Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Back to New Orleans part two: let the good times roll

Above: Jamil Sharee at the Maison Bourbon; Sock Monkey at Cafe du Monde

4 days on Bourbon Street and we only saw one woman flashing her boob.

The businesses are definitely (defiantly?) open but customers are few & far between. Music flows out from bars & clubs all over the city. On the street a state of drunkeness were just a hurricane (Katrina special) or jello shot away. Yet the streets were mostly empty. Maybe librarians are not quite the party animals they rumored to be.

Michael Martens visits his friend who is a bartender at a 24-hour joint. He works the midnight to 8am shift. He explains: mid-night to two you have the college crowd, then the off-duty cops show, followed by the junkies until about 7am, then the serious drunk folks. The cops by far create the most trouble.

In addition to missing customers the other challenge local hospitality industry faces is a major shortage of labor. Most chose to enter the far more lucrative construction jobs, others can't afford to move back in. Every single place had Help Wanted sign up. Most were operating on part-time basis or only open half the dining room 'cause they are short staffed. I felt like I was in Paris all over again.

I've been to NO more than a dozen times so my first instinct is to seek out all my favorite places. Starting with Cafe du Monde, the stupendous simple yet delicious breakfast combination of beignets (fried dough w/t powdered sugar) and chicory laced cafe au lait served by asian waitresses with too much make-up and southern accent. So far so good.

Walk down to Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and find Johnny Gordon at the piano. Johnny has been playing the piano for more than 50 years. He likes his whiskey. His voice, already challenging, lowers & become increasingly incomprehensible as the night wears on. Johnny belts out his standards - It's a Wonderful World, House of the Rising Sun, My Funny Valentine. A customer request a song that came out after 1969, never heard it, replied Johnny. Good, nothin' has changed.

Maison Bourbon, one of the last remaining pure jazz club left on Bourbon Street (motto: dedicatd to the preservation of jazz - a clever reference to the famous but over-rated Preservation Hall club). Jamil Sharef is on trumpet tonight with a 4-piece, including a drummer straight out of the Buena Vista Social Club. At lest 80 years old, fedora hat, neatly pressed suit, vest (it's 95 degrees & humid, mind you). Specs. Light touch all around, an amused smile on his lips as he looks down at us. Music was brilliant. The crowd goes wild. Jamil suggests people buy his CD 'cause ''they would sound good playing inside a library''. Let the good times roll.

Dinner time, couldn't get into NOLA so we go to Emerils. Yes, THAT guy's restaurant. Always admired his cooking if not his style, the menu was inventive, fun & most importantly, mouth watering delicious. I had an arugula salad with spanish ham, two different melons & a sorbet made from pecorino cheese. Entre was rack of lamb with mustard & rosemary crust on a bed of spinach. Simple yet different. After everyone claims to be stuffed and can not possibly eat any dessert, naturally we order 6 of them. The key lime pie was fluffy & just sweet enough. Banana cream pie melted in your mouth. Chocolate souffle was very serious business.

I walk down to the French Market to pick up file (for gumbo), the praline connection for Gracie, Frank's grocery for Mufflettas, the Gumbo Shop for, er, gumbo. Seeing Kevin at the New Orleans School of Cooking was like seeing a brother lost during the war. I buy my Joe's stuff, picking up an extra one for John Allen. I'm usually a stoic guy but this was all too much. The city I love so much took a beating but it has come back stronger than ever. Folks, get your ass to New Orleans, the nice folks down there are waitin' for you.


Blogger La Gringa said...


8:33 PM  

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