Sips and snacks at Ivy

While I have not yet acquired the funds needed to dine at Gautreau’s, I did get the opportunity to taste Chef Sue Zemanick’s highly capable cookery a few months ago at the recently-opened Ivy. One balmy afternoon, I met a new acquaintance for a few bites at the Magazine Street restaurant (gastropub?) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I only wish I could have afforded to try more…

We chose to lounge outside and immediately ordered a couple of drinks. My DC opted for a French 75 with gin, lemon juice and champagne, while I chose their version of a Dark & Stormy with dark rum and ginger beer. We sipped the cool drinks while the sun made its decent towards the horizon and talked about our love for a city that was not, technically, our home town.

About halfway through our cocktails, the small plates arrived one-by-one, the first being house made potato chips with a French onion dip. They were perfectly crisp and not even a tad bit greasy, but we devoured the small portion faster than you can blink, though we left a lone chip in the bowl, neither of us willing to deny the other another taste.

Next up was a Hamachi Crudo with fennel, grapefruit, and basil, a dish that light and refreshing, perfect for a mid-summer afternoon. For that dish, there was a scramble to devour every bite and neither of us “played the lady,” leaving not a single morsel on the plate.

Our last dish was Pimento cheese-stuffed Boudin balls with Creole-cane syrup, of which there were three. Although we graciously split the last, so each of us enjoyed one and one half, I couldn’t help but be reminded about my appetizer pet peeve. You see, I have this sinking suspicious that chefs serve dishes in odd numbers forcing you to order twice as much to have an even number of portions. The Boudin balls were delicious, but not enough to cause us to order more.

Overall, I though the food and drinks were quite wonderful, but everything was drastically over-priced. $10 for a plate of crudo that altogether wouldn’t equal more than two mouthfuls? $7 for a small handful of potato chips? $11 for three Boudin balls smaller than ping pong balls? Frankly, I’ll have to wait for someone with a lot more expendable income than I to take me here again, but I am glad I got to experience even this little bit just once.

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Inhaling a feast at Maurepas Foods

Last week, I invited my friend Dani to have lunch with John and I at the recently-opened Maurepas Foods in the Bywater. Now, when I invite Dani, I am also inviting her 2-year-old daughter Posie and seeing as how everything must revolve around nap time and the kid’s ever-variant mood swings, we didn’t exactly make it for lunch. That being said, when we finally wandered into the restaurant it was almost 4PM and I was starving. We could tell that even Posie was hungry, seeing as she waited patiently for something to munch on. Needless to say, we went a little crazy and ordered a lot of food.

A cheese plate came out first with a hard Vermont cheddar, creamy morbier and thick Landaff  served with sugared pecans and sliced ciabatta. There was a kind of chutney on the plate, but after Posie stuck her whole hand in it, I kind of lost interest. At the same time, we also shared a plate of house made pickled root vegetables like carrots, turnips, ginger and even “Romanesco” broccoli (similar to cauliflower) and lima beans.

Maybe we went a teensy-bit overboard on the apps, because I also ordered their Sweet Potato Croquettes and Brussels sprouts. The Croquettes were just wonderful — crunchy and crisp on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside — and served with a smear of a salted plum jam. There were unmistakable accents of Indian cuisine like coriander, fenugreek and cumin, which turned out to be sort of a theme for several of the dishes. The other plate of Brussels sprouts were browned with thick bacon and tossed in a “winter vegetable puree.” I chose the sprouts because I thought Posie would dig them (and she did), but the rest of us weren’t complaining either.

Believe it or not, we also got entrees and had no difficulty polishing all of them off. Dani got the Fish & Chips “Moira”  (Wendy Darling?) with crispy Lyonaise potatoes and malt vinaigrette. I am uncertain what kind of fish it was (being distracted by my own plate), but the taste I had was delightful and Dani could not stop raving about a curry sauce that came with it that brought to mind her favorite Indian dish, Butter Chicken. I think she showed admirable restraint by not swabbing up all of the heady sauce with her fingers.

John ordered the Pork & Bacon Terrine that was served with thin slices of pickled pears, honey and mizuna or Japanese mustard. Yep, I had to look that one up. Though I did enjoy a large bite of his luscious terrine, I was really hypnotized by my own dish, the P&J Oyster Stew. Served in an oven-hot crock and topped by buttery pastry, I was a bit unnerved when I first broke through the crust. A blood-red broth oozed onto the pastry and the steam released a scent of yet more Indian seasoning. My spoon dove straight to the bottom of the hot stew only to discover humongous, plump, juicy oysters and lots of minutely-diced beets. I slurped down every last drop and scraped down the pastry from the edge of the crock until anymore foraging would have looked helplessly desperate. I would so order this dish again…in a heartbeat.

Keeping with the gluttonous theme of the entire afternoon, we ordered two desserts to share with no regrets.  My favorite was the Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream Sundae with candied pecans and hot fudge, but I think Dani definitely preferred the fluffy King Cake/cream puff overflowing with a goat cheese filling and topped with a chocolate ganache and bright gold & green sugar crystals.

After that gorging session, it was time for my nap…

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Itching for a cocktail…

“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”  -W. C. Fields

Last night on the way to a Christmas party, I kept thinking how the first thing I wanted to order was a drink. Although, I’ve been known to party a little too heartily from time to time, I’m really not a big drinker, but something about the cold weather has me constantly craving a cocktail. Not only do I get to try yet another tasty liquid concoction, but after one or two (or even three), I’ll feel warm and cozy inside and out, let the chill winds come as they please. So to keep away the cold and as a tribute to that favorite New Orleans pastime, here are a few of the delicious cocktails I’ve had this year.

Although I sipped this beauty at the Bridge Lounge in the springtime, I could still go for one during the winter months…

It’s called a “Porch Swing” with muddled cucumber, Pims, lemonade, Hendrix Gin and ginger ale. I can just feel that spring heat now, sitting outside and watching the rain coming down.

This next drink is one of my all-time favorites, a classic Mojito from the Victorian Lounge at the Columns Hotel.

Who can resist the lure of rum mixed with muddled fresh mint and sugar? Certainly not I! A “nouveaux” classic cocktail at a truly classy bar.

I can almost feel the droplets of sweat running down my face when remembering the day I enjoyed this particular beauty during a hot August luncheon at The Green Goddess

Called “Solidarity Sunshine”,this is a cocktail the restaurant tagged as “an adult lemonade” with Sparkling Meyer Lemon Juice, Sobieski Vodka and fresh basil. Oh how I want the sunshine to return!

Since I can enjoy ice cream anytime of the year, it only seems appropriate to mention this next creamy, sweet deliciousness I acquired from Sucre on a very moody 39th birthday…

It’s a Big Kid Shake called  “A Bunch of Nuts” starring Brown Putter Pecan Gelato, Frangelico and Praline Liquor.

Speaking of sweetness, this jazzed up martini from the Monkey Hill Bar was as fine as any dessert I’ve ever enjoyed.

This “Double Espresso Martini” features Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Starbucks espresso liqueur and dark Creme de Cacao garnished with crunchy espresso beans and Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

Last, bust certainly not least, I have to give some love to a treat I had during Thanksgiving at Café Adelaide, it tasted like Christmas in a glass…

This excellent cocktail created by one of the Swizzle Stick’s talented bartenders, Shawn Phipps and called the “Santeria,” was lovingly made with Stoli Vanil Vodka, Nocello, Licor 43, allspice and a cinnamon-sugared rim.

*Note – Although I highly suggest trying all of these magnificent cocktails, it might not be wise to do it all at the same time…

Lager, stout, ale and more beer at The Bulldog

Even though there is a vast bar and restaurant selection within walking distance of my old apartment on Harmony Street, I would often find myself at The Bulldog.  Not only does it possess a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, they also serve up some of the tastiest bar food in the city. When I walked into the bar a few days ago, it was the first time I’d been back in several years, but much to my relief, not a whole lot had changed.

The Bulldog, with it’s wooden floors, bar and ceiling (reminding me of the hull of an old boat), still offers one of the largest selections of draft and bottled beers in New Orleans. Grinning, I strolled along the length of the bar reviewing the different brands in a long line of uniquely-shaped taps. Craving a stout, but seeking a change from Guinness, I finally selected a Rogue Chocolate which is a sweet stout from Ashland, Oregon (also home of possibly the coolest Shakespeare Festival in the U.S.).

I sipped slowly on the thick, rich beer while watching the other folks in the bar. To the right of me, a few ladies were enjoying what looked like a huge pile of cheesy goo, but I am pretty sure it was the King’s Nachos featuring fresh corn tortilla chips, house made refried beans, several different kinds of cheese, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, sour cream and Pico de Gallo.  It was such a large plate of nachos that the three women had no problem sharing.  There was even a decent amount remaining after they got up and left.

Seeing as it was happy hour (2 to 7 p.m. every weekday), I slugged down the rest of my stout and selected a beer on the complete opposite side of the ale spectrum, a Stella Artois. Taking my pint glass in hand (Yes, they use glass!), I wandered outside.  When I used to hang out at The Bulldog, the patio was not heavily used or even in existence.  But now, with a myriad tables and chairs, large umbrellas to block the sun and a cool “fountain” featuring water endlessly gushing from a line of taps, it has become the perfect place to relax and watch the traffic roll by.

As I was drained the remnants of my Stella, the patio was already half-full of folks who had just left work and had met up with friends for a few beers, maybe a few bites and some good conversation.  It was good to see that my old neighborhood tavern hadn’t really changed all that much…just enough to make it even better.

Half Moon therapy

Like the Circle Bar, the Half Moon Bar & Restaurant on the corner of St. Mary Street is a local watering hole that I used to frequent quite often.  It was at the Half Moon that I heard about a shooting that happened on St. Charles Avenue during Mardi Gras ’03…a mere block from where I was standing while screaming for beads and downing beers from a backpack. At the Half Moon, my friend and I played pool with a man named “Sweat” (our first mistake) who relayed to us his recent release from Angola before he and his perky girlfriend stole my purse. Finally, it was at the Half Moon where I sat out in their (previously) dingy courtyard, drinking pitchers of Guinness with my friends around an old rusty table, accompanied only by the cockroaches and the rain till the break of dawn.

I loved that place…

For the first time in several years, I visited the Half Moon this Tuesday night with Ryan Tramonte, his BFF Dore and of course, John.  I had arrived on the scene early and asked Tammy, the bartender on duty, if they had a special cocktail.  She suggested a bar shot called the “Kitten Whisper” with watermelon vodka, sour mix, a splash of cranberry juice and a spritz of 7UP.  As she mixed the drink, I couldn’t help but notice the changes.

Several large tables now stood where two pool tables used to be and a large chunk of the back wall was missing revealing a) one of the missing pool tables, b) an air hockey table and c) a kitchen!  Yep, the Half Moon Bar & Restaurant had become a restaurant again!  When I used to hang there we’d order from Cafe Roma across the street.  I’m so glad they took advantage of their kitchen once again.

Everyone arrived just as the last shot was being poured and we started the happy hour bottoms up.  The “Kitten Whispers” were cool and refreshing…not too sweet and played nicely into a round of beers.  On a goofy suggestion from me, Ryan decided to try a “Pineaboo“, Malibu Rum and pineapple juice, but also ordered a backup beer, and two-fisted his way over to a table.

While discussing the changes in the bar, Dore mentioned the renovation of their patio and I was up and running before she finished her sentence.  Pushing through some strips of heavy plastic, I made my way outside to a Half Moon wonderland!  A gorgeous tiled floor with brightly painted murals on the walls and fences enveloped the new dining patio filled with tables and benches a go-go!  The rain was all that prevented me from dragging everyone else outside.

While I was away, Dore and John decided to order some food from the kitchen.  Dore ordered a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich wrap and John got a cheeseburger.  I nibbled on some of their steak fries and took a few bites of Dore’s sandwich which was tasty, as well as excellent sustenance for a long night of drinking in New Orleans.

Enjoying the relaxed atmosphere in the dark, spacious bar, we chatted easily while finishing our drinks.  Someone played The Cure on the jukebox, one I recall funnelling a lot of money into, and it made me feel so very comfortable. It was with much reluctance and shuffling of feet that we finally decided to go our separate ways home.

Although we didn’t meet any ex-convicts or hear any shocking news, we still enjoyed a great happy hour at the Half Moon, a comfortable neighborhood bar that I will always recommend and frequent as often as I am able.  After all, I don’t expect my adventures in New Orleans will ever end…and that’s just how I like it.

“Pure Silk” at the Whiskey Blue

The only time I ever recall visiting the Whiskey Blue, I was short on funds and decided the best way to appreciate my circumstances was to blow credit I couldn’t repay on some expensive cocktails.  Shalom and I wandered into the hotel bar wearing jeans and flip-flops, plopped down onto the stools and ordered a couple of Mojitos…that turned into four.  I remember that later that night, we roamed around the city trying to find one it’s equal and although there were some runner-ups, we still craved the fresh, crisp flavor of first one we had at the Whiskey Blue.

Yep.  It was that good.

When I returned to the Whiskey Blue a few days ago, I have to admit I was tempted to get a Mojito and relive old memories through a couple of sips.  But, I decided to live in the now and ask the bartender for a special.  If you ever meet her, I’d advise you go with Ashley’s suggestions. This time, she recommended a drink from the bar’s menu dubbed Pure Silk.

Showing her local colors, Ashley will tell you she was raised in Destrehan and attended Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie while effortlessly composing the perfect mixed drink served with a little flair and a lot of love.  After one sip I deemed this cocktail my new replacement for the Mimosa. 

Pure Silk is an ethereal synthesis of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, Belvedere Vodka, basil and grapefruit juice.  I loved the distinct herbal, honeyed nose from the Elderflower liqueur merging delicately with the pungent aroma of freshly muddled basil.  Tangy, freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice adds the needed element to lift all the flavors together into a light, refreshing cocktail…perfect for summer mornings in the Crescent City.

As I sipped the end of my cocktail, I was thinking about all the things I had to get done that afternoon, all of the chores in front of me.  I was in the midst of getting my things together when Ashley smiled brightly at me and asked if I would like anything else.

I just wish Shalom was there with me when I drank that incredibly perfect Mojito…