(Almost) Five Days in New Orleans.

No matter where I am, home or away, I’m always looking ahead to my next trip.  I can’t help it.  There’s so much in the world that I haven’t seen, and I can’t understand why we spend so much time standing still.  I mean, sure — I’m cozy on my sofa right now listening to Sparklehorse‘s It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m considering another Fluffernutter, but I’m also thinking about Saigon, I’m also thinking about Singapore, I’m also thinking about Cebu.

I’m also, as it turns out, thinking about the time Keith and I spend in New Orleans last week.  I had visited the city with a friend nine years before and had really loved the it, so I was eager to see what Keith thought.

Monday*
Got on the plan in warmer-than-usual-but-still-incredibly-cold Boston and got off in wet, windy and chilly New Orleans.  I swear to you — temperatures in New Orleans were lower than they were at home.  Hopped a cab to the W on Poydras and, once we got to our room, immediately crawled under the covers.  After a nap, debated which within-walking-distance restaurant to check out for dinner and settled on the Cajun cuisine at Cochon.  Walked the half mile in absolutely torrential rain that soaked us through our raincoats in spite of our overworked umbrellas.  Tried to dry off while sharing small plates of fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly on toast ($9.00) and caramelized onion and grits casserole ($9.00).  Neither Keith nor I could decide on entrées so we opted to be That Couple and also split our main courses.  Ordered the eponymous cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins ($22.00) as well as the oyster and bacon sandwich ($14.00), thus beginning my week of fried-oyster-eatin’.  Of course, by dinner’s end the rain had stopped so we slogged our waterlogged selves by to the hotel for a warm bath and bed.

Tuesday
Woke up to a dry city… that was utterly freezing.  Pulled on as many layers as possible and wished I had packed a pair of gloves, especially as we walked to the French Quarter.  In spite of the cold, wandered around before popping into Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley, where Keith picked up a really nice Flannery O’Connor anthology. Lunch at Mr. B’s Bistro.  Made a little meal out of appetizers — creamy mushroom soup and (more) fried oysters — while Keith drank a $1.50 vodka lemonade while eating gumbo and barbecued shrimp.  Got couple-y again and shared bread pudding for dessert.  Headed to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas to hang out with the penguins, stingrays and sea otters, followed by a Sazerac and  a not-as-gingery-as-expected ginger mojito at The Living Room.  Finished reading M. F. K. Fisher‘s Long Ago In France: The Years In Dijon while Keith took a pre-dinner nap.  Dinner at Brigtsen’s: an oyster and artichokes gratin ($10.00) and the signature seafood platter ($32.00), which was comprised of drum fish with a crawfish and pistachio lime sauce, shrimp cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn, a baked oyster smothered in shrimp and crabmeat, a baked oyster Bienville, shrimp with jalapeño coleslaw and a panéed scallop with asparagus coulis.  Continued the twosome streak by divvying up a piece of pecan pie drizzled with caramel sauce ($6.00).   Drinks at The Swizzle Stick Bar, then bed.

Wednesday
Finally, a warm and sunny day!  Grabbed coffee, chai and a croissant before catching the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Garden District, where we took a walking tour led by someone who must be the most informative, interesting guide working for Historic New Orleans Tours.  Couldn’t resist having lunch at Commander’s Palace, what with its famous —  and famously strong — 25¢ martinis, so ordered one with extra olives and the special of turtle soup and citrus-glazed gulf fish ($16.00).  Turned out Keith and I were on a roll with the dessert-sharing since we split the bread pudding soufflé ($8.50).   Walked down Magazine Street to the amazing National World War II Museum before riding the streetcar back to the hotel for a second pre-dinner nap.  More fried oysters, this time on a po’boy from Mother’s Restaurant.  A French 75 at the French 75 Bar, where bartender Chris Hannah suggested we check out the Sazerac Bar and its cocktails; we headed over and I drank something called a “French Quarter” — pear vodka, pear nectar, brandy and sugar — before calling it a night.

Thursday
Slept in and got off to a late start, but that’s what vacations  are for!  Lunch at Stanley, whose owners also run Stella — get it? — but was on oyster overload so got crazy and ordered  the “world famous burger” ($8.75), which was  more fine than famous.  Sampled fragrances at Hové Parfumeur before selecting Rue Royal and Verveine as my favorites.  Midday cocktails at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone; since Chris Hannah had told us to order milk punch and the Ramos Gin Fizz, we did and loved them.  Hailed a cab to take us to the Audubon Zoo, where peacocks and pelicans roam free.  Streetcar back to the hotel for — you guessed it! — a nap, though I was too busy reading  Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork to sleep.  Dinner at Lüke.  I loved my  rabbit and duck liver pâté ($8.00) and was satisfied with my crabmeat-stuffed ravioli and its Meyer lemon sauce ($19.00) but was appalled by the sloppy service.  Drinks at Napoleon House before ending up yet again at the Sazerac Bar  with another Ramos Gin Fizz since Bar Uncommon was hosting an event.  Tipsily walked back to the hotel.

Friday
Wanted to sleep in but didn’t have that much time left in Louisiana so hauled ourselves out of bed to make the mandatory pit stop at Café du Monde.  Took one look at the dining-in line and politely elbowed over to the take-out queue; although also long, it was less than half the length of its rival.  Sat on a nearby  bench with our bags of beignets and my cup of chicory café au lait, taking care not to sprinkle myself — and my dark clothing — with the excess powdered sugar.  Dodged shoppers at the French Market, which wasn’t nearly as produce-heavy as I would have liked and instead seemed to focus on  kitschy souvenirs.  Picked out Mardi Gras beads and a matching mask for our niece, as well as pralines from Aunt Sally’s before stopping by Central Grocery to buy a muffuletta to eat on the plane.  Got a ride to the airport the nicest taxi driver of all time.  Disembarked in Boston, where  the temperature raised itself to welcome us home.

* This picture is from a not-rainy day.

Cocktails and Snacks at Green Street Grill.

Keith and I had some time to kill before meeting up with a visiting friend for dinner in Central Square, so we arranged to meet up at Green Street Grill for some drinks. We had both heard that their cocktails were not to be missed, so we thought it would be the perfect spot to cool down on a hot and sticky Cambridge night.

Don’t be put off by Green Street Grill’s divey and unremarkable façade. As the saying goes, a book (or a bar) is not to be judged by its cover. If you don’t follow this axiom, I suggest this as being the perfect time to start, as the drinks here are superb.

The cocktail menu is full of old-fashioned drinks, some of which are only recently being brought back to bars. Not only that, but some of the liquors and spirits used in these drinks have only recently been allowed in the States, such as the Batavia Arrack, originally from Sri Lanka. I chose the enticing-sounding Blinker, with its fresh grapefruit juice and fresh raspberry syrup mixed with a generous portion of Old Overholt Rye ($7.50). It should be noted that I’m not much of a rye and whisky kinda gal, but regardless, the Blinker was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong — it was a strong drink, to be sure, but the fruit flavors were equally strong and bright.

Since the notion of me drinking on an empty stomach is not a good idea for anyone involved, Keith and I decided to order something to nibble on while we sipped at our drinks. (He started with a truly delicious French 75, which is more along the lines of what I normally tend to like, and finished up with a Sazerac.) Keith and I couldn’t agree upon a snack, so we got two: candied and spiced peanuts and homemade chips and dip (each $3.00).

The peanuts, Keith’s choice, were indeed sweet and candied, but they ended with a fiery finish that set my mouth ablaze. (It should be noted that I have zero tolerance for spicy foods, and that in this case, Keith called me a wimp.) In spite of the flaming sensation I was feeling, I helped myself to several handfuls.

The chips were my selection, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with them. Perfectly salty and ridiculously crisp, they were fantastic. The dip, instead of being of the sour cream variety, reminded me more of a garlicky aioli. I might be biased, as a person madly in love with aioli, but in my mind this was a perfect barside plate. I couldn’t have asked for more in a snack.

If you decide to brave its seedy neighborhood and dicey exterior, do angle for a seat at the bar and not at one of the many tables surrounding it. Trust me, you’re going to want to see the frenzy of activity the friendly bartenders go through to mix your drinks. It’s truly hypnotizing.

Green Street
280 Green Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
617.876.1655
greenstreetgrill.com

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Dinner at The Del.

I knew ahead of time that Keith and I wouldn’t have too many chances to meet up with my friends while we were in LA, so when Amee told me that she was free for dinner on Thursday night, we immediately started looking around for places to eat. We had arranged to stay in Manhattan Beach, an area that I’m completely unfamiliar with; for that reason we chose The Del in Playa del Rey, pretty much a straight shot from our hotel.

From the outside, The Del looks, as Amee described it, like a lodge, with its ivy covered exterior and chocolate-colored beams. We expected to walk in and see mounted deer heads and moose antlers on the walls; instead in interior is modern and spare. The bar is dark and moody, with crazy wallpaper that made me think that a Jackson Pollack wannabe went a little wild with a paintbrush. The dining rooms are done in gray and cream, with wainscoting and washed wood tables, and for some reason have prints of propeller plans spaced evenly above each banquette.

Keith and I arrived early, so we sat at the bar to have a drink while we waited. The bartender was friendly enough, but looked confused with Keith requested a Sazerac; he quickly switched to a Manhattan on the rocks. Before I ordered, I asked if the bartender could make a Kir Royale, but when she confirmed the components — “Cassis, right?” — I should have taken her crinkled nose as a sign of something… because I ended up with a Chambord and Champagne. I don’t recommend it.

I had higher hopes for the dining room, not that I had any reason to aside from optimism. I decided to make a meal out of appetizers with the sippin’ summer shrimp ceviche ($9.00) with lime juice and avocado wedges, and the caramelized onion tarte tatin ($8.00) with warm goat cheese, a balsamic glaze and Minus 8 vinegar. Our server mentioned that the appetizers would be on the small size, but filling, especially since Amee, Keith and I would be sharing an appetizer of calamari as well. Keith and Amee ordered an entrée each; Keith also got an appetizer of his own.

Once our food started arriving, the weirdness began.

My appetizers — my meal — got to the table before anything else. I didn’t expect my plates to come before our shared appetizer, and I certainly didn’t want to start eating my dinner before Amee and Keith even received theirs.

Next to arrive was Keith’s appetizer; it was several minutes until the calamari was placed before us. At that point, I started picking at my ceviche and my tarte, neither of which were anything to write home about. I’ve never made either, but I’m certain I could have thrown together that tarte, which was pretty much just a mound of goat cheese layered upon a pile of caramelized onions and spooned into a shell. The ceviche tasted like Spicy Hot V8, which shrimp and avocado tossed in, so I bet could’ve whipped that up too… not that I would ever want to.

I was still hungry at this point, so I added to my meal with another appetizer — buttered littleneck clams ($10.00) served with vegetable pearls, chorizo and celery. It also arrived before Keith and Amee’s entrées.

Soon after, their meals came to the table… except Keith hadn’t finished his starter yet. I don’t think he had even gotten a chance to taste the calamari. The runner just set the plate down at Keith’s elbow and walked away.

(A few brief words on the littlenecks: overly salty, and where’s the chorizo?)

Amee had barely taken the first bite of her burger when our server approached the table… to ask if we wanted to take a look at the dessert menu. At first I thought it was a joke, but our server was way too earnest to engage in any sort of fooling around. When we explained that we weren’t even remotely ready for dessert, he said he just wanted to know since he was leaving for the evening. Now, having not worked in a restaurant before, I’ve always wondered how things such as servers’ shifts are handled. However it is done, I doubt it is normally like this. I mean, we were surrounded by empty plates, the wreckage of my clams and Keith’s untouched pork.  Who would be considering dessert at that moment?

All in all, it was a pretty ridiculous evening, from the bartender to the scheduling of the food to the offering of the dessert menu. I don’t know if I’ll be in Playa del Rey any time soon, but I can say for sure that I won’t be making another stop at The Del.

The Del
119 Culver Boulevard
Playa Del Rey, California 90293
310.823.6800
thedelrestaurant.com

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