New Orleans probably added a few pounds to my frame this past week and it was well worth the indulgence. I love food. I love it better in good company. Fortunately this past week, I was able to share my favorite dishes and some new ones with two of my favorite people, my parents, but with every bite I was dying to call my chief favorite foodie, my husband, and exclaim, “You should be eating this.” In fact, I think I did a time or two. My mother still laughs about the time my father called her at 2 AM from a business trip across the country. In those days, we had no cell phones. Unobtrusive texting was not an option.
“Are you all right?” she asked with sleep in her eyes.
“You would not believe what I ate for dinner,” he said. And so it goes.
In New Orleans, we revel not just in what we eat, but how we eat, when we eat, where we eat, and with whom we eat. When we are enjoying one meal, we are planning the next. Last year, at a snowball stand (shaved ice to you yanks out there), two young women were discussing their evening. They were half-way through generous cups of snowballs when I overheard this classic:
“What do you want to do after this?” asked one girl.
“Let’s go get dinner.” As we say down there, for true. Yes, normal people eat dessert after dinner. Then, there’s us. This conversation is not uncommon. Two visits ago, I dawdled over morning coffee with my dad and planned lunch. At lunch, we planned coffee. At coffee, we planned dinner. After dinner, we discussed all our meals and the quality of the coffee over more coffee. No wonder I come home so bloated.
Last night, Jay the Piper, who blogs over at The Extended Table, zapped me online demanding a list of what I ate. Are you ready for this? Oysters Bienville, fried oyster po boys, boiled crawfish, rabbit gumbo, smoked chicken gumbo, ahi tuna, assorted pates, roasted pork tenderloin, creamed spinach, petit fillet, fried green tomatoes, almond croissants, chocolate Florentines, quality goat cheese, brie, camembert, and one cinnamon roll. Oh, I forgot to add the bread, the butter, onion straws, and wine to that. And coffee, of course.
While each meal warrants its own blog, let’s just say that the most impressionable oyster came from Houston’s on St. Charles. Flash fried in a light breading and served over a creamy spinach base, I could still taste the gulf waters in its feathery folds. It was light and full bodied at the same time. The onion straws from Charley’s on Dryades were particularly noteworthy—as was the entire evening that went with it, another story for another blog. The crawfish were perfectly spiced and boiled over in River Ridge at a different eatery named Charlie’s, a restaurant purchased as a measure to preserve the neighborhood (God bless you, New Orleans). And I hit Still Perkin’ for a granita just in time to have another outstanding social experience.
The greatest thing about all of this is the sharing. A table full of New Orleanians, especially those of us with whom we claim favorite, is beautiful and gracious. We split entrees, dole out portions, exclaim over tastes, share nibbles, share opinions on those nibbles, admire exquisitely arranged food, and relax in the comfort of full tummies and gentle people. Talk is intimate. Surface chatter disappears really before the first glass of wine is poured. Coffee is an excuse to lounge about the table long after the waiter and his curious little table crumber have disappeared. But because it is New Orleans, maybe he does not disappear for long. The waiter comes back, with friends who you discover you knew through school or lived near or scarier yet, are related. Conversation renews in the perfume of marjoram, thyme, wine, and chocolate that seems to linger after the plates are gone. The table linens soften underhand and light begins to shift outside, or maybe the sky is already dark. After all, two hours have passed since the waiter first slid a cup of gumbo under your nose. We clatter onto the sidewalk, exchange goodbyes for the tenth time, and leave… craving coffee or tea or a nap… and missing already the lovely company with whom the meal was shared. Or, like me, picking up the phone to call whoever was supposed to be there and could not come.
“Baby, you would not believe what I just ate.”