July 15, 2008
The City That Knows Chow

IMGP3342_edited.JPGAs we wind up our visit to New Orleans, I'm wondering how editors for the Zagat guidebooks would distill our impressions of the two most memorable restaurants we visited:

- "Emeril Lagasse's noblest achievement" is the "rustic yet refined" former carriage house and root-beer plant he restyled into NOLA. Along "one of the more civilized streets in the French Quarter," NOLA combines "European flair with Southern hospitality" to an extent rarely found even in this earnestly friendly city. "Team service clicks with the rhythm and charm of a horse-drawn carriage at Jackson Square." "Expensive," but "portions must have been brought in on a Mississippi River barge." Take the "Parisian elevator" to the second floor and prepare to "shout like Mardi Gras revelers," given all the brick and wood. Follow "the smoothest Sazerac in New Orleans" with fried chicken with the "crunchiest buttermilk crust in Louisiana." "The kitchen struggles to accommodate vegetarians," but redeems itself with "cute butterballs," "the finest tomatoes in the South" and service that "doesn't make you feel like you're asking a favor." Shrimps and grits are "heady" with a chile-pepper butter sauce, apple-smoked bacon and tomato glaze, while the marbled pound cake salutes the building's heritage with a "refreshing" root-beer drizzle. NOLA has "a clear idea of what it wants to do and how it wants to do it." No wonder they call New Orleans "the city that knows chow."

- Two years after we visited one of the first restaurants to open in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Donald Link's "bright and marvelous" Chocon, we checked out his original place, Herbsaint. "Amazingly, the very selective vegetarian member of our party ate the entire bowl of housemade spaghetti with summer tomatoes and spinach," while the rest of us savored "silken and smoky" duck prosciutto, gumbo with shredded pork and andouille sausage that came off as "thick as the humidity," and a poached and fried egg that broke "like sunrise" over more of that housemade spaghetti, this time with guanciale. "Avoid the back dining room," drab but for "the sexy mural" across the back wall. Prepare for service either "emotionally disengaged" or "severely professional" in contrast to quarters "sunny and humming with vitality." Just as the Sazerac here is "gripping," the rib-eye steak is "marvelously juicy and sweet." "Mother never made angel-food cake like this," nor did she top it with poached peaches. "Reservations strongly recommended."

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