Friday, July 30, 2010

Appetizer Extravaganza: Mike's on the Avenue

On our last night in New Orleans we planned on heading back to the French Quarter to dine at Snug Harbor. We had stayed two nights in the French Quarter and then shifted locale to the quieter Warehouse/Arts District for our final night. Before heading out to the French Quarter we decided to feast on some appetizers at the restaurant off the lobby of the hotel we were at.

Stellar spontaneous decision.

Sitting in the outdoor seating of Mike's on the Avenue, next to Lafayette Square, watching the streetcars go by.

From start to finish our experience at Mike's on the Avenue was lovely. In a city where the experience of food and drink is integral to the place, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the life of service industry folk. These folks serve as ambassadors to the introduction and experience of a variety of cuisine that is worth writing home about. And they also often serve as some of the most practical guides to aspects of the city that you want to know more about.

I'm big on customer service. I had my own stints as a hostess in the restaurant industry. But even before this, I knew the value of a restaurant staff who (even if still in training) know the dishes, are professional and friendly and actually appear to genuinely like the establishment they work for. All of this was illustrated by the staff on our appetizer feast eve at Mike's on the Avenue.

A nice bowl of edamame (with grey sea salt) to munch on between bites of other, more complex starters.

'half plate photography.'

Crawfish spring rolls with chili lime sauce.
This was delicious.
It gets even better.

The dumplings.
Oh, the dumplings.

Shrimp & spinach dumplings with tahini sauce.

The dumplings were to-return-for. We fawned over the dumplings.
Let me demonstrate.

Yes, I am happy with the knowledge that I am about to stuff one of these dumplings in my mouth.

Yup, some grilled asparagus to round off the richer dishes with some basic green.

We just kept ordering app's after awhile.
Could. Not. Get. Enough.
Featured in the above (and below) pic:
The delectable Blackened Tuna Napoleon on Chips with Guacamole & Tamari Vinaigrette.

Mojitos to round out the appetizer feast.....

Mike's on the Avenue is in (what seems to me) as a fairly discreet location. I guess after spending two nights in the French Quarter, a block away from Bourbon Street, almost any location would seem discreet.

But it was a truly refreshing change of pace to just relocate about two miles away from the heart of traveller action and experience a centrally located, yet fairly peaceful, quarter in the heart of New Orleans. Apparently, Mike's is big with the weekly local business crowd (no surprise there), so it was with disappointment that we learned that they would be closed the day we left (a Sunday). No hope for a last good bye appetizer quickie before we set off for Alabama.

Whenever I have the opportunity to return to New Orleans, even with the plethora of restaurants left to explore, I would certainly return to Mike's on the Ave for an appetizer feast encore.

Although they were closed on the day we left, the concierge of the hotel was kind enough to open the doors of the restaurant so I could capture the restaurant's clean design by camera.

Thank you Mike's on the Avenue.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jacques-Imo's: Superbe!

As a food blogger, I really have only just begun. My taste buds are not nearly honed enough to be reporting online as an authentic foodie (give me a couple of years). One thing that has already started happening is seeing food, and the experiences that surround it, in a completely new way. I often carry my camera with me, I just never considered documenting the "eating" life.

Continuing on in a series of posts about New Orleans eats, having spent some days last week there. For every place we ate at that I blog about, I could say "This was a true highlight." They all were, in their own way.

Jacques-Imo's in uptown New Orleans.

We were a handful of folks in a cab coming from the French Quarter and the cab tab was under 20$. It's a worthwhile excursion, to check out another aspect of New Orleans space (other than the French Quarter which is understandably an attractive area to hunker down) as well as to have a simply delightful, intimate and delicious time.

I suppose I could throw in "slightly rowdy" there too. Not rowdy in the brawl sense, but the place definitely teems with action. To reach our table we passed through a somewhat crowded bar, then walked through the kitchen (yes, the kitchen is placed dead center in the whole restaurant and getting to your table or the bathroom requires a kitchen passage) to our table.

Our place was in the midst of it all. I can't really describe the experience but in metaphor: like sitting at a festive room of dining tables aboard a small-ish candlelit boat at sea.

Maybe it was the Guinness.

Whatever it was, I arrived sober, had a couple of brews, shared excellent appetizers with the company (fried green tomatoes) and was truly satisfied with my Crawfish Etouffee.

Jacques-Imo's is apparently a real landmark in town. After one single dining experience there, it's clear why.

And one lesson learned for this newbie food blogger is that the importance of food is often just that- the experience that surrounds it. Jacques-Imo's taught me that. I thank the wait staff, kitchen crew, chefs and owner for a wonderful evening. And for all the photo op's!!!

As I was wandering around, Guinness in hand, capturing images of the restaurant and it's livelihood, these folks literally ushered me into the kitchen for the photo moment! I honestly have never met a friendlier restaurant crew. But then again, it's only so often you have the opportunity to actually photograph the kitchen and folks who are whipping up your delicious meal.

Outside of Jacques-Imo's it's gettin' lively.

One of the waitresses noticed my photographic quest and linked me up with the owner for this photo moment. How awesome is that. You. Guys. Rock.

Very happy and satisfied faces of my fellow diners. As we were leaving the owner of Jacques-Imo's was in the kitchen and within moments all of this ensued. Note the owners rockin All Star converse. That's my fellow diners holding him in rock star stance.

Jacques-Imo's: You Rock. Thank you for an excellent and delicious night.

Monday, July 19, 2010

NOLA: The American Sector

To have chosen my first visit to New Orleans to coincide with beginning this blog project was not a bad idea. At all.

The history and appreciation of food in this city, and the culture surrounding it, is, simply put, phenomenal. The reality of this was woven through literally every meal with had.

Walking into the The American Sector was like entering the scene of a movie. After a riveting, very informative and even emotional tour of the WWII museum, entering the museum's restaurant to a scene of many Marines in uniform surrounding the bar and waitress in 50's style dress was a bit surreal.

Starting off with drinks at just about any restaurant in New Orleans is a nice prelude to the meal, as well as a chance to dialogue with the knowledgeable bartenders about the city. The service industry in New Orleans is truly one of the major backbones to what makes this city what it is: flavorful, conversation rich and interesting.

Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo

Shrimp in a cup with spicy aioli

Biting into one of these battered shrimp pieces to savor the tender meat coated with spicy aioli was a treat. If I lived in New Orleans, I could probably cope with simply feasting on appetizers when I went out. As became a trend through our meals in NOLA, the appetizer was distinct and satisfying. A dish I will likely try to replicate at home.

I've always loved wooden dishes so I appreciated seeing the sandwiches of our fellow diners on these wooden platforms.

Stuffed crab- I didn't realize until the last bites that there were little bits of pork in the stuffing. I guess my food awareness needs tremendous work and is by no means honed. Alas, yet another great reason for setting off on this food project of a blog.

There will rarely to never be any pork featured in this blog. I'm not Muslim or Jewish. I just don't do pork.

All of that said, the stuffed crab was pretty delicious.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Prelude: Voodoo Cuisine

I'm a big fan of preludes. And afterludes. And retrospects. Visiting or living in a place wraps in a novella of the senses- often before I have even been there. I have had premonitory moments with places before even seeing the place. And of course, after having visited or lived in the place, the memories include, and extend beyond, the texture of the five senses that laced my experience of the place.

My first trip to New Orleans nears. The taste of creole. The visual rush of the local scene. The din I imagine in what is often reported as a ghost heavy city. The bodily sense of being in a place that seems destined to experience many a rebirth. I smell perfumes, fires and a whiff of riverfront air before even arriving there.

On the sensory notes, we shall see. But I am human, so in New Orleans I will eat. The grub down will be blogged.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The Friday Feast "project" has been an idea simmering for a little while now. A range of inspiration led to this: the global trekking of food discovery in the Anthony Bourdain show, the intense chef challenges posed in the recent spurt of cooking reality shows, reading a variety of foodie blogs and experiencing the beauty of cookbooks with stellar food photography and recipes that read as poetry.

And last, but not least of course, an appreciation for food and enjoyment of the solidarity that feasting with others bring. Be it a backyard barbecue with hearty grilled dishes that have been marinated just right, crafting platters of delicious hor d'oeuvres for a house party or simply concocting a wonderfully cooked home meal- it's all part of the feast and of course bringing together company, be it two or twenty.

Friday night, as the traditional landmark to the end of the work week, has a certain flair to it. Of course the feast can happen at any time. The Friday Feast is my metaphor for that time when you gather with family and friends, light the fire of dialogue and break bread with your company of loved ones. Be it a night of simple home cooking, a pub crawl on the town with good brews and appetizers or a finely tuned and prepared meal, it's all part of the Friday Feast.

One added inspiration to getting the project rolling was the current issue of Travel + Leisure that arrived in the post this summer. Dedicated as "The Food and Travel Issue" the entire mag is a mouth watering, page turning foodie's dream. And I'm not even a true foodie. Yet. The July edition profiles food culture in Sydney, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and reels in social media discussions of readers "ultimate" globe trekking food tours.

A beautifully written article, "Vietnam: The Ultimate Food Tour," had me expanding my mental horizons beyond my sole, yet absolutely wonderful, experience of Pho as well as, for the first time, envisioning travel to Hanoi. How could I have known that this Southeast Asian city is famed not only for reverence and extensive use of fresh and local ingredients, but also coffee culture?

"For all their obsessive eating and snacking, Hanoians tend not to linger at table. Most finish dinner in seven minutes flat. Where they do while away hours is at the local cafe. Hanoians drink a lot of coffee.....The bohemian soul of Hanoi's cafe scene is Nang, a 1956 landmark on Hang Bac Street...."
-"Vietnam: The Ultimate Food Tour," by Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel + Leisure July 2010 edition

And so, the edible and drinkable journey begins.....