So after I got home on Wednesday, I unpacked the jars of Cajun seasoning, put the Camellia beans away, and lit a fire in the woodstove in the kitchen (it was 63 in the kitchen). I did a quick draft of the last day in New Orleans, which I finally had time to finish.
During the day, we drove to Casamento’s on Magazine Street for some raw and broiled oysters and a soft shell crab po’ boy. The oysters are different from Wellfleet’s—warmer water, marsh and not sea grown, I think, but who can pass oysters by? Oysters or clams on the half-shell always remind me of my father. We used to have dinner in Manhattan at some Italian white tablecloth restaurant or other in mid-town, sharing a dozen raw clams before the veal parmesan. After dinner, we’d see the new James Bond movie.
The first time I heard of Magazine Street was in the movie, The Love Song of Bobbie Long, Scarlett Johannsson and John Travolta in a drunkard’s redemption set off Magazine Street somewhere. After lunch, we walked along Magazine Street, which is dangerously close to commercial tourist avenue in my estimation.
For dinner, we hit Boucherie, another neighborhood place near Bill and Cindy. I love the neighborhoods and the restaurants tucked into converted shotguns and doubles along a residential block. Boucherie was another great meal, arguably the best of the week. An escarole kim chee amuse bouche set the tone. The chef has a deft touch with hot pepper—enough so you know it’s there but not enough to blunt the other tastes. Lack of spice has been a surprise for me, but every now and then someone slips in enough heat for you to take notice. For appetizers, we had a Vietnamese crepe filled with mizuma and tofu, and topped with nearly transparent slices of giant radish and an oyster risotto with porcini. There was a soft echo of five spice powder on the oysters. Bill proclaimed it the best thing he’d eaten all week. It’s an argument that can only be settled by another week of eating.
The entrees are reasonable at Boucherie, under $20 all, so we reversed our usual methodology and had three entrees. First, a smoked Wagyu beef brisket that was fall-apart tender, beefy to the core and topped with a sweet fruit BBQ sauce. Next, three smoked ocean scallops on a bubble and squeak that was at once homey and dressed up. Another deft touch of spice and a sprig of chervil topped the dish. Our third plate, caramelized ramps, kale, and ricotta ravioli with roasted Brussels sprouts was the only one we did not care for. The pasta was good, but the dish had too much liquid and the kale and Brussels sprouts took it way too far into the cruciferous. Perhaps it was a comeback to the New York Times article complaining that NOLA wasn’t cosmopolitan, in part because there was no kale here.
Dessert was Crispy Crème bread pudding and a Thai Chocolate chess pie. I am probably the only person in North America who doesn’t like Crispy Crème donuts (the icing is just overpowering), but the bread pudding was better than any mere Crispy Crème donut. The icing melted into the custard and the taste of the donuts finally came though. The Thai chocolate chess pie had another good hit of hot pepper. By then, Bill had pulled out the picture of their bread pudding that he’d painted, the chef had asked for a copy, and we were all friends so we asked for a side of the cherry sauce from another dessert which was just stellar.
Then off to Chickie Wah Wah’s to hear John Cleary, an expat Brit who, so one story goes, came over, got a job painting the Maple Leaf and learned to play piano on the Maple Leaf’s piano. Certainly metaphorical, and like all such stories, there may even be something true about it. But the man sounds like he was born playing stride piano. We ended up at the bar since the place had been packed for an hour before we arrived and there were no tables.
Given the generally funky tone to the place, I was expecting the same décor in the bathrooms. Wrong. The bathrooms at Chickie Wah Wah;s are modern and clean, yet one more surprise in this town.
Anyway, during the second set, Bill noticed Tom McDermott in the crowd and said hello. The venues make it easy to talk to the musicians. and we’d talked with him last Thursday, at Buffa’s. I bought Tom a drink (a diet Coke if you must know), and asked him about his schedule for Jazz Fest. Various musicians and friends came by and I listened to them swap stories and talk venues and gigs, mainly concentrating on not saying something stupid. Later on, John Cleary stopped by and I got the pic, with Coleman deKay, an actor and screenwriter we were talking with and Bill photobombing in the background.
I loved driving and walking through the neighborhoods, seeing the old mansions, the shotgun houses, the doubles, and the new buildings (post storm or not), the live oaks tearing up the sidewalk and hanging way over the streets, the flowers whose names I don’t know, the restaurants tucked into the rows of houses. When I got here, I was thinking the bright paint on the houses made them look like some seasonal beach town, but I think I was wrong. There are too many shades in too many neighborhoods for the pastels and bright colors to be anything more than how the city dresses up. I’ll miss the music, the musicians, and the rooms where they play.
I won’t miss trying pass oncoming cars on the narrow streets or the potholes, as deep and as bad as any spring road in Amherst or Northampton. I may not miss the deep frying for at least a week, but I’m sure I will. In my twenties, you always knew who’d spent the summer in Europe. All they wanted to do is hang out, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk deep and pseudo-philosophical thoughts. I don’t want to be that way about New Orleans, but it’s its own place, unlike anywhere else and I am glad that I got to experience it. And you know I’ll be back.