Thursday, April 3, 2008

Two Chicks in The Big Easy, Day 4: Still fried, but deliciousness at last

Catch up! Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.
Due to a mix-up (my watch told me it was one time, but New Orleans was operating on another) I got MH up super early and plied her with café au lait and beignets. We split a single order again—at which she complained bitterly—because I had other eats in mind. Namely, random take-out items from the French Quarter Grocery and Deli. Behold, a Cajun meat pie, a crawfish pistolette, and boudin balls. Did I say I was sick of fried food?
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The pistolette, as far as I could tell, was a roll that had been stuffed with a cheesy crawfish mixture and then deep fried. It was interesting and sort of tasty, but so soaked in oil that I could only take a few bites. The meat pie was great, though—it fell squarely into the empanada/Jamaican beef patty/ground-meat-stuffed-in-fried-dough category, and was spicy and fresh-tasting… as far as something deep-fried can taste fresh.
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I had wanted to try boudin ever since reading about the Louisiana sausage in Calvin Trillin's awesome book Feeding a Yen. I'd scoured the internet looking for a place to get some in NOLA, but it seemed that boudin was more something found outside of the city, and only at grocery stores and gas stations.

So when I spotted boudin balls on the deli's menu, I figured I could at least try them in round, deep-fried form. And these were great—like a Southern version of Sicilian arancini. Their crunchy exterior gave way to a soft, creamy filling of meat and rice, which had a pleasantly gamey edge. Yeah, I'd eat these again.

Still full from our breakfast, we took a few bites of each item and then packed up the rest for later. We were off for a tour of the swamps!
Betcha didn't know that 'gators like eating marshmallows.
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We spent the day in the swamps, and when we got back, we headed to Bayona for a more formal dinner as a break from all the casual eating we had been doing. We didn't have a reservation, but the restaurant was able to fit us in anyway—which I'm glad about, since it was here that we had one of the best meals of the trip.

They started us off with a bread plate and a small dish of pickled items, including cauliflower, carrots, olives, pepperoncini, and some cloves of stellar roasted garlic that had been marinated in balsamic vinegar. There was good butter and the brioche-like roll in the back was delicious, buttery and soft and rich. It was a promising beginning.
My crispy smoked quail salad arrived first. More quail than salad, it boasted four perfectly-battered pieces, paired with wedges of sweet pear, spiced pralines, greens, and some other items I couldn't place, all in a bourbon molasses vinaigrette. The salad was outstanding, and though I had assumed I was at the point where I couldn't put another fried piece of food into my mouth again, the quail was so delicious I just dug right in.
I also ordered an appetizer portion of their sautéed sweetbreads to go with my salad. I'd never eaten sweetbreads before, so I was excited to try them. Here they are in a sherry-mustard sauce, and accompanied by mushrooms and little cubed potatoes and beets.

The sweetbreads were interesting—they didn't have quite the texture of fat, but were soft and melting in the same way. Each piece had acquired crisp edges in the pan, and with the beets and the cubes of potato, each mouthful was a pleasing textural/taste combination of creamy, savory, starchy, sweet, and rich.
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MH's avocado, crawfish, and fried green tomato salad was good too, though she was so sick of fried food at that point that she picked off most of the breading on the tomatoes. And the garlic soup she got was amazing—each creamy spoonful brimmed with the flavor and aroma of perfectly seasoned roasted garlic.

Even though we hadn't managed to stop eating fried food, when I left the restaurant I felt satisfied and happy. I was a little sunburnt, a little tired, a little more in love with the city, and altogether quite content. I was ready for an evening of hopping around the jazz bars.

To be continued….

Two Chicks in The Big Easy:
Day 1: All fried, all the time
Day 2: Too much buffet, and bad fried chicken
Day 3: Our beignet addiction takes hold
Day 4: Still fried, but deliciousness at last
Day 5: Food court and dive bar surprises
Day 6: Giant salads, muffalattas, and no beignets
Day 7: "Beignet...done that"

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