Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Orleans report: Part 1

I woke up in this amazing city thinking about the dinner I ate last night. I'm looking out at the Mississippi River from my room at the Hotel Monteleone, the home of the famous Carousel Bar. (The seats at the bar go round and round...)

Flew into the Crescent City yesterday, past wicked thunderheads, the clouds looking like cauliflower cotton candy. It poured on the drive in from the airport, but the rain offered sweet relief from steamy temps. 

The first meal of this moveable feast set the bar very high. It was at MiLa, the super stylish spot created by culinary power couple Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing. The menu is nouveau New Orleans: Oysters Rockefeller Deconstructed, Sweet Tea Rotisserie Duck, a reimagined root beer float, sweetbreads on black truffle grits. All pretty dang brilliant.

A word about those grits: Chef Allison -- recently featured in Bon Apetit -- came out to the table while our party was devouring dessert and I asked about the secret to those great grits. "You've got to cook them in milk," she said. "We don't use fancy grits, but we cook them in milk and finish them with butter and cream and bits of truffle shavings." The flavor was intense.

Come to think about it, that's what I love about this city and its incredible food... the flavors are so intense. Dishes are seasoned assertively. There's no timid sprinkle of something. It's bold. And beautiful. I wish I had a better photo to share of the lovely oysters, the most petite bivalves I've had from the Gulf, bite-size beauties perched on a throne of sauteed spinach, a crispy piece of bacon on top. 

The best chefs inspire imitation, don't you think? And I'm already dreaming of trying to recreate some of the incredible dishes I ate last night.  

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