Stepping out: Muriel’s Jackson Square

When Casey invited me to a show at Le Petit Theatre a few nights ago, I instantly thought, “Where should we go for dinner?” An evening on the town isn’t complete without a meal after all and I’d recently discovered a fabulous package deal specifically designed for theater-goers, a three course menu for $25, plus (and here’s the real kicker) five hours of free parking in the French Quarter from Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant.

This is my 54th cheat and I lost one of the pounds I gained last week, so I am down 71 pounds.

We were joyfully joined by another close friend of Casey’s, so Stephanie made three on our epic girl’s night out in the “Quarters.” We arrived on time for our six o’clock reservations, the car snuggled away in the Place D’Armes Hotel parking lot and dressed “to the nines” for a night without the boys. Well, they were dressed up. My supply of evening wear disappeared when my dress size rose above 22. Still, I knew that Muriel’s attracted a lot of casually dressed diners, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Besides, I’m certain at least a few of the catcalls echoing across the Square were meant for me as well.

We were seated at a nice table and offered menus, though from what we read online, we already had a pretty good idea of what we wanted, but we also selected some drinks. Stephanie likes her vodka straight up, but Casey and I decided to share a couple of Muriel’s special cocktail concoctions, a “Streetcar” featuring New Orleans Spiced Cajun Rum (gotta love Old New Orleans Rum) and a “Neutral Ground” with Hendricks Gin, Campari and absinthe. Giggling at the giddy wave of freedom flowing over us, we (carefully) clinked our glasses together and toasted to the beginning of a wonderful evening.

While we were sipping, the first course arrived. Casey and I both chose the Turtle Soup with Sherry while Stephanie had the Seafood Gumbo. Since Stephanie let me taste a spoon, I can say that they were equally creamy and rich, and both were based from a dark, nutty roux.

Last Thanksgiving when John and I visited Muriel’s, I ordered a double-thick pork chop and I simply couldn’t resist ordering the same thing, even though I did everything in my power to select something new. I get so few opportunities to re-try dishes I’ve tasted before, I just couldn’t help myself. Served with smoky collard greens and pecan glazed sweet potatoes, the juicy chop was almost as good as I remembered.

Casey’s order was the Seafood au Gratin, this bubbling, creamy goodness arrived in a hot cast iron pan featuring a large potato croquette on top. Stephanie got the Pecan Crusted Puppy Drum (it’s not a puppy, right?) served atop a pile of crab meat relish and surrounded by lemon butter sauce. I found both of their dishes tasty, though the Puppy Drum had a nice crust and was cooked perfectly, without the sauce (which she wanted to lick from the plate), it was sadly bland. Neither dish made me regret ordering my beloved chop.

We were all pretty full, but we manage to polish off our delicious dinner with some decadent desserts. I had to get the Creme Brulee, but both Casey and Stephanie opted for the Bread Pudding with rum sauce. Keeping our schedules in mind, we inhaled most of the desserts while the wait staff provided our check, returned with the change and still left us with plenty of time to scurry across the Square to order yet another drink and find our seats at the theater. The show must go on…

Indulging at Jackson Restaurant

After overcoming many obstacles this week including a lung infection, incompetent physicians and their assistants, and unintentionally quitting smoking (I couldn’t breathe after all)…I was barely even fazed when I stepped on the scale to discover I had gained four pounds. Obviously, even a woman scheduled to write a weekly article regarding the incredible strides she’s made in weight loss and fine dining is bound to have setbacks. Considering I haven’t encountered a serious setback in the five months I’ve been dieting, I would say I am doing pretty well.

Regardless of my gain, I still was determined to eat my weekly cheat meal. John deserved a great meal too considering his patience with me during this trying time. (Will you ever forgive my irrational tantrums? Pretty please?) After much deliberation, I finally decided to try Jackson on Magazine Street. I’d driven past it many times and have considered dining there on many occasions since it re-opened. The time had finally arrived…

John and I got to the restaurant early and were greeted warmly by Mark Anthony, one of the owners of the new incarnation.  Mark informed us that Jackson often offers a special on Thursday nights featuring a Moroccan-themed menu where you can select three courses and a bottle of wine all for around $50 per couple. Although that sounded tempting, I already had my sights set on some items from the original menu, so I opted out this time, but made a mental note to try their special sometime soon.

The interior of Jackson wouldn’t be out of place in the French Quarter with its exposed brick walls and high ceilings.  John and I were seated at a comfy, romantic booth upholstered in what seemed like a rich, brown suede-like fabric.  The white linen-covered tables all featured flickering candles and familiar strains of jazz flowed through the space at a comfortable level from what sounded like local radio station WTUL.

Our waitress kindly tempted us with a special cocktail dubbed a “Jackson Five” which was laden with several different kinds of rum, peach schnapps and cranberry juice.  We were both in the mood for a drink so we accepted, and to our delight, the drink was fresh tasting and fruity, served with rum soaked cherries and a thick slice of orange.  It was a perfect way to begin our evening.

For our first appetizer I selected another special, Cream of Asparagus Soup that was so tasty and laden with bleu cheese I could have scraped the bowl with some bread if I had any.   Next we had the Gorgonzola Cheesecake served with seeded crackers and topped with cheddar cheese and chopped walnuts.  It was really rich but we had no difficulty scarfing it down before our next appetizer arrived, Oysters Jackson.  These charbroiled beauties were laced with butter, Parmesan and topped with shrimp.  Although the oysters seemed a little small for this time of year, the shellfish was cooked perfectly and the flavor was delicious!

Admittedly, we were already getting full by this time but I was still anxious for my entrée that came out, colors flying, shortly after the appetizers.  My mouth was already watering as she laid the plate of Blackened Seared Tuna drizzled with Strawberry Jalapeño Butter served with my selected side of Whipped Boursin Sweet Potatoes.  The tuna was perfectly seared on the outside with a cool, raw center.  The heat from the blackening seasoning and the Jalapeño combined with the strawberry was a flavor my tongue hasn’t encountered before, but absolutely loved and I will definitely be back for more. Oh, and the sweet potatoes, let’s just say John doesn’t even like sweet potatoes normally, but he certainly couldn’t get enough of mine.

Although he enjoyed some of my plate, John couldn’t help but focus on his own dish, a Béarnaise Burger with a side of shoestring-style Truffle Fries.  The meat must have been marinated in wine and garlic (among other seasonings I couldn’t place) before becoming the delicious burger it was. Also, I love it when restaurants brush their hamburger buns in butter before grilling as Jackson so lovingly did.  The Béarnaise Sauce and grilled onions were just bonuses added to the delicious meat of the burger.  Before I forget to mention it, the Truffle Fries are awesome and, yes, a little truffle oil can go a long way in flavoring something as simple as a French fry.

Finally, because you know I couldn’t leave without something sweet, we ordered their Stuffed Cookies for dessert.  Simply put, they take homemade chocolate chip cookies and slather ganache and hazelnut chocolate between two to make a sweet little sandwich. They were truly divine!

The only thing that disappointed me about Jackson Restaurant was the fact that we were the only patrons there!  Even when we were leaving at around 7:00 p.m., we were still the only people in the restaurant.  What can I say but get your rears in gear and get over there!

Muriel’s Jackson Square: A Thanksgiving to remember

There are simply too many things in my life to be thankful for.  I have a loving boyfriend, the cutest dog in the whole world and a wonderful family, who I desperately miss especially on Thanksgiving Day.  Since I often can’t afford to return to California to celebrate this awesome family occasion, I have held parties for my friends where we would feast on fried turkey (purchased hot from Koz’s) and my own Jambalaya-inspired cornbread stuffing.  This year, to save money and my diet, John and I decided to do something I have never done before.  We dined out for Thanksgiving and I am oh so thankful we chose to have our feast at Muriel’s Jackson Square.

Due to a horrid cheat experience and a case of viral conjunctivitis, I have not reported my cheats for the last two weeks.  After such a trying month, I have been looking forward to a new holiday experience plus a fantastic cheat and Muriel’s offered all that and more.  This is my 15th week and my 15th cheat and I am down 44 pounds.

The sun was shining bright over a beautiful, sleepy day in the French Quarter.  The city seemed almost bereft of tourists that made parking a breeze and strolling through Jackson Square a private delight.  Families were scattered here and there, admiring the beauty of the St. Louis Cathedral, watching the sole juggler spin soft beanbags around his head or dancing to a lone tuba player belting out “When the Saints go marching in”, his voice lilting alone across the unusually quiet square.  Hand in hand, John and I found ourselves falling in love with the beauty of New Orleans all over again.

Since 1718 the building that now houses Muriel’s has been everything from a personal residence, a grocery store, a spaghetti factory and even a saloon.  After a major renovation restoring the building as a personal residence, Muriel’s opened its doors in 2001 to the pleasure of both diners and ghost hunters alike.  John and I were escorted through classic New Orleans architecture with exposed brick walls and an elegant indoor gallery overlooking a courtyard bar.  The dining room was crowded with both large and small linen-covered tables with heavily padded chairs that were surprisingly lightweight.  To begin our celebration we ordered some cocktails, a cosmopolitan for me and a very dirty vodka martini for John, while deciding on appetizers.

For Thanksgiving, in addition to offering their normal dinner menu, Muriel’s was offering a 3-course special for only $38.00 per person and we decided to take them up on it.  For an appetizer, I chose the Gorgonzola Tart and John wanted to try the Oyster Pan Roast.  While sipping our drinks, we were brought a loaf of bread spiced for the season with clove and nutmeg served with a creamy whipped butter.  In short order, our appetizers arrived.  The Gorgonzola Tart was served with honeyed pecans, sliced apple and plump fresh blackberries that made a perfect mach for the rich, tart cheese.  John’s plump, juicy Louisiana oysters were swimming in a sauce with leeks, wild mushrooms and thyme and served with a savory apple-smoked bacon corn muffin.  Both dishes were so delicious that, although we shared a few bites, we jealously hoarded the remaining mouthfuls for ourselves.

Although turkey was on the menu, I couldn’t resist ordering a Double-Cut Porkchop for my entrée (surprise, surprise) and John selected a Garlic-Crusted Redfish topped with jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both entrees turned out to be very healthy-sized portions, but we had no difficulties devouring everything on our plates.  The porkchop was perfectly cooked, juicy on the inside, crispy and sweet on the outside.  It was topped with sugarcane apple glaze and served with pecan-glazed sweet potatoes and Southern-style greens.  Each bite was pure bliss and John was more than happy to help me clean the plate.  John’s Redfish was served on brown-buttered, Brussel sprouts, with apple-smoked bacon and red onions and loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both dishes were divine and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our Thanksgiving bounty thus far.

Finally, for dessert I ordered the Pumpkin pie with Creme Chantilly and John requested the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (what’s Thanksgiving without pie after all?) and some nice, hot cappuccinos.  We were sinfully surprised by the homemade biscotti that accompanied our coffee and for even extra lagniappe; we were gifted with two perfect chocolate truffles just in case we hadn’t over-indulged enough yet.  Everything was fantastic.  I particularly enjoyed the large pieces of rich chocolate among the sweet pecans in John’s pie, when I finally wrenched a bite away from him.  Also, my Pumpkin Pie was perfectly spiced, heavy with clove that only emphasized the sweetness of my favorite fall squash.  Simply delicious.

Heavily satiated, and sedated, as for any Thanksgiving feast in our past, we sauntered back into Jackson Square feeling elated.  We had an incredible dining experience in a beautiful restaurant in the heart of the city I love, the city that has truly become my home.  Not only am I thankful for the exquisite meal provided by the talented chefs at Muriel’s, I am thankful to live in New Orleans where food this delicious can be had on any old day and not just on special occasions.