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Cajun Circuit: New Orleans part I

View New Orleans 2019 on zzlangerhans's travel map.


The drive from Jackson to New Orleans was the most boring episode of the trip. We cruised the whole way down the interstate without making a single stop. I'd already canceled that night's dinner reservation, which was kind of a bummer. I'd eaten with my parents at Upperline the year it opened in 1984 and I was looking forward to having another meal there thirty-four years later, but it wasn't going to happen. Once we got to New Orleans we had to focus on getting Spenser's prescriptions filled, and we were still too rattled from his health scare to enjoy an upscale dinner anyway.

Things started looking up once we reached the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. The 24 mile-long structure is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world, and driving across it literally felt like driving over an ocean. For most of the length of the bridge there was no land whatsoever in sight except for the bridge itself. Towards the southern end of the causeway, the New Orleans skyline came into view and we had great views of the shoreline when the road rose upwards at the crossovers.

Our Airbnb in the downscale Gentilly neighborhood, well north of the French Quarter, was our only disappointment of the trip in terms of accommodation. It was a shotgun style house that was cramped and completely devoid of character both outside and in. We did save a lot of money staying there as Airbnb's were brutally expensive in New Orleans, but if I had to do it over again I probably would have spent a little more.

Filling Spenser's prescriptions turned out to be quite a saga as well. Once I sorted through the papers they had given Mei Ling at discharge, I discovered that they had never given her the actual prescriptions although there was a list of the medicines in the discharge instructions. I took everything to CVS and although they didn't accept the discharge paperwork in lieu of the prescriptions, they did allow me to write new prescriptions even though I'm only licensed in Florida. They didn't have the steroid inhaler so they called it in to another CVS which I then had to drive to. That inhaler turned out to cost $200, which of course was an out of pocket expense since we have a high deductible. Once I got back home I discovered that the steroid dose actually had to be sucked out of the inhaler, which Spenser couldn't understand. He kept trying to blow into it. When I looked up the medicine online, I found the minimum age for it was six. Why would an experienced pediatrician at a children's hospital prescribe a brutally expensive medicine for a kid who was too young to use it? As a doctor, I knew the answer was that we make mistakes like this all the time. Some of us try and check ourselves and keep up to date on new developments in our fields, and some of us just embrace mediocrity. I resolved to keep this episode in mind any time I prescribed a medication that I wasn't intimately familiar with. The $200 inhaler turned out to be an expensive paperweight.

At least canceling our dinner reservation meant we could visit another food hall. New Orleans now has three of them, and the closest one to our Airbnb was the most historic. St. Roch Market has existed in the same location just north of the Marigny area since 1875. The most recent renovation came in 2014, a decade after it was gutted following damage from Hurricane Katrina. The St. Roch Market was also the inspiration behind a namesake food hall from the same developers in our home city of Miami.

We arrived more than a half hour before the 10 PM closing time, but the only patrons left were at the Mayhaw cocktail bar and most of the restaurants looked to be on the verge of shutting down. We were just in time to wangle a few dishes out of the open kiosks and had an eclectic dinner of ceviche, gyros, and grilled fish. Overall we were somewhat underwhelmed but we had to give St. Roch a pass since we'd arrived so late. Next time in New Orleans we'll have to go during peak dining hours.

Friday morning we had breakfast at Auction House Market, in the Warehouse District. This food hall had a high-energy vibe largely due to the early lunchtime crowds. There were Asian and Latin options along with the ubiquitous Cajun and coastal offerings. In the center of the market was a huge marble bar underneath an expansive skylight. Hanging from the ceiling under the skylight was an array of glass shelves filled with beautiful green vines and house plants. It was an amazing look that we took careful note of for the new house we'll be moving into in May.

Mardi Gras World on the banks of the Mississippi is the warehouse and workshop of Kern Studios, one of the pre-eminent designers and builders of Mardi Gras floats for almost a hundred years. The Kern family opened Mardi Gras World thirty-five years ago to allow visitors to observe the process of float construction year-round. It's expensive and touristy, but it's pretty much the only way to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans outside of the week that the wild celebration takes place. There wasn't much going on in the way of construction when we were there, but the kids were impressed by the colorful and remarkably lifelike styrofoam figures. Much of the styrofoam carving is now completed by an enormous robot working off a computerized template. Behind the studio is a patio that overlooks the Mississippi and the Crescent City Connection bridge to the West Bank.

We remembered New Orleans' residential charm from our last visit seven years previously so we took a drive around the Garden District, upriver from the French Quarter and the city center. Soon enough Mei Ling's sharp eye spotted a crawfish truck that was in a symbiotic relationship with a local beer joint. The boys were sleeping by this point and I felt I'd had enough crawfish for a year, so Mei Ling and Cleo had a girls' lunch while we stayed in the car.

Once the boys woke up we joined them and got a closer look at the crawfish operation, which consisted of two guys engaged in a continuous cycle of unloading, uncrating, spicing, shaking, and boiling crustaceans. They seemed to be enjoying themselves but I didn't envy them their backbreaking job.

The immediate vicinity seemed particularly inviting so we took a stroll around a couple of blocks, admiring the colorful paint schemes and wrought-iron balconies of the neighborhood mansions. By then it was already time to return to the Airbnb and drop Spenser off with his Grandma. It was time to experience one of New Orleans' ultimate pleasures, a gourmet restaurant.

Choosing just two or three restaurants out of the myriad of options that New Orleans provides is a daunting task. There's simply no way to do justice to one of the most renowned culinary cities in the United States in such a short period of time. I had pored over various lists and reviews and eventually selected GW Fins and Restaurant Rebirth, along with the aforementioned Upperline. GW Fins has been a fixture in the French Quarter since 2001 and has earned a reputation as possibly New Orleans' top spot for fresh and innovative seafood dishes. The traffic was gnarly on a Friday night and we needed every minute of the extra time we'd allotted ourselves to arrive on time for our reservation.

Despite our eager anticipation, dinner was anticlimactic. We scratched our heads when we perused the entrees. The choices were an array of the most typical fish one might see on a menu at any seafood restaurant in the country. Tuna, halibut, swordfish, snapper. The preparation and sides seemed fairly mundane as well. We ordered the one unusual fish we saw, sheepshead, despite misgivings about a parmesan crust and ultimately found our misgivings to be justified. In the end the meal wasn't bad, but I'm pretty sure we hadn't been served anywhere near the best food New Orleans had to offer. The brightest light was the Chocolate Mousse Bombe we had for dessert.

We hadn't planned on visiting Bourbon Street, but as we stepped out of the restaurant we found the weekend procession in full swing. Although Mardi Gras only lasts a couple of weeks each year, the game of tossing beads from balconies in return for the flashing of breasts persists to some degree year-round. The kids thankfully focused on the bead-tossing and were completely oblivious to the flashing. They caught a few small chains and couldn't understand why the men on the balconies wouldn't throw them the big beads. I tried to explain to Cleo that it would be a few years before she would be able to earn those. The kids had a blast walking up and down the street and interacting with various hawkers and street performers. Dressed up as they were for our dinner out, they added a little color to the Bourbon Street scene themselves.


Posted by zzlangerhans 19:16 Archived in USA

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