Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Celebrating Brooklyn with The Decemberists

Recently, my brother and his wife raved about The Decemberists' live performances, so Luke and I had been keeping our eyes on their touring schedule. A few months ago, we noticed they would be performing in Brooklyn--and the tickets were a mere $35!

At last the day arrived. Luke and I made our way over to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to see them perform as part of the "Celebrate Brooklyn" summer festival. 

When we hopped off the subway in Brooklyn, many gray storm clouds loomed in the distance. Just as we arrived at the park, the sky opened up, and it started to rain.

Still, the venue looked great!

We grabbed some brews at the watering hole and huddled under a tree to wait it out.

Thankfully, the rain let up, just in time for a phenomenal performance.

They really know how to get the crowd involved.

Colin Meloy concluded the show with two encore performances and a little crowd surfing! We were happy campers. Cannot wait to see them again.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Woody Allen is Back with "Midnight in Paris"

This past weekend, we went to see Woody Allen's new film, "Midnight in Paris", with friends KAB and SB. I'd heard good things about it, so we trudged through the depths of Times Square on a Sunday afternoon to meet our pals.

The film is a romantic comedy centered around the very basic idea that a life different from one's own is much more exciting. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter struggling with his first novel who yearns for the life of a "real writer" in France. His fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams) prefers their comfortable life in Beverly Hills with Gil carrying on as the successful Hollywood writer that he is. When they arrive in Paris, they experience the city in different ways, leading them to confront the fantasy of a different life.

It may not sound romantic and funny, but Woody Allen knows how to weave a story. It's reminiscent of his earlier work, and you will certainly recognize character types (e.g. Michael Sheen's portrayal of pseudo-intellecutal Paul). The film has a light and dreamy feel, but is also observant at unexpected moments.

"Midnight in Paris" is not Allen's best movie, but I found it amusing, whimsical and enjoyable. Above all, it creates enough movie magic if you just want to escape to another time and place.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Orleans: Bring On the Grub!

I love the city, and I love to travel. But the thing that I really love is something I can do in the city and while traveling: explore the local culinary flavors. Or to put it simply, I like to eat.

When it comes to great food scenes, I've read enough and watched enough of the Travel Channel to know that New Orleans would be no exception. We arrived early on Wednesday morning and were famished. After dropping the luggage off at the hotel, we beelined it across the street to the Royal Sonesta's Cafe, Desire.

Luke enjoyed the jambalaya breakfast skillet (scrambled eggs, chicken, smoked sausage, potatoes, tomato, onion, peppers and cheddar cheese).

I decided to forgo my usual choice (eggs benedict) for bananas foster pain perdu (French toast). I rarely opt for a sweet breakfast anymore, but it kept calling my name. And I'm glad I listened--it was out of this world!

That afternoon, we came upon an unexpected gem of a restaurant for lunch: Gott Gourmet Cafe on Magazine Street. On the surface, it looked like your standard local sandwich place. But the sandwiches themselves were a small piece of heaven.

I got the cochon de lait cuban panini, which was a brilliant combination of slow-braised pulled pork, Dr. Pepper-honey baked ham, sliced pickle, swiss, ancho-honey slaw (the best!), honey mustard and chili mayo.

Luke made a brilliant selection with the fried catfish club. Why was it brilliant, you ask? This beast was comprised of the following: jumbo panko breaded & fried catfish filet with homemade remoulade, apple smoked bacon, avocado, roasted tomatoes, sliced pickle, ancho-honey slaw and organic greens.

For dinner that evening, we kept it simple at Somethin' Else Cafe. My BLT had chicken fried bacon along with the other standard ingredients. I was starving (hence no photo) and it was fantastic!

Later, we stopped by Pat O'Brien's for the world famous hurricane!  A sweet and strong concoction of rum, the hurricane "mix", crushed ice and a cherry-orange garnish, we were set after one drink. We ordered at the bar but decided to pull up a bench in the beautiful courtyard, complete with a flaming fountain. Oo la la!

We headed out onto Bourbon Street and decided to pick up another New Orleans staple: the hand grenade. It was surprisingly tart and not nearly as sugary as it looks.

It was allll part of the Bourbon Street experience.

The next day, after our cemetery tour, we jaunted over to Coop's Place, per the recommendation of our tour guide. I'm so glad we made the trip. It was delicious, authentic N'Awlins grub. Luke ordered the Coop's Taste Plate, consisting of a cup of seafood gumbo...

...and shrimp creole, cajun friend chicken, red beans & rice with sausage, and rabbit & sausage jambalaya. All piled high on one plate.

I went for the 3 pc. fried chicken plate served with rabbit & sausage jambalaya and cole slaw.

Coop's wasn't fancy, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for New Orleans cookin' at its best. The fried chicken and rabbit & sausage jambalaya were the highlights!

After lunch, we moseyed over to Faubourg Marigny, the neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter. We walked past The Praline Connection, and I had to stop in for a little sweet treat.

I ordered one original praline (pronounced prah-leen in these parts), and nibbled on it throughout the rest of the trip (too sweet to eat in one sitting, thank goodness).

That evening, we headed to the Warehouse District for dinner at Cochon. I'd made a reservation a couple weeks in advance at the urging of MM, my very own New Orleans expert! Feast your eyes...

To start things off, I ordered a watermelon tequila cocktail. It definitely woke me up for the meal that was to come!

I quickly discovered that even the rolls were perfection, and I knew good things were to come.

We decided to try the fried alligator with chili garlic aioli. It was full of flavor and delicious. I really enjoyed the fried coating and spicy sauce.

For the main event, I ordered the famed Louisiana Cochon with turnips, cabbage & cracklins. This entree was a delicious culinary adventure! So many flavors and textures.

Luke selected the oven-roasted gulf fish "fisherman's style". This entree changes daily, and on this particular night, it was a wonderful red fish.

I always appreciate a restaurant whose side dishes compete with the main entrees for all the glory. This little mac n' cheese number was after my own heart.

The smothered green beans were quite fresh. With the richness of everything else, the green beans were a welcome change of pace throughout the meal.

Last but certainly not least, a dessert was selected. We split the black bottomed brown butter banana cream pie for dessert. Piled high and offering just the right amount of sweetness, it was the perfect way to end the evening.

Friends, if you find yourself in NOLA any time soon, please do your stomach a favor: click here, make a reservation and hightail it to Cochon. 

On Friday, we were on the run and out of town with our plantation tour, but upon our return, we finally made it to Cafe du Monde for beignets. A must-eat item for any New Orleans visitor, the beignets are better than you can possibly imagine. Light and slightly sweet, they are paired perfectly with a cafe au lait (no matter how warm it is outside). 

Just go and you'll thank me (and every other person who's been to New Orleans and told you to go).

Finally, what would a trip to NOLA be without a po'boy? Just before heading to the airport on Saturday, we stopped by Johnny's Po-Boys for a pre-flight snack. There were dozens to choose from; we split the shrimp po-boy. It was a great conclusion to a wonderful food adventure.

New Orleans, thank you for your hospitality, your charming neighborhoods, and your culinary marvels!

Friday, June 3, 2011

New Orleans: Days Three and Four

After two busy days in the sun, Luke and I decided to sleep on Friday morning. We didn't have to be at our departure point for the plantation tour until noon, so around 11am, we headed across the street to Jagerhaus for brunch. We were both skeptical (a German restaurant in the middle of the French Quarter?) but the reviews on Yelp were decent, at least for its brunch offerings.

I try to avoid bashing restaurants, but let's just say we should have listened to our gut. We informed our server that we had a tour starting at noon, and it seemed as if this little tidbit was completely ignored. By the time our food arrived, we had to scarf it before power-walking to the tour departure point.

We reached the bus just in time and were on our way to Oak Alley Plantation. The drive to the plantation was just over an hour, but I took a catnap through most of it.

At last, we reached the Oak Alley Plantation!

Oak Alley was built between 1837 and 1839 by Jacques T. Roman, a French-Creole sugar planter, and is the most famous of all antebellum homes in Louisiana. The 28 oak trees that line the drive were actually planted in the early 1700s by a previous settler.

While I enjoyed the guided tour of the home, my favorite part was exploring the grounds.

After the tour, we boarded the bus and headed back to New Orleans. I enjoyed the bus driver's movie selection, thoroughly: Disney's The Princess and the Frog.

We arrived back in the French Quarter around 4:30pm, and at long last, it was time for a stop at Cafe du Monde, the famous New Orleans coffee stand. Despite the warm temps, we both ordered a cafe au lait and an order of beignets. I'll post all of my food photos in the next post, but here's a sneak peak!

After the mid-aftenroon snack break, we came upon a pleasant surprise! A two-woman street band who entertained the crowds to no end! People popped open a beer and pulled up a curb to enjoy the music. The band's friend was enjoying it, too.

We also ran into a crazy, and unexpected, street brigade! A bride and groom, their wedding party and guests paraded the streets with a brass band and police escorts. Talk about a celebration!

Later that evening, we ventured back over to the Marigny to catch some live tunes at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street. Alvin Youngblood Hart rocked the house!

As we made our way back to the Quarter, we ran into yet another unexpected little party! Right on the streets of New Orleans, a party had broken out with a brass band. Some people were dancing and others were just watching, but good times were had by all.

The next morning, we took one last stroll through the Quarter before heading to the airport.

This little guy was having a good day!

At last, we had to bid farewell to the mighty Mississippi.

But we'll be back, New Orleans. We'll be back!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Orleans: Day Two

Our first day in New Orleans had been a pretty spectacular one, and I couldn't wait to see what Thursday had in store.

Given that it was the morning after our first night in New Orleans, we were a little slow going, initially. But never ones to be deterred by a little morning "grogginess", we got ourselves out of bed and onto the streets of New Orleans.

By 11am, I had a croissant in hand, and we reached the meeting site for our guided cemetery tour. Our tour guide, Mark, was quite knowledgeable and gave us a down n' dirty history of New Orleans as we walked to St. Louis Cemetery #1.

After a few history-lessons throughout the French Quarter and a water pitstop, we arrived at the cemetery. Temperatures were upwards of 90+ degrees, and once inside the cemetery walls, it was about ten degrees hotter!

First, we stopped at the mausoleum of Marie Laveau, also known as the "voodoo queen". According to our tour guide, Mark, most of what we know about Marie Laveau is a mix of fact and myth, and even if her remains aren't truly in this mausoleum, it is still considered her final resting place.

Mark also gave us a brief overview of Storyville, New Orleans' legal red-light district from 1897 through 1917, which bordered the cemetery. (Side note: He also recommended a PBS documentary of the same name. It's available for free on Netflix Instant, so Luke and I watched it when we got home, and it's incredibly interesting. Highly recommended.)

We also visited the burial site of Homer Plessy of the Plessy vs. Ferguson 1892 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the separate but equal "Jim Crow" laws.

The cemetery is also the site of the infamous acid trip scene in "Easy Rider."

The tour was about two hours and definitely worth $16. Plus, our tour guide gave us a fabulous recommendation for lunch!

After lunch, we headed over to Faubourg Marigny, the neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter. The neighborhood is home to many young NOLA locals, and it has a similar hipster feel to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Lots of low-key bars and great music clubs are sprinkled along Frenchmen Street.

We stopped into several small boutiques and thrift stores. Lots of old china, Mardi Gras masks and vintage clothing. Luke found a Samurai sword for $50! Unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in his luggage. Oh darn.

After all the walking and thrifting, it was time for an ice cold brew. We made our way over to Cosimo's, a great bar in the Marigny.

Luke helped me brush up on my pool skills (or lack thereof).

At last, it was time to make our way back to the French Quarter to get ready for dinner (yummy details to come in subsequent food post!). Simply put, dinner at Cochon was phenomenal.

Dinner was in the Warehouse District so we walked along Tchoupitoulas Street before heading back to the French Quarter. I started to feel a couple rain drops on my arm, and then out of no where, the clouds parted and the sky unleashed a downpour of epic proportions. We found shelter under a parking ramp overhang. The thunder and lightning quickly rolled in. I caught the photo below, just as a lightning bolt lit up the night sky.

Eventually, the rain let up just enough that we could sprint across the street into Harrah's Casino. Can't think of a better way to wait out the storm.

We didn't hit the jackpot but had a good time playing slots and peering over shoulders at the Black Jack and Roulette tables.

At last, we made it back to the French Quarter. We had really good intentions of grabbing a night cap, but after a full day outside (with 95 degree temps to boot), we were ready to call it a night. Plus, after discussing what we wanted to do before we left, it became all too clear that Day Three was shaping up to be another action-packed day with a plantation tour, beignets and live music.

Stay tuned, y'all!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Orleans: Day One

Come Memorial Day weekend, most New Yorkers escape the city for greener pastures. This year, Luke and I decided to get a jump on the long weekend and ventured south for warmer weather, strong cocktails and some old-fashioned American history.

We arrived in the great city of New Orleans on Wednesday morning. It was 8:30am, and we were already in a completely separate area of the country. Always such a weird--but good--feeling! We rubbed the sleepies out of our eyes and hopped in a cab. We got to the Prince Conti Hotel well before the standard check-in time, so they stored our luggage, and we headed out into the streets of NOLA.

Our hotel was a half block off Bourbon Street, and I must say, seeing the iconic street for the first time at 9am was...interesting, to say the least. Not surprisingly, some of the bars were open, but for the most part, it was a lot of guys hosing down the sidewalks.

We veered off Bourbon Street and made our way throughout the rest of the French Quarter.

Jackson Square

We  came across this beautiful fountain in the courtyard of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, where our pals K & S usually stay. 

Later, we ducked into the incredible antique shops on Royal Street. My favorite shop was Keil's Antiques.

You could find anything, ranging from a $125,000 chandelier...

 ...to a 'Calvin Coolidge' walking stick...

...to exquisite jewelry.

I was eyeing a beautiful mesh bracelet, and the shopkeeper took it out of the case and asked if I wanted to try it on. Sure! I peaked at the price tag as I detached the clasp. A cool $7,000. Maybe next time, I said with a smile.

Next, we hopped on the St. Charles Ave streetcar and made our way over to the Garden District. First, we stopped into Lafayette Cemetery, the city's first planned cemetery with roadways for funeral vehicles and symmetrical rows. It dates back to 1833!

Finally, it was time to explore the beautiful mansions of the Garden District! Thanks to my pal, MM, we were armed with a Fodor's map detailing the historical significance of the homes.

We found the homes of Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Anne Rice and John Goodman. Also caught a pic of the home below. Look familiar? It's the house from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

We could have wandered around the Garden District for a couple more hours but decided to take the streetcar back to the French Quarter to get settled in to the hotel before dinner and drinks. Here's a quick peak at the ride back.

At last, we made our way to Bourbon Street!

The streets started to fill up as night fell. Everyone from 20-somethings to baby boomers were enjoying themselves. Sure, it was touristy, but the drinks were cheap, and it was entertaining to no end!

Whew! And that was just day one. Don't worry, there's more to come. Initially, I tried condensing everything into two posts: sights and eats. But this just wouldn't do any justice for the fabulous city of New Orleans. So stay tuned for more!