Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Surprise! It's a Wine Grab Bag!

Guess what's in this big box? Do you give up? OK, I'll tell you...It's wine!

Last week Win and I thought it would be fun to order something called The Wine Grab Bag from Grateful Palate. It's an easy concept: For $29.95 you get 6 bottles of wine, selected by the staff at Grateful Palate. On their web site, they tempted us with the promise that "some shockingly amazingly high quality wines seem to find their way into our Grab Bags." We love wine, we like surprises, and for about $5 per bottle we figured it was definitely worth a shot.

As promised, Grateful Palate sent us 6 bottles. We were surprised, but not disappointed, to see that all six were Australian. Despite all sharing the same country of origin, they were pretty varied. The box included:

1. A 1999 Summerfield Cabernet Sauvignon
2. A Size 1 Trevor Jones Barossa Valley Red Cebo (rose wine)
3. A 2002 LillyPilly Red Velvet (red table wine)
4. A 1999 Summerfield Shiraz
5. A 2000 Summerfield Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
6. A 2003 LillyPilly Tramillon (a medium dry white wine that won an award at the Sydney International Wine Competition)

We haven't had the chance to try any of the bottles yet, but we can't wait to and I'll be sure to share the results of our tastings. Some preliminary investigation shows great reviews for all three winemakers and some interesting accolades for a few of the bottles we received. Cheers!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

IMBB 10: A Cookie Swap with Lime Shortbread Cookies

I'm so excited to participate in this month's edition of Is My Blog Burning?, hosted by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. Jennifer's theme, Cookie Swap, is perfect for this time of year and I'm already looking forward to seeing what other cookie creations people bring to the table.

While I have a number of traditional holiday cookie favorites, I decided to share a recent addition to my cookie repetoire for IMBB. I made Lime Shortbread Cookies from a recipe I learned at The Chopping Block here in Chicago.

These cookies are delicious. Like any good shortbread they are rich, buttery and they melt in your mouth. The addition of lime zest and lime juice gives them a really interesting sweet/tart component which makes them so different from standard shortbread. I love these cookies because:

1. As I just mentioned, they are delicious.
2. They are easy to make, yet people who eat them usually think they required tons of time and energy to prepare. They seem fancier than they are.
3. The dough freezes very well if you want to save some to have on hand at a future time.
4. There is a delightfully unexpected quality to these cookies. Everybody expects some form of shortbread cookie on the holiday table, but do they expect to taste lime when they bite into it? I love that this cookie is traditional without being conventional.

Lime Shortbread Cookies
Recipe courtesy of The Chopping Block
Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

For cookies:
16 ounces (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
4 to 6 limes, zested (I always use 6)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour

For glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed

1. Cream butter, powdered sugar and zest in a stand mixer with paddle until well combined.
2. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.
3. Add flour and mix until well combined.

4. Now you have your basic dough. Roll the dough, using 2 pieces of parchment paper, into two equal logs of about 2 inches in diameter and 11 inches long. Chill until hardened, about one hour. Notice that I'm not fanatical about making perfectly round logs. You can be, but it's not necessary; the cookies still come out looking fine.

5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
6. Cut cookies from log about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick.
7. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. (I use a nonstick baking sheet and that's fine too)
8. Bake until cookies are lightly browned on the edges, about 25-35 minutes. An important note: I have always baked my cookies about 20-25 minutes and they come out just right. The chef who shared this recipe with me feels that 10-15 minutes often is enough to do the trick. The official Chopping Block recipe calls for 25-35 minutes. I recommend you take a peek at your cookies at the 10-15 minute mark and see how much longer they need. You don't want to overbake.
9. Remove cookies from baking sheet and set on rack to cool.

10. Make the glaze for the tops of the cookies. Place powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and add the lime juice. Blend to make the icing. If your icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add more lime juice.
11. Bruch glaze on top of cooled cookie. Let harden and serve.

I've made these cookies for guests on several occassions and they've gotten good reviews. Win feels that they are best dipped completely into the glaze as opposed to just being topped with the glaze. I think that's sweetness overkill, but if you like really sweet, tangy desserts then try dipping a cookie or two all the way.

I hope you enjoy these Lime Shortbread Cookies as much as we do.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Update on the Lima Bean

I haven't written much about our little Lima Bean in a while, so I thought I'd fill you in on her latest developments. She'll be 19 months old at the end of this month and it's just amazing how much she knows now and how fast she is learning. Kids' capacity to learn and absorb everything around them is unbelievable.

Since this is a food blog, I'll share some Lima stories that relate to the world of food. My brother Mike sent Lima this excellent Swedish Chef doll a while back and she suddenly is really into him. For a while, her feelings towards him were hit or miss, but now she appreciates him very much. She loves that he wears shoes and that he stands relatively tall for a doll. She must also think he tires easily because she likes to start her mornings by laying him down in her crib and covering him with blankets so he can rest. Here he is with another Lima favorite, Elmo:

While these two were laying in the crib, Lima made snoring noises and said "night night."

Another recent Lima obsession is applesauce. Lima suddenly wants to eat applesauce with every meal. And she has a very specific way she wants to eat it. She wants to sit on a ledge I have in my kitchen (it's low to the ground and she can walk over to it), with only her diaper on, and eat it with her hands. The dish it is served in must come with a spoon, but she's still working on total spoon coordination, so when all else fails I see her dig her little hands right into the bowl. She tells me this whole request like this:

"Sit" (Taps ledge to indicate where she wants to sit)
"Nudie" (Tugs at clothes to indicate she needs to undress)

OK, the whole undressing thing is my fault. One day she had on a really nice outfit and I told her that since I didn't want her to mess up the outfit I wanted her to take it off just during lunch and then we'd put it back on afterwards. (Even with a bib on, this outfit wouldn't have had a chance.) She apparently took that very seriously and now she associates applesauce at lunch with the need to be "nudie" as she says.

Obviously I have her wear clothes for 99% of applesauce feedings, but I do think it's very funny that she continues to mention the applesauce-related disrobing.

Finally, Lima's developed quite an understanding of how restaurants work. When servers are ready to collect menus, Lima is eager to pass them in. When she's really hungry and ready for the food to come, she says "Cook, food, eat, soon." She'll happily and proudly hand her little plate to a busboy when she is through with it, but she hangs on to it carefully if she's not quite done with her little tidbits of whatever we have given her. She's learned the names of all our local favorite places and even knows the names of a few waiters and waitresses we see all the time. I guess this is what happens when you are a city baby and you have so many restaurants right on your block.

So that's the latest Lima food news. It seems like she'll understand Christmas much more this year and we're already looking forward to the excitement that might bring.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Eliconi with Chicken and Peppers in a Garlic Basil Marinara

As I've mentioned before, I get monthly shipments from the Flying Noodle pasta club. I love receiving my box of sauces and pastas each month and can't wait to sample what we get. Recently, I used some of the goodies from my pasta shipment to make Eliconi with Chicken and Peppers in a Roasted Garlic and Sweet Basil Marinara. This dish is very easy yet really delicious. If you're not going to make your own marinara, the key will be using a very flavorful, high quality sauce like the one sent to me by Flying Noodle.

I used eliconi for this dish, but obviously you can use any type of pasta you like. Eliconi are a large swirly pasta that hold on to sauce very well.

Eliconi with Chicken and Peppers in a Roasted Garlic and Sweet Basil Marinara
Serves 6

1 pound of eliconi or your favorite pasta
1 jar Dave's Roasted Garlic and Sweet Basil Marinara or your favorite, high-quality marinara
2 chicken breasts, grilled then sliced into long thin strips
1 green and 1 red pepper, grilled then sliced into long thin strips
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
fresh cheese of your choice, grated to sprinkle on top of pasta

1. Slice peppers into long, thin strips and grill them.

2. Grill chicken breasts and then slice into long, thin strips. If the peppers and chicken are done before the pasta, just keep warm and set aside.
3. While you are grilling the peppers and chicken, get your pasta going. Fill a large pot with water and salt as you'd like. Add pasta and cook until al dente.
4. While your pasta is cooking, heat your sauce in a separate pot over low to medium heat. Slowly add the mozzarella cheese to the sauce, stirring it so it melts and doesn't stick together.
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it.
6. Return the pasta to the pot and mix it with the sauce, grilled chicken and grilled peppers.
7. Serve the pasta in pre-heated bowls and sprinkle top with a little Parmesan or Asiago cheese. I happened to have fresh Asiago in the house, so we used that.

Check out the photo at the top to see how the pasta came out. This dish is so good and flavorful; we really loved it. Dave's marinara is delicious and it helps make this dish very quick and easy since making homemade pasta sauce isn't required. Another successful pasta dinner using my treats from the Flying Noodle!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Food & Wine's List of Best New Chicago Restaurants

People of Chicago, I have not forsaken you. I know I have been writing about New Orleans food for over a week but I've finished posting about all our delicious New Orleans meals and now we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

So in a show of hometown spirit, this one's specifically for my Chicago friends. Food & Wine's November 2004 issue includes a listing of their picks for Chicago's Best New Restaurants. They include Avec, Le Lan, Merlo on Maple, Moto, Acqualina, and Pluton. Pluton is one we've been talking about for a while; it's probably next on our list to try.

See the full article here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Anniversary Dinner at Brigtsen's

For our final dinner in New Orleans, Win wanted to go somewhere fabulous and special but non-touristy. He did some reading and decided that he had a good feeling about Brigtsen's. He thought it was the kind of place that real New Orleans residents would go for a special and delicious meal. I've got to hand it to him...he does have good restaurant instincts and Brigtsen's was a perfect way to celebrate our final night in New Orleans.

Brigtsen's is owned by Frank and Marna Brigtsen. Frank is the chef and Marna the maitre'd. Frank cooked at Commander's Palace under Paul Prudhomme and then went on to work at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Frank opened Brigtsen's in 1986 and he and his restaurant have been winning awards, including the James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award, ever since.

Brigtsen's is an intimate place, with several small and welcoming dining rooms. The servers are extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and fun to talk to. When our server Sally heard we were in New Orleans to celebrate our anniversary, she seemed genuinely happy for us and sprinkled some confetti hearts on our table to celebrate. I made them into a little message for Win. I know, I know...depending on your temperament you'll either find this sweet and endearing or vomit-worthy and sappy. It's your call.

Now back to Brigtsen's and the food. Their menu is divine and selecting just a few dishes to try was tough. For an appetizer, I had the butternut shrimp bisque. This soup was pure heaven. Creamy, smooth and just the right combination of squash and shrimp flavors. Brigtsen's kindly features the recipe for this soup on their web site. I haven't tried to make it at home yet (and don't know if my version could ever compare to theirs) but I highly recommend this soup. It was so good and definitely worth a try at home if you can't get to New Orleans to experience theirs.

For his appetizer, Win chose pan-fried catfish with jalapeno cheese grits. He loved it.

For my entree, I was intrigued by the blackened tuna with smoked corn sauce, red bean salsa, and avocado sour cream. This combination of flavors with blackened fish sounded outstanding to me. The only problem was that I know tuna is considered best when served rare or medium rare and I just don't like rare tuna. I've had it at some of the best restaurants in the US, and each time I find it ok, but not great in its rare form. Sally, our server, was very helpful in this regard assuring me that they would cook the tuna however I liked or perhaps substitute another fish for me. She checked with the chef and they did the dish with blackened drum instead. It was delicious and had a really unique Southwestern slant to it.

For his entree, Win selected the grilled beef tournedos with tasso marchand du vin sauce and bleu cheese. These tournedos were so, so good and the sauce and bleu cheese with them just made them sing. Really, really outstanding (I took a bite too).

For dessert, we took Sally's recommendation and had the fresh berries in champagne vanilla sabayon. Normally I don't think a "fresh berry" dessert choice is terribly exciting, but this one was. The dessert began with a delicious crust on the bottom of the dish that was then filled with fresh strawberries and blueberries. On top of the berries was a champagne vanilla sabayon that had been lightly toasted. They served it to us with a celebratory candle. Wow. The sabayon was wonderful.

Brigtsen's was outstanding from the first moment we got there through to our last bite. Our meal lasted almost three hours and I had absolutely no idea we'd been there that long until we left. They let diners take their time, relax and enjoy the food. The food is delicious and creative, the service friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere warm and inviting. The restaurant was full of locals, not a tourist in sight (besides us). So Win's instincts were right again...this was a fabulous way to cap off our visit to New Orleans.

723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA
Telephone: 504-861-7610

Next time: Back to life in Chicago!

PS: No food photos on this one because I felt very conspicuous taking pictures of our food in their intimate little dining room. Any photos I took here were when no one was looking!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

This Is How to Start a Day: Jazz Brunch at The Court of The Two Sisters

You would think that after all the delicious meals we'd been having in New Orleans I couldn't possibly eat any more. But then you'd be wrong. After a good night's sleep, we awoke to a beautiful Southern morning with breakfast on our minds. Win chatted with the concierge to get his best ideas for where to go and the concierge's strong recommendation for the Jazz Brunch at The Court of The Two Sisters won us over.

The Court of The Two Sisters is an old New Orleans favorite with a gorgeous courtyard. Given the beauty of the courtyard and the nice weather, we obviously opted to sit outside. A jazz trio played softly off to the side, iced teas were delivered and we sat back in our chairs savoring this little piece of heaven.

But we didn't sit for long. The buffet awaited us inside! The Court of The Two Sisters puts out a vast array of breakfast and lunch foods. There was an omelet station for those who were interested in creating their own omelet, aided by a chef. Turtle soup, grits, biscuits, cornbread, and various breakfast meats were available. One large table was full of fresh fruit, all sorts of salads, pastas (hot and cold), and loads of different cheeses. In short, there was a very nice balance of hot and cold dishes, breakfast and lunch offerings, and fare for both those looking for hearty and lighter meals.

My favorite part of the brunch was the dessert table. Normally I wouldn't say that, but in this case it was true. You may have noticed in my postings about our other meals in New Orleans that I frequently mention that we were too full for dessert. So for a couple days I had been eyeing all the New Orleans classics---Bananas Foster, pecan pie, praline desserts, etc---but was too full to actually try them. In this brunch buffet setting, I was so excited to be able to try a tiny piece or small portion of every New Orleans classic that I had missed so far. The Bananas Foster was outrageous and such a treat, since that's not something you see on menus everywhere. The pecan pie was good, but to be honest I have had better elsewhere. So just a tiny bite of that one sufficed. They had some traditional King Cake out and it was delicious, so I indulged in that as well. Having the opportunity to sample all these treats was a lot of fun but the Bananas Foster was the clear winner of the group. Makes me want to caramelize bananas every day at home!

So our experience at The Court of The Two Sisters Jazz Brunch was a really lovely one. Good food, beautiful atmosphere and helpful, efficient service. Was it the best brunch I've ever been to? No. Others around the country certainly are more elaborate and have more exotic offerings. But it was quite good and I'm really pleased we experienced this New Orleans classic.

The Court of the Two Sisters
613 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA
Telephone: 504-522-7261

Next time: Going where the locals go for our final dinner in New Orleans

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Stylish Dining in the French Quarter

After our long day of Louisiana country adventures, Win and I went back to New Orleans and got cleaned up for a more stylish night on the town. Our first stop was The Pelican Club. The Pelican Club has a gorgeous atmosphere and a pianist was playing in the bar. Those two elements combined made it a wonderful place to stop for a cocktail. We decided to sit at the bar and enjoy the piano music (the pianist totally wins points from me for playing "Gotta Lotta Living to Do" from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie"---that song always makes me happy in a Broadway showtune kind of peppy way).

A cosmopolitan for me, a rum and Coke for Win. The bartender mixed delicious drinks and when he heard us talking about our anniversary he insisted we take him up on his offer of some complimentary champagne. This was such a kind gesture and it made us enjoy The Pelican Club even more.

Their menu is spectacular, but alas we wanted to try a couple places that evening so we opted to share just an appetizer. We selected the Pelican Club Baked Oysters. These were oysters served on the half shell with smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, Parmesan cheese and garlic herb butter. These were hands-down the best oysters I ever had. Win isn't a huge oyster fan, but he wanted to try them and even he was thrilled with this plate. If you go to The Pelican Club, give them a try. So good.

The Pelican Club is beautiful, sleek and romantic all at the same time. And the oyster presentation was gorgeous. The place totally warranted photos, but I felt too odd snapping photos of my food in their intimate little piano bar. Yes, even I have limits to my food-driven nerdiness. So no photos of this one, but check out this section of their web site if you're interested in how the place looked.

After the lovely cocktails and champagne, we were off for another stroll through the French Quarter in search of dinner. We happened upon Louisiana Bistro. This place had all the hallmarks of what we usually like; it was small, personal, had a delicious and interesting menu, and didn't seem touristy.

After enjoying their freshly baked bread, we ordered our appetizers. I had the Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy Shrimp and Win went with Grillades and Grits. Here's how mine looked:

Absolutely wonderful! We loved these starters so that gave us very high hopes for the entrees as well. Win ordered duck and I had the Creole Surf and Turf which was filet mignon served with a shrimp scampi and garlic mashed potatoes. Here are photos of Louisiana Bistro's very pretty presentation:

Both dishes were outstanding. Great flavor combinations, excellent preparation, and really delicious overall. Sadly, these wonderful meals left us too full to sample any dessert but that was probably best anyway. A few days in New Orleans can do some serious damage to the waistline.

The Pelican Club
312 Exchange Place
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
Telephone: 504-523-1504

Louisiana Bistro
337 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
Telephone: 504-525-3335

Next time: A Jazz Brunch and Exploring The Garden District

Monday, November 08, 2004

A Swamp Boat Tour and Two Tasty Casual Meals

When Win planned our New Orleans trip, he booked a swamp boat tour as a surprise for me. He thought that these kinds of tours sounded fun and that it would help us to explore parts of Louisiana outside of New Orleans proper. He was absolutely right on both fronts.

Our two-hour swamp boat tour was scheduled for noon, so we decided to have an early lunch before setting off. We were in Manchac, LA and there really aren't too many places to eat in Manchac, especially when you're looking for lunch on the early side. We were really pleasantly surprised to find Middendorf's Seafood Restaurant. Even at 11am, Middendorf's was bustling with an early lunch crowd. We found out later that they are known for their catfish, so it was a happy coincidence that Win ordered a catfish po' boy. Check out the photo below; this sandwich was a little bundle of fried goodness.

You'll also notice some hush puppies in the photo. I love hush puppies and since I so rarely see them on menus in Chicago I order them every chance I get in the South. These were nicely seasoned and delicious. I ordered shrimp gumbo that was outstanding too. We opted not to photograph it because while it was heavenly, a big brown bowl of gumbo wasn't terribly photogenic.

Middendorf's was a big hit and the customers kept coming, right through the lunch rush. Satisfied and happy, we headed off for our swamp boat tour. When Win planned the tour, he wanted to go out with a company that seemed as non-touristy and non-gimmicky as possible. He selected Airboat Adventures for our tourguides and they fit the bill perfectly.

We drove up to the bayou and our airboat (also called a fanboat) was waiting for us. No corporate office, no gift shop, no signs even...just a guy and his boat waiting to take us on the tour. Chris was our captain and he did an excellent job steering us through the bayou, answering questions, and telling us about the bayou and neighboring swamplands. It's almost impossible to describe how gorgeous the scenery was. As we'd weave our way through the bayou and the swamp, we'd see different kinds of trees and plants and we even encountered several interesting swamp birds, owls, and alligators.

At times, the airboat took us for a wild ride through the swamp grasses that was exhilirating and unlike any other experience we ever had and then at other times Chris would pilot the boat slowly so that we could learn about the swamp and look closely at specific sights. To help entice an alligator over to us, Chris fed it a chicken neck.

Both Win and Chris reached out and stroked the alligator's head. I had seen the alligator snap up that chicken and was way too scared to put my hand near those jaws. (I'm not an animal petter, you see. Even petting zoos with tame little goats make me nervous, so you can imagine my reserve with an alligator.)

Our tour lasted a bit over two hours and we were thrilled with how it went. It was fun, educational, and totally unique. If you are looking to experience some of Louisiana's natural beauty, I'd highly recommend a swamp tour.

After the tour, we decided to stop and visit a plantation. While there were several Win had highlighted as possibilities, it was getting late in the day and for the sake of time we decided just to go to the closest one. It was the San Francisco Plantation. This plantation is very brightly painted on the outside and ornately decorated on the inside and somewhat different in style than the traditional Southern plantation look. We had a really lovely tour there. Great, informed tour guide and it was especially interesting to visit the slave quarters and see the disparity in living conditions between the master and servant.

After the plantation tour, we were hungry again so we decided to stop for a lighter meal on the way back to New Orleans. We happened upon a sweet little roadside stand called Connie's. It's a cute place that serves a large menu of lunch and snack foods and ice cream. Win had a meatball po' boy and I got a grilled cheese. Not Louisiana specialties, we know, but we were saving our stomachs for New Orleans' best later that night.

Something interesting happened when we ordered our drinks. Win ordered a Coke and the girl behind the counter said "What kind of Coke? I have Pepsi and root beer." Win's from the South and on more than one occassion he's told me that in parts of the South people refer to all soft drinks as "Cokes," the way some people call all tissues "Kleenex." I hadn't really encountered this before but this exchange leads me to believe what Win's been saying.

We got our food and ate at a picnic table next to the takeput window. Then something funny happened: a cat invasion! All of these cats came over and hung out while we ate:

Win's the cat fan in our duo, so the cats kindly stayed on his side of the table and enjoyed tidbits of his meatball sandwich. Happy day for the cats too.

Middendorf's Seafood Restaurant
Highway 51 North (exit 15 off of I-55 North)
Manchac, LA
Telephone: 985-386-6666

Airboat Adventures

Connie's Grill
1462 Highway 44
Reserve, LA 70084
Telephone: 985-536-3027

Next time: We're back in New Orleans, dining in style

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Dinner at a Hidden Gem and Dessert at a New Orleans Classic

For dinner on our first night in New Orleans, Win was looking for a place that served delicious food, was casual, and was as non-touristy as is possible in the French Quarter. While I napped in the afternoon (let me say it again, ahhh...the decadence), Win read up on some potential dinner choices. He decided on a place called Rita's Olde French Quarter Restaurant and I'm glad he did.

Rita's is unpretentious, cozy, and it serves generous portions of delicious Cajun and Creole food. The dining room was quite busy the night we went, filled mostly with locals and the occassional table of tourists. To our surprise, one waiter was staffing the whole dining room. This man was beyond busy taking orders, delivering food, clearing tables, refilling water glasses, preparing desserts tableside, and so on. When we saw this, we thought we'd probably have either a long wait for our food or just potentially terrible service. We had just the opposite; this one-man-wonder somehow managed to serve the needs of the entire restaurant quickly, effectively and with a smile (albeit a quick one; he had to stay on the move!).

Rita's menu is full of delicious choices. Before going to New Orleans, I decided that I had to be sure to try some catfish when I was there. Rita's Stuffed Catfish leapt out at me as a great choice. It was catfish filled with a Cajun seasoned stuffing, topped with crawfish and covered with a spicy cream sauce. The night we were there they were out of crawfish (which is surprising given the abundance in the region), so mine was topped with shrimp instead. As our waiter promised, this dish was marvelous, shrimp and all.

Win, a major ribs fan, was compelled by their ribs offering. The meat was so tender, it literally fell off the bone as he ate them. He loved them.

As you can see from the photos above, Rita's isn't about fancy presentation or elaborate side dishes. We found it cute and funny that my vegetable side dish looked like frozen vegetable medley right out of the freezer. What Rita's is about though is excellent food, served in a traditional, home-cooked style, in a warm and inviting atmosphere. A photo of Rita herself smiles down from the wall, helping to create this comfortable feeling.

We loved our dinner and afterwards we were off for more walking around. After a bit of time had passed, we went to the world famous Cafe Du Monde in the French Market.

We of course had to try the beignets. Since I'd heard so much about their chicory coffee, I ordered a cafe au lait and Win had a hot chocolate.

Yum, yum, yum. The beignets were delicious and I loved seeing the trail of powered sugar left around everyone's table. It was so much fun to sit outside and enjoy these traditional New Orleans treats.

Rita's Olde French Quarter Restaurant
945 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70116-3208
Telephone: 504-523-7543

Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Telephone: 504-525-4544

Next time: A Swamp Tour Adventure

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Our Introduction to New Orleans: Lunch at Antoine's

When we arrived in New Orleans, we drove to the hotel, quickly changed out of our much-too-hot-for-Southern-weather clothes, and decided to explore the French Quarter in search of a good lunch. We loved our stroll down Royal Street and had fun popping in and out of galleries and shops as we went. We passed several restaurants as we walked and they all looked good, but Antoine's was the one that captivated us for our first lunch in New Orleans.

Antoine's is the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States and I believe it's also the oldest restaurant in New Orleans. Antoine's has been serving delicious food in New Orleans since 1840 and five generations of the same family have run the restaurant. We had the pleasure of speaking with one of the family members during our lunch and he mentioned that he's hoping a sixth generation will step up and take the reigns when the time comes.

Antoine's has several large and grandly decorated dining rooms. We were seated in the front dining room where most of the lunch patrons had gathered. As you can see from the photo above, the room is spare but elegant, illuminated by vintage chandeliers and tiny lights lining the ceiling. This was such a great atmosphere to introduce us to New Orleans because this dining room felt so Old World, charming, and French-influenced.

Antoine's menu is extensive and making a decision was difficult becauce everything looked appealing. Before coming to New Orleans, I had made a mental checklist of all the traditional foods that I had to have on this trip. Turtle soup made the list. Instead of turtle soup, Antoine's serves alligator soup, which is very similar to turtle soup but with alligator instead. Intrigued, Win and I both ordered the alligator soup as an appetizer.

The soup was delicious. If you haven't had alligator or turtle soup before, I'd recommend it. It's hard to describe but to me it tastes somewhat like a really flavorful chili with a vegetable soup air about it and plenty of sherry. Yeah, I know that description makes no sense and is virtually impossible to imagine, but it's really what I think it tastes like. Just take the leap and be sure to try the alligator soup if you ever have the chance.

For my entree, I ordered soft shell crab. I am such a fan of soft shell crabs and usually can't resist them when I spot them on a menu. Antoine's did a lovely job with this one...simple, pan-fried and delicious served with little roasted potatoes.

Win opted for the Chicken Rochambeau. This was broiled chicken served with two delicious sauces, a sweet brown rochambeau and a tangy béarnaise. The chicken sat atop a slice of baked ham. He loved it and was impressed with how well the sauces complemented the dish.

After lunch, we took a walk through Antoine's many dining rooms to look at their vast collections and mementos. A sweet busboy noticed us checking out the celebrity photos on the walls and pointed us to photos of two of Antoine's most prominent guests, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Pope. I wonder if the Pope had the alligator soup too...hmmm.

We worked our way into the Rex Room which possessed a stunning display of Mardi Gras finery.

The Rex Room was created in recognition of "The Crewe Of Rex" whose King reigns over the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Its walls are adorned with photos of Mardi Gras royalty and memorabilia, such as crowns, scepters and gowns. We weren't able to capture the full splendor of the room with our little camera, so if you're interested in seeing a more detailed view of the Rex Room and Antoine's other dining rooms, click here.

Lunch at Antoine's was a really special way to kick off our stay in New Orleans. We enjoyed soaking in the history, the decor, the sense of New Orleans tradition and of course the delicious food.

Upon exiting Antoine's I was amused to see that Gennifer Flowers has a cabaret show across the street from the restaurant. Yes, that Gennifer Flowers...the one who said she had an affair with Bill Clinton. I hadn't thought about her in years and found it kind of funny that she's a singer now with her own club.

After lunch, we decided to walk around the French Quarter some more and we stopped at a bar for a hurricane or two. Then it was off for an afternoon nap...ah, the decadence!

Antoine's Restaurant
713 Rue Saint Louis
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
Telephone: (504) 581-4422
Fax: (504) 581-3003
Email: info@antoines.com

Next time: A delicious dinner at one of the French Quarter's best kept secrets

Monday, November 01, 2004

I'm Back...Happy, Rested and Stuffed

I'm back from my break. As I mentioned before taking a little blogging hiatus, my parents came in to town last week and it was great to spend some time hanging out with them and seeing how much they love playing with Lima. Our little Lima Bean is 18 months old now and becoming more and more of a character every day. She loved seeing her Grandma and Grandpa and she learned so many new words, games and tricks from them in the past few days.

In addition to being pleasant and fun company, my parents also did us a big favor through their visit. They watched Lima for a few days while Win and I went off to New Orleans to celebrate our 5th anniversary. New Orleans is one of the few cities that both Win and I had wanted to visit, yet neither one of us had been to yet. So it seemed like a perfect place to go to celebrate our special occassion.

In a nutshell: We loved our trip. The city is gorgeous and lively and the food is amazing. We ate our way all over town and I'll be posting the details on all those meals in the days ahead. Thanks for sticking with me through my hiatus; I'm looking forward to telling you about the outstanding food we ate and beautiful sights we saw in New Orleans!