We’re excited to introduce you to our friend, Isabel, a well-traveled food writer. Isabel recently visited some wonderful Victorian mansions and plantations in New Orleans and has shared her trip report with us. Don’t miss the recipe at the end – Enjoy!
Ah, New Orleans, NOLA, the Big Easy, the Crescent City. Even though it is the end of October my friend Lorraine and I are enjoying summer weather here. The temperature is hovering around 85 degrees-no need for a sweater or jacket. We are here with the Victorian Society of America to visit Victorian homes and plantations, also to do some good eating in this colorful city celebrated for its restaurants. We do just that on our arrival night by visiting “Cochon” (“pig” in French). Cochon smokes its own meats and sausages. It is located in a former factory with battered brick walls and varnished wood lending modern touches to the restaurant. The ceilings are tall and an open kitchen beckons. The place is packed with a youngish after work crowd as well as with plenty of tourists. We sit at the bar and decide to share our meal. Even though this restaurant is noted for its “cochon”, we decide to order seafood. Our first course is deviled crab served with butter crackers. It is succulent. We follow this with oven-roasted gulf catfish “Fisherman’s Style”. Dessert is a pineapple upside down cake-a cornmeal cake served with coconut-lime sorbet and dulce de leche (caramel sauce).
The following day we tour the French Quarter or “Le Vieux Carre'” which dates from the founding of New Orleans. A visit to the Gallier House Museum is in order. The museum includes the very latest in comforts and conveniences of the 19th century including a spacious bathroom with hot water and full ventilation for the hot summer days of the city. Period antiques and fine rosewood furniture are also on display.
Lunch at Antoine’s follows. This reputable old family-run restaurant founded in 1840 is charming with its myriad of rooms each decorated to commemorate a different celebration or culture. There is the Rex Room featuring memorabilia from elite Mardi Gras celebrations. There is also the Japanese Room with its hand painted walls and ceilings as well as its Asian motifs popular at the turn of the 20th century. We begin our meal with Oysters Rockefeller. Too much spinach and breading hides the taste of the delicate briny oyster within. Souffle-ed potatoes follow, an Antoine’s specialty, as well as shrimp in a horseradish remoulade sauce. Dessert is baked Alaska. It is good but the meringue base is far too heavy.
Following lunch we tour the Beauregard-Keyes House. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard is credited with ordering Charleston’s first shot on Fort Sumter and thus entering our country into the Civil War. The stately house also features furnishings owned by novelist France Parkinson Keyes who restored the house and who also wrote the novel “Dinner at Antoine’s”. It includes heirloom pieces of the general’s as well as a multitude of rooms showcasing Mrs. Keyes’ outstanding collection of dolls.
In the evening we are served wine and hors d’oeuvres at the Herman Grima House, a house which reflects the life of a prosperous Creole family in the mid 19th century. We are also treated to a demonstration and a taste of the classic New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac… Next morning we breakfast at Antoine’s Annex. A biscuit filled with bacon, scrambled egg and cheese starts the day nicely. Later we tour the Garden District with its stately mansions built by wealthy Americans who were otherwise rejected by the Creoles of the French Quarter in the 18th and 19th centuries. Wide boulevards and shady towering oaks reflect the gentility of that society of another age. We visit a private Italianate villa constructed by Kentucky colonel Robert H. Short in 1859, a magnificent showpiece indeed. A massive cornstalk fence surrounds a corner of the property and gives testimony to the origins of the then owner’s wife and her native Iowa. The Greek Revival interiors of the house are today complimented by an exquisite collection of period and decorative arts as well as 19th century reproduced wall paper also featuring cornstalks.
A jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans landmark popular since 1880, follows. This aqua- blue Victorian-like structure is a fantasy of turrets and gingerbread. We dine in the Garden Room where the Turtle Soup, a Commander’s specialty, is spiked with sherry. It fortifies as does our entree of Grillades and Grits. The grillades are tasty lardons of veal in an aromatic and savory sauce of wild mushrooms and peppers.. This is served with creamy thyme and goat cheese grits while dessert is rich vanilla custard caramelized with a crystal crust. After lunch we visit Longue Vue Estate built by Sears Roebuck heiress Edith Stein. It is a Classical Revival mansion and features an original collection of 18th, 19th and 20th century antiques and fine arts. Gardens, recently restored, are extensive and were designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman. Later we visit the New Orleans Museum of Art in order to view their displays of Old Paris porcelains which once filled the homes of the antebellum South.
That evening we travel over Lake Pontchartrain on the longest over water bridge in the world. (twenty-four miles). We are guests in a private home replete with Victorian antiques, many of them rare and of the finest quality. A magnificent stained glass skylight in the kitchen is breathtaking as are the mirrors, drapes, paintings and furnishings of the home. Sumptuous hors d’oeuvres served on a massive silver tray welcomed us. There is artichoke puree as well as grilled vegetables, various breads, and roast pork in a balsamic glaze. We enjoy the early evening views of the lake from the enclosed porch while quaffing copious amounts of wine including Pouilly Fuisse.
Next day our bus takes us on a tour of the Great River Road with its parade of plantations. Once cash crops of sugar and cotton provided the money for the upkeep of these enormous plantation homes, an example being Houmas House. Established in mid-18th century, it is named for the Houmas Indian tribe. A Greek Revival manse situated on 98,000 acres of cane sugar earned it the nickname “Sugar Palace”. The house was saved from Yankee marauders by owner John Burnside, an Irishman, who claimed British citizenship to the soldiers, thus saving the plantation from destruction. The restored house and its magnificent tropical gardens welcome us to lunch in the property’s adjacent restaurant. Lunch at Houma’s begins with an excellent creamy pumpkin soup with traces of curry and sweet corn. (See recipe below). A chicken Caesar salad follows and then a decadent dessert..
That evening we dine at Chef John Besh’s, Luke. This Alsatian bistro has an old fashioned European look with its ceiling fans, dark wood bar and tiled floors. Our cocktails are accompanied by warm baguettes served in utility towels to convey a French country theme. A fried oyster, bacon, romaine and avocado salad is a treat. Jumbo Louisiana shrimp with creamy tender grits and andouille sausage awaits. It is delicious. A wide variety of charcuterie is served at Luc, such as various wursts and special dishes echoing the Alsatian theme. Our dessert of maple pumpkin pot de creme is delectable. Silky smooth espresso, caramel swirls and candied pistachios are served in a mason jar and is velvety in its texture.
The following morning we say good-bye to New Orleans. As usual I plan on returning. Got to try a few more of those innumerable restaurants. After all there is nothing like eating one’s way through a city in order to understand its culture.
Bisque of Curried Pumpkin,Crawfish and Corn
Ingredients: (Serves 8-10)
1 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1 cup flour
1 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
1/4 cup curry powder
2 qt. crawfish stock (or vegetable or chicken stock may be substituted)
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 lb. peeled Louisiana crawfish tails
1 (14 oz.) can unsweetened pumpkin
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: 1. In a large pot heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook until translucent or for 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes. 2. Stir in cane syrup, curry powder, crawfish stock, corn kernels and Louisiana crawfish tails. 3. Whisk in canned pumpkin and bring soup to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes. 4. Add heavy whipping cream and season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
By Isabel Chesak
Wow, what a yummy, interesting trip! It’s almost Mardi Gras time – if this story has peaked you interest in visiting New Orleans, visit the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for current information and deals.