Part Two in our “New Orleans Experience” covers our hotel and our first meal in the French Quarter. This series of posts is told from both male and female perspectives with Rob’s thoughts in italics.
Since we were visiting New Orleans at what is pretty much regarded as the worst time of year weather-wise, we scored an incredible deal for our hotel. Apparently even fancy-smancy places like the Windsor Court Hotel drastically lower their prices in order to entice folks to brave the soul-crushingly, oppressive heat and humidity in mid-July. Seriously though, this hotel was ridiculous. Ridiculous as in, I’m surprised I didn’t see the Queen of England in the hallway… Legitimately. The Windsor Court was pretty centrally located and just off the French Quarter right at the start of the Business District. I could not have been happier with where we stayed. The service was amazing across the board. Oh – and they had an incredible bartender, Kent Westmoreland, in the downstairs bar. (Duh – of course we MUST stay somewhere with an awesome bar!) We spent some quality time getting to know Kent fairly well throughout our stay and have some fun things to post later on featuring him and his creations.
“But, it’s a dry heat.”
I’ve always poo-pooed that statement. Having lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I don’t know much about humidity. Well, I do now. Wow! The weather in NOLA in July is simply oppressive. Luckily they have Uber in New Orleans, so we didn’t spend too much time walking (except in the Garden District, but that’s a story for another time). Uber is a car service which allows you to basically get a personal driver at any time. We had a great experience with Uber while in NOLA and it really saved us from the heat.
Our experience at the Windsor Court was pretty awesome too. After spending four nights at the Staybridge Suites, the Windsor Court was quite refreshing. There’s nothing wrong with Staybridge, but the Windsor Court is a whole different world. We even got bumped up to a suite! So yes, they took care of us.
The bar in the lobby was fun, as Dana mentioned, and the Polo Club (bar and restaurant on the second floor) had some nice cocktails and a decent beer selection. I enjoyed myself at the pool too. We only went to the pool once, but it was refreshing and, wouldn’t ya know, they had a bar there too! We each had one drink and, of course, I had to go off menu and order a Tom Collins. The young lady who took our order confided in me that it was the first Tom Collins she had ever made. She nailed it! I’m picky about my TC (as you can probably guess from this post) and she made a good one.
Confession Time: It is a well-established fact that I am a total nerd. Every time we go on a trip somewhere, I do copious amounts of research as to where the best places to eat are located, things to do, etc. Well, I took this one to the next level. For at least 2 months before the trip, I had been studying up on NOLA (with a primary focus on restaurants and bars) and essentially blanketed my Fodor’s guide with sticky tabs designating some of the “Must Experience.” Even if we ate 6 meals a day for the entire trip, we wouldn’t have been able to make a dent in the hundreds of restaurants I had tagged. Please don’t judge me too harshly…
For my first experience of New Orleans, we picked one of the more casual places I flagged in my book that was known for awesome food and drinks and made ourselves at home at Hermes Bar in the French Quarter. Hermes was a total gem and I highly recommend you stop in there for some nibbles and a well-crafted cocktail if you find yourself in NOLA. This place was located on the back side of one of the most highbrow restaurants in New Orleans, Antoine’s. While I would love to someday experience the white gloved service at Antoine’s, the prices and the dress code (jacket and slacks) were not something our wallets and core body temperature could allow, but Hermes Bar shared a kitchen and menu with Antoine’s, so we felt that we got the best of both worlds. The first dish we ordered was the fried eggplant sticks with hollandaise sauce. I can honestly say that the hollandaise was the BEST I had ever tasted in my life! There was this incredible depth of flavor from the spices included in the sauce and the consistency was perfect – thick and creamy, not gloppy or too thin. Seriously, this may be one of the best things I ate the entire trip. Also the eggplant was perfectly crisp, with an even breading and just the right amount of snap.
Next, we ordered the baked oysters. Our server was fantastic and she brought us a special “off-menu” plate that had two of each of the three preparations of baked oysters they offer: Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Thermidor, and Oysters Bienville. Our lovely server warned us that the Oysters Rockefeller was not prepared in the typical style that most people expect and is an extremely polarizing dish among their clientele. Thankfully, we both loved it! It was much more herbaceous than anticipated, with a ton of parsley and a thick topping that was more of a paste-like consistency instead of bread crumbs. I know that doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, but it was a really interesting take on a very common recipe. The Oysters Thermidor was probably my least favorite of the three presentations, but still quite tasty. These were baked with a bacon and tomato glaze that had a smoky sweetness reminiscent of BBQ sauce. The Oysters Bienville was also delicious; served with a topping similar in consistency to the Rockefeller, but with a creamier base, this preparation featured wine white and was flavored with pimento, onion and pepper.
Our final plate was the Ecrevisses Cardinal, basically crawfish tails in a white wine and cream based broth with a slight hint of tomato. So rich and delightful, this was just begging to be sopped up with some crusty bread. I swear there was some brandy in the sauce because it had this prevalent, underlying sweetness, but our server told me it that came from the crawfish. So good!
Dana pretty much covered the food, so I won’t go into a ton of detail here. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, when I am on vacation I like to go outside of my food comfort zone. I ordered the fried eggplant because eggplant ins’t a daily thing for me, but it was fried, so how bad could it be? The hollandaise was amazing and it completely made the dish.
I was a bit apprehensive about the oysters. I was a BIG fan of the Rockefeller and seriously considered ordering another plate. The crawfish was more Dana’s speed than it was mine. Rich cream sauces like that fill me up quickly. I hate to be the guy who says “that’s too rich for me,” but sometimes it is. The texture of the crawfish was perfect and the sauce was quite tastey, but I was done after a few spoonfuls.
We went very traditional with our cocktail selections. I had my very first ever Pimm’s Cup and a Ramos Gin Fizz. The Pimm’s Cup was crisp and refreshing with a hint of cucumber and was the perfect drink to help me acclimate to the humidity. I even went out and purchased a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 so we can recreate this low alcohol beauty at home. My Ramos Gin Fizz was also very good, but it was a little heavy on the orange flower water for my personal taste and ended up too far on the floral end of the spectrum.
I started out with a Jockamo IPA from Abita. Something about the NOLA weather had me craving IPAs and I went back to the well for the Jockamo a few times. After the IPA, I went decided to go with my first real Sazerac.
The Sazerac is a New Orleans classic, so I ordered one even though it features two spirits that I am not especially fond of: congnac and absinthe. With all that being said, I actually enjoyed it. The absinthe, which has a strong anise (black licorice) flavor, was used to “wash” the glass. Basically the bartender pours in a bit of absinthe, swirls it around a few times, then pours it out. This kept the anise flavor from being overpowering. I acutally smelled it more than I tasted it.
We will post more about our adventures in New Orleans soon. There was so much to experience; we can’t wait to share it all with you!