than Cochon. The rice and shrimp and the rabbit and pasta starters were deeply, intensely flavorful and left us wanting more, but in reality I don’t think I could have taken an entree worth of that intensity. I had the slow cooked lamb neck with saffron fideo and tomato confit, which can be a tough and gamey cut of meat, but they had braised it to the point where the meat was falling off the bone and any of the gaminess had been cooked away – this was a delicious meal. My friend had the muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique, which he said was amazing, but I was too distracted by my lamb to get around to trying his dish.
Root – By the time we hit Root I was running on fumes in terms of my ability to eat food. The Cochon de Lait Porchetta Charcuterie was intimidating, it is a pork loin that had been wrapped in pork belly and then smoked, and was served as two thick, cross sectional slices, about 6 inches each in diameter. It tasted delicious, but was exceedingly fatty. In an attempt to lighten things up some, I tried the Heirloom tomato salad, which even with tomato’s being out of season was sensational – chopped tomato arranged in a ring, adorned with edible flowers and a snappy vinaigrette dressing. My friend had the Ménage à Foie, which included a Foie cotton candy ball on a stick.