Willa Jean: A Parking Story

Grilled Gulf Fish Sandwich with tartar sauce and slaw on a Hawaiian Roll

Not to sound like a snot, but growing up around a major metropolis like San Francisco has taught me a few solid rules to follow when parking in the city. First, never park illegally or you will most definitely be ticketed, booted and/or towed. Second, never ever leave anything inside your car that can be seen from outside, that is unless you’re looking to have your window busted in and that item (and possibly your whole car) stolen. Finally, and central to the point of this blog, always pay the full amount on the meter whether you think your stay will be shorter or not. City time is different from any other kinds of time and there are tons of reasons one can get held up. Isn’t a $3.50 fee better than a $50 parking ticket? I would also add that when parking on a hill, be sure to turn your wheels, but in New Orleans that is (thankfully) not something anyone has to worry about.

Several months ago when Willa Jean first opened in the Paramount building downtown, John and I had a rare afternoon together so we decided to try it out for lunch. We scored a parking space right across the street from the restaurant and while I was fussing with my bag, John got out and paid the meter. When we sat down inside, I asked John how much time he put on the meter and he said “We only need an hour, right?” I stood up and explained to him that we needed to add more time, but he was convinced the lunch wouldn’t take that long.  All I could do is sit down,  shake my head and say, “Well, we’ll see.”

Cold Lamb Sandwich with minted peas and arugula on an onion roll

Since it was an off hour, around 2pm, there were not that many people in the restaurant and it was easy for us to score a window seat. We placed our order and right after our sodas arrived, our appetizer came out. We selected Pigs in a Blanket which were mini-hot dogs wrapped in a croissant bread and served with Creole mustard for dipping. While the bread itself was buttery, flaky and baked to a rich, dark brown color, I thought they were only so-so. The sausage was so small compared to the bread around it, that they were kind of lost in the glorious croissant. Perhaps that’s why it’s no longer on the menu?

The entrees came out pretty quickly after the Pigs in a Blanket. John ordered a grilled fish sandwich served on a house made (of course!) Hawaiian roll with tartar sauce and fresh slaw. It was overflowing with veggies and a thick, grilled piece of Gulf fish, drum I believe, and John quickly scarfed it down. My sandwich was piled high with thin slices of rare, cold lamb, dressed with a mint pea emulsion and peppery arugula on an onion roll. It was so scrumptious! All of the flavors, the juicy lamb, mint and onion all came together like a party in my mouth. Unfortunately, Willa Jean has removed this sandwich from the menu as well, which I think is a major bummer because I would’ve definitely returned for that sandwich alone.

Milk & Cookies

As usual, I had to order dessert and what appealed to me the most were the (surprise, surprise) Cookies & Milk. Everyone has been raving about these cookies and I am such a sucker for chocolate chip that I couldn’t deny myself a taste of these beauties that are made with big crystals of sea salt and Valrhona Chocolate. Three large cookies were served warm with a tall tin cup of Tahitian vanilla milk and a mini beater* with a lump of cookie dough stuck on the end. We devoured everything without a crumb to spare.

Stuffed and sleepy, John and I wandered back out to the car only to find a bright orange ticket on the windshield. We were less than five minutes over the hour, but New Orleans meter maids are like defective fairy godmothers who only show up at the most inopportune moments. Though there was no reason to say it because the consequences were obvious, I muttered a soft “I told you so” that in no way aided our digestion and only ensured that the car ride home would be one made in an irritated silence.

*There has been heated controversy over the beater presentation at Willa Jean. While I fondly remember licking cookie dough batter from my mother’s hand beater, others claim they never use one to mix in the dry ingredients. What say you? 

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