Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lemonade from Lemons, Ice Cream from Ice: A Memorable Dinner in New Orleans

The best travel days are uneventful. The worst are long, tedious, and aggravating with bad food and annoying airport announcements. The day I’m about to describe was neither of these. It was completely unexpected, outside of the usual travel assessments. And it ended, as most adventures should, in a celebratory feast.

We woke up in Berkeley at 3:45am on Thursday February 3 with an email saying that our flight from Houston to Miami had been canceled because of a freakish ice storm descending on Houston mid-afternoon. San Francisco to Houston was fine. Not knowing what else to do, we traipsed off to the San Francisco airport only to be told that yes, it’s canceled, then no, it’s not. In Houston, we got the definitive word: yes, it’s canceled. And what’s more, the next plane to Miami is on Saturday afternoon. Unacceptable, given that Katherine’s mother and Jacoba were already in Miami awaiting us.

Katherine speedily determined that New Orleans was warmer than Houston by a few crucial degrees. If we could get there, we could fly to Florida on Friday. With Katherine at the wheel of a quickly arranged rental car, we left the airport at 1:20pm, racing to stay ahead of the storm. Which we managed to do for about five minutes. From that point on and for the next five and a half hours, I was busy (and anxiously) watching the ice build up on the windshield wipers and the side mirrors and taking full advantage of my IPhone’s technological capabilities, as I munched on tiny bags of Fritos snatched from the Continental Lounge. Comfort food. Maps supplied us with a route, mileage and the exact location of our airport hotel. kept us apprised of current temperatures (33-35 degrees). Zagat helped locate a possible New Orleans restaurant. Phone calls to and emails from the travel agent in Berkeley who found us a hotel and a flight for the next day. And texts to my niece, Beth, who lives in New Orleans, inviting her to join us for dinner. Relieved, exhausted, bleary-eyed, and hungry we drove into our hotel parking lot in the rain just a little before 7:00pm. It was 37 degrees. The windshield wipers and mirrors had melted. We were meeting Beth for dinner at 8 at the place she’d booked, Restaurant August. We’d done it!

Restaurant August, which specializes in contemporary French food with a focus on southern Louisiana ingredients, is housed in a lovely old building right next to the French Quarter in the Central Business District. Beth and Taylor, her boyfriend whom we had never met, were waiting for us at the bar when we arrived. It became apparent that Beth who works for a wine distributor knew nearly everyone on the staff. And moreover it was clear that we all shared a fondness for good food, wine and conversation. The evening began with a bottle of bubbly. The weary travelers started to revive. As the food started to appear and Taylor started to answer our flurry of questions, we sensed that this was going to be a very special dinner, a “meant to be” kind of occasion. As the night went on, we were sure of it. Here is a sampling of what we ate.

Sabayon cream in a tiny egg shell for our amuse bouche.

Organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle which arrived in a large square, ready for me to break into bits.

Gnocchi with a blue crab sauce.

Wild boar ragout. Maybe the tastiest of them all.

Mississippi flounder in a crispy crust with various veggies.

Our pre-dessert dessert. A tiny lemon tart with fruit and a smear of pistachio paste, I think.

A mini-version of beignets, a classic New Orleans pastry, with "chocolate salad."

 Yellow cake with caramel Banana's Foster filling. Just luscious.

Goat cheese cheesecake on a bed of almonds. I can't remember the smear--and by that point in the meal it's a miracle that I remember anything.

A chocolate layered affair that had the most amazing mouth feel.

All this and I haven't even mentioned what we drank besides the bubbly.  I must confess, I don't know. Except to say that the bottle of red wine was superb and the late harvest red dessert wine made from granache or gamay was fantastic. Maybe Beth or Taylor can assist their addled auntie.

So there you are: 3:45am in Berkeley to San Francisco to Houston to surprise! New Orleans for one of the best meals I’ve ever had with three of the most delightful dinner companions I can imagine. A “meant to be” kind of occasion. My very first time in New Orleans. I think I have to go back.

1 comment:

Kristin Viguerie said...

Wow! Katherine what an adventure! I am glad you ended up in NOLA and at August! We've had many wonderful meals there!