In keeping with yesterday’s theme about being grateful for the friends I have made through my blog… I have a story to tell you about a girl named Totally Caroline and a town called New Orleans.
In comments back and forth on both our blogs for what might have been months, TC talked about how much she wanted to visit New Orleans, and I talked about how much I adore that city. Now, full disclosure, I don’t believe the city is for everyone. When my brother, GQ, saw my Facebook posts about New Orleans he commented to me in an email that he has been all over the world, but has never been to New Orleans. Granted, he has lived in Tokyo for the past 22+ of his 43 years and the travel he has taken has been in large part for business, and there’s not much, if any, related business in New Orleans. It’s not really that kind of town. Thinking about my brother and his Prada belt, his Louis Vuitton luggage, and his Gucci loafers, I’m pretty sure he would not be as enamored with New Orleans as I am. New Orleans is down and dirty. It’s a dancing in the streets and stuffing yourself with powdered sugar covered beignets kind of town. Every day when I returned to the condo, I felt like I had been rolling in dirty sand. I LOVE it!!!
My friend Dee (you know the one, the absolute best non-betrayed girlfriend a betrayed girl could have) and I had a belated birthday lunch last week (both our birthdays are mid-May), and she admitted she was shocked that I actually traveled more than 2500 miles by myself to meet a near stranger. She reads my blog and she said she thought it was all talk. Dee and I have traveled twice to New Orleans together. Did I mention I LOVE New Orleans!?! Well, it wasn’t all talk. It was real, and it was really really fun. I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone to make this trip. Pretty sure TC feels the same. During the planning stages, I could tell that TC loves to organize the details and pretty much everything centers around food. Hey, we’re a match made in culinary heaven!
The biggest issue for me was that there are no direct flights from Portland to New Orleans. TC, on the other hand, had a quick flight and even gained an hour. She arrived early in the morning, actually she arrived before I ever even left Portland. I had a quick hopper up to Seattle, and then a long 4 1/2 hour flight to The Big Easy and I lost two hours. Don’t feel too sorry for me though because I used some of my miles to purchase a first class ticket on Alaska Airlines, my favorite of all airlines (shout out to another dear friend I met on this blog) and enjoyed good food and a complimentary entertainment tablet loaded with movies, music, TV shows, and magazines. The time flew by, get it? Okay, moving right along…
As soon as I exited Louis Armstrong Airport, I was accosted with the heat and humidity that is the American South. Did I ever mention I am in menopause, and 40 pounds overweight? Yeah, I won’t belabor the point. TC had already had a full day in the city eating beignets, and chocolate chip cookies with cookie dough and vanilla milk (what?) and cheeseburgers, and falafel sandwiches and did I mention she is HALF MY SIZE??!! She walked a bunch of miles and visited parks and a museum and I cannot even remember all she did that day, oh yeah, she rode a streetcar (not one named Desire, but a streetcar nonetheless). I had been in charge of lodging but I really wanted to make it special for TC, so I gave her choices. We could each have our own rooms at the Intercontinental, or one slightly larger room at the Ritz Carlton. She chose the Ritz. Due to all the travel we do, we have points and free upgrades, etc… etc… Anyway, I have always stayed in hotels in New Orleans (previously, four different ones, to be exact) and I started thinking maybe I would check out VRBO and see what was available that was larger, somewhere we could spread out. We had never met and the thought of each of us having our own bathrooms, well, let’s just say we had some great choices and the condo TC chose was just amazing! I loved everything about it, even the fact that the elevator arrived right in my bedroom. Well, that was kind of weird the first night, but I was so exhausted I fell quickly to sleep without a backward glance at that big elevator looming across from my bed.
After sitting down and getting to know each other a little better in person, we were off to our first meal together at Peche Restaurant. TC picked out all the restaurant choices except Commander’s Palace. She is a great traveling companion. She researches the hell out of shit!!! Peche was divine. This would be my first glimpse into the rather obvious fact that TC has a bit of an obsession with fried dough. Well, who doesn’t like fried dough, am I right? I was along for the ride.
The fried bread was rolled in oil and topped with sea salt. We also shared a delicious bowl of beets with flavored yogurt and pistachios, and brabant potatoes (like the bread, gloriously deep fried). The whole Pompano fish was to die for. I didn’t get a decent picture of our fish, but here’s a professional photo of one of their preparations:
I don’t often order whole fish, but ours was served in a lovely butter sauce with corn and fresh greens on top and it was so flaky, moist and flavorful, I am glad TC chose it.
Lastly, when on vacation, TC always orders dessert. This is not standard for me, but I’ll take a couple bites of anything (unless it is coconut!).
Day two began with a walk to the French Quarter for the requisite Cafe du Monde beignets. I cannot even see green and white stripes without thinking of cafe du Monde. At this point it was about 9:30am and we had a three course brunch reserved at Commander’s Palace for 12:30pm. We each ate our whole plate of three beignets, oh my!
If I had been with Blue Eyes or my family, I would have eaten just one (I’m a chubby diabetic remember!!!), but I really wanted to try and keep up with TC. I am here to say, I am a total failure. It was obvious by lunch that I would NEVER be able to keep up with TC!!!
We had intended to walk from the French Quarter to the Garden District, however, it was a bit far in the heat and after packing away three sugary fatty beignets. TC asked around about how to get a bus that would take us close to Commander’s Palace. We walked to the bus stop and passed all kinds of New Orleans fun like lots of places cooking up sweet Pecan Pralines, Sno-ball shops (basically what I would call a Hawaiian Shave Ice), dozens of souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants. New Orleans is a special city with unique architecture. The French Quarter is like no place I have ever been.
So, we found the correct bus (to Magazine St.) and the correct change, and asked the driver to inform us when we arrived at Washington. I must tell you, it has been years since I have been on a city bus. Me and TC were just chatting away (well I was mostly doing the chatting) and I was trying to see street signs, but it wasn’t easy, and it had been a LONG time on that bus and so we inquired of the driver and he said we had passed Washington a long time ago. Apparently he had forgotten to inform us. We got off at the next stop, which was quite a ways, and headed across the street to return from whence we came. We were then informed that due to something crazy about the street, the bus wasn’t going to stop at that stop. We then had to walk two blocks, the wrong way, to catch the bus back. We eventually did get back to Washington and walked the three or so blocks to Commander’s Palace. Even with all the bus shenanigans, we were 20 minutes or so early (one of the many things TC and I have in common, we like to be early), so we strolled through the cemetery across the street, Lafayette No. 1.
By the time we sat down for brunch, my hair was literally soaked through and dripping all over me. I was a mess. We proceeded to order our three courses… we both ordered the crawfish beignets (more fried dough). They were okay. There wasn’t enough sauce for my liking. For her entree, TC ordered the most amazing blueberry flapjacks with braised duck, foie gras hollandaise, cane syrup, and a poached hen’s egg, I KNOW!!! I had my favorite, the Commander’s Palace Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict, which is described on the menu as 12-hour barbecue shoulder of pork over buttermilk biscuits with poached eggs, ripped herb salad, sauce forestiere and housemade tasso hollandaise. Crazy.
I could not finish mine. TC had no problem with hers. About half way through eating our mains, it started pouring rain and with it, an electrical storm. There was a crack and a boom and the power was out. A few minutes later the generators kicked in and some of the lights came back on. When it was time for dessert, which I was beginning to have serious doubts about eating even one bite for fear I might explode, the waiter informed us that due to the power outage, my choice was no longer available. Yay! I would skip it. No no no, it is a three course meal, remember, Kat??? I opted for the Seasonal Sorbet, which was lemonade and ice tea flavor (also known as an Arnold Palmer). It was good. I ate a couple bites. As it turns out, they did bring out my original dessert choice as well. I took one little bite, just to see what it was like. My sorbet went back, also mostly untouched.
However, little miss TC was able to finish her entire Praline Parfait!
It looks really huge in that picture. It actually was pretty big. I must tell you right now, before I go any further, TC is very proud of her eating prowess. Have you ever seen those eating competition contestants? Often they are teeny!!! This is TC! Now, I am not insinuating she has some kind of magical powers or anything, I know when she is not on vacation she is very diligent with her eating lifestyle. Much more diligent than I. I am just still shocked that someone so small can tuck away so much food at one sitting. Okay, I’ll stop going on about it now.
Speaking of rain storms. When we exited the restaurant it was pouring down rain harder than ever. Now, as everyone who reads knows I live in Portland, Oregon, but we generally never have monsoon downpours like they do in New Orleans. I encountered them when I lived in Arizona. For 350 days of the year there is a dry river bed next to your house… and then during monsoon season, there is a raging river! There was no way we could really walk anywhere in that NOLA rain. Dozens of people were waiting for taxis. I was exasperated. I pulled out my mobile and texted Blue Eyes. I asked him to call us up an Uber (spoiled much?). And he did! From 2500 miles away. Then a large van pulled up willing to take passengers immediately and so we hopped in. Blue Eyes was a little frustrated at having to cancel our driver as he was concerned about his Uber rating or something? I don’t know how those things work. I do know that we were back to the condo in a jiffy. So glad we didn’t try to hoof it. The streets were flooded. People were walking around without their shoes on with water half way to their knees. That seems dangerous.
Once we were back at the condo, TC whipped us up some tea. I talked and talked and TC fell asleep. She went to take a nap. I don’t generally sleep in the middle of the day and I had also not had the marathon eating and walking day that TC had had the day before. I chatted a bit with friends and with Blue Eyes, checked messages, posted some photos to Instagram. As it turned out, both of us were so full and pretty generally exhausted, that we did not venture out again that day. Sometimes you just need to rest.
We were, however, totally ready for another three course brunch the next morning, Day three. We had reservations at Coquette right back at Washington St. & Magazine. How convenient. We knew right where to go. We decided to enlist the help of my personal assistant back home (a.k.a. Blue Eyes) and get him to schedule us an Uber to brunch. It worked out perfectly!
After brunch we took a walk. Magazine Street in New Orleans is a must visit. Approximately six miles of unique retail shops, design stores, and restaurants. I had really wanted to go into one particular shop, Century Girl. Both TC and I fell in love with this store, but TC found a true souvenir treasure there. She eyed it and held it and caressed it and even left the store without it. She was going to think about it. We walked two blocks and she wanted to go back. It was meant to be. There are lots and lots of unique, one-off stores on Magazine street selling everything from candles, to antiques, to jewelry, to stationery, to vintage…
For the afternoon, TC had scheduled a walking tour of the Garden District. We met the guide at the Garden District Book Shop. The tour started back at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and proceeded from there. There is so much to say about New Orleans’ cemeteries that I couldn’t possibly do them justice here on this blog. All I can say is read about them, or better yet, go to New Orleans and take a tour. We took two (and I had taken this same tour before, years ago)!!! The Garden District includes some amazing architecture and houses owned currently or previously by some pretty famous people. We walked passed the Manning house (apparently some guys named Archie, Peyton, and Eli??? Just kidding, I know who they are). We walked by a house used for the filming of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there was the mansion owned by John Goodman and his wife, etc… but really, the beauty of the Garden District is not so much what famous people live there, but really just the history and the gorgeous architecture.
After completing our walking tour, we took a stroll back to Magazine Street to grab an afternoon snack at District Donuts Sliders and Brew. TC had been dreaming about this place and she was not disappointed. The donuts are freaking amazing. I am not a donut fanatic. When I was 14 years old, my first job was at a donut shop at the mall. Sometimes the smell of donuts cooking in oil makes me a little nauseous. Not this time. No smell here and also the donuts are more like brioche bread in a donut shape with delicious sweet icings and fillings. Best donuts ever! Hands down!!!
We opted to walk to dinner, which just happened to be right around the corner from our condo. It was a nice long walk and it was the only day we did not encounter a mid afternoon monsoon storm. We needed that walk for me to even be able to think about eating anything more that day.
Dinner at John Besh’s Domenica was good, but not my favorite meal of the trip. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing. I have been there before and remember sharing a big rib-eye with Blue Eyes and a pizza with our son. I remember it being amazing. I think I should have ordered the pizza. One thing for sure, there was more fried dough!
Day Four started with, you guessed it, another walking tour (you had a 50/50 chance at 3-course brunch, or walking tour!). This time we walked to the far end of the French Quarter to meet up for our walking tour of Saint Louis Cemetery no. 1, the oldest existent cemetery in New Orleans. TC was especially interested in this cemetery because Creole Voodoo Priestess, Marie Laveau is buried there. Due to vandalism in recent years, the cemetery is closed to the public unless you are on a tour or have a family tomb. Again, there is so much history, folklore and legend involved with the New Orleans’ cemeteries, at least one walking tour while visiting is a must.
After completing our walking tour we had intended to have a fried chicken lunch at Willie Mae’s Scotch house. Unfortunately, after walking to the restaurant from the French Quarter in 90-degree heat we found the restaurant to be closed for Memorial Day. There was nothing on their website. They don’t answer their phones, and there was no sign on the door. That’s New Orleans. We texted our handy dandy personal assistant again and voila, just a few minutes went by before we were whisked away to Magazine Street for what else, MORE FRIED DOUGH!!!
After lunch, we strolled down Magazine Street looking for a treasured souvenir for me to take home, maybe something for our beach house, but it was not to be. The clouds descended on us and opened up with another deluge. We took cover in a cute little candy shop full of French sweet treats. We sat down with the owner and had a lovely chat. She asked how we knew each other and one thing led to another and all of the sudden she knew about both mine and TC’s blogs. She was very sweet and kind. She had true New Orleanian spirit. While TC was reminiscing with the shop owner about Paris and London, I implored my trusty assistant to once again avail us of a ride to safety and he kindly obliged.
Later that evening we had intended to go for a burger at Company Burger, a spot TC had tried on Day 1, but they were also closed for Memorial Day. Nothing on the website, nothing on the phone, but a little white sign taped to the door. Instead we opted for a quick pizza nearby. It was pretty tasty and plenty to tide us over as we had big food plans for our final day.
Day five, our last day in New Orleans (many sad face emojis go here) started with a scrumptious breakfast at Willa Jean, a contemporary bakery/cafe not far from our condo. TC had been here on Day 1 for her chocolate chip cookie fix.
We hadn’t really spent much quality time in the French Quarter to this point and I had really wanted to do a Tours by Isabelle Tour. As previously mentioned, I have been to New Orleans a few times and each time I have taken one of Isabelle’s tours. They are amazing. They are small and personal and her guides are second to none. I have taken multiple plantation tours, a post Katrina tour on the actual five year anniversary of the storm, and even a swamp tour. This time we opted for a private guided literary walking tour of the French Quarter. It would take me another 10,000 words to adequately describe everything Dave the tour guide covered on this tour. I loved it. I think TC did too. So many writers lived in and were influenced by New Orleans at some point in their life. SO MANY. New Orleans is a true storytelling inspiration.
The Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street in the French Quarter is just full of history. From its Sicilian roots to its placement on the grandest street in the Vieux Carre (new town) to the many famous authors who frequented the hotel, it is a true landmark. Some of those authors included Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Anne Rice, Stephen Ambrose, Rebecca Wells, and John Grisham.
We strolled through the French Quarter as Dave pointed out dozens of famous author haunts and inspiration for scenes in many books and movies. We stopped in at Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley, a lovely little shop filled with books new and old and especially featuring authors from New Orleans or those that wrote in New Orleans or wrote about New Orleans. Faulkner House Books is a real treasure.
We left Dave at a hotel nearby, and walked to a local coffee shop to grab some water. We called up another Uber and headed to our last meal in The Big Easy. I know this was the dining experience TC was most looking forward to. We really stuffed ourselves too!!!
The food at Shaya was simply amazing.
We went back to the condo, grabbed our luggage and headed to the airport together. As luck would have it, our flights–hers going east–mine going west–left from the same terminal. And not only that, our gates were side by side. To say I had a fabulous time would be an understatement. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I actually need to make a trip back because we did not get to having our palm’s read, or a tarot card reading, or me purchasing a voodoo doll. I will be back!