Thursday, December 16, 2010

Recent New Orleans trip schedule = Beginner's guide to the "Big Easy"

Oddly enough, it took me five trips to New Orleans before I finally got around to doing all the things that tourists are supposed to do when they visit there. So my most recent NOLA travelogue is really a list of stuff that you should do if you’re visiting “the Big Easy” for the first time:

See the inside of St. Louis Cathedral – It is the oldest continually operating Catholic church in the United States, and the inside is far nicer and just as photo-worthy as the often depicted outside. Mrs. S and I went inside to hear Ellis Marsalis play a free Christmas concert, accompanied by the rest of his quartet including his drummer son, Jason. The chords that Mr. Marsalis played when he tackled “Oh Tannenbaum” were spine tingling. During the concert, filming and photography were not allowed, so we came back the next day to take photos. Don’t miss it. (Keep your distance from the guys on the bench outside with the 16-ounce malt liquor cans in paper bags.)

Have beignets and coffee at CafĂ© Du Monde – This is probably the staple of the New Orleans tourist experience, and again, we had never done it. The beignets were tasty and a plate of three with two large coffees was just the right amount of food and drink for Mrs. S and I to go away satisfied, yet craving more. We went back on our second morning of the trip as well. Bring cash. It helps if you speak Thai (but since you can only order one thing to eat and maybe five to drink, communication is not an issue).

Eat a meal at the Acme Oyster House – This we had actually done before, but not in a while. We went on our first full day for lunch. We had some char-grilled Gulf oysters that were phenomenal, along with two different Po-boys and a glass of local beer. We enjoyed it so much, we decided to do it again the next day, doubled up on the oyster order, and got two different Po-boys and another local beer to wash everything down. Highly likely that in future trips to NOLA, we will eat all our lunches here.

Tour a rum distillery – Yes, there is a rum distillery in New Orleans. It’s not much of one, but it is a rum distillery. (Okay, it’s a shabby warehouse with some tanks that can be used to make booze.) They do three tours daily (call ahead) and they are a little out of the way in a seedy neighborhood by a cement factory, but the rum is tasty, they serve samples, and although the tour is pricy at $10, you get $5 off a bottle of rum if you buy one (and you will). Definitely something different to  do, especially if you are newly devoted to spirits, as I am. Which leads to our next tourist “must-do”:

Have a cocktail at the carousel bar at The Monteleone – If you are not up on your cocktails, you can order the signature drink, The Monteleone, which is a variation on a martini (I think). That’s what Mrs. S had. Made her drunk enough to lose her scarf. I had a Sazerac, another New Orleans cocktail. It takes about 15 minutes for the bar to go around once, so drink slowly or have two.
Me and my Sazerac (photo © Mrs. S)

Listen to jazz at Snug Harbor – There’s nothing like real live jazz, and all I can say is, you may want to do Preservation Hall for the tourist’s touristy jazz, but I would recommend Snug for the “in-the-know” tourist’s jazz. We heard Delfeayo Marsalis lead the Uptown Jazz Ensemble, a 17-piece band that played on a stage that wasn’t more than 15 by 20 feet in a room that couldn’t have been more than 50 x 20 total. An awesome experience and only an $8 cab ride to and from just about anywhere in the French Quarter. You can keep your costs down by not ordering too many $8 drinks.

Dinner at Stella – I’m pretty sure this is the best restaurant in New Orleans. If you buy the cheapest wine on the list, two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, you won’t get away for much less than $250 – 300. The tasting menu is something like $125, plus another $95 for the flight of paired wines. If you’ve hit the lottery, you can try one of their $150 vodkas or the $3000/ounce caviar.  With the Acme Oyster House, this is the only other thing on the list we did not do for the first time (and hopefully not for the last, either).

That’s it. Two and a half days, three nights. Really, the perfect trip. Geaux, geaux, geaux to New Orleans! (Author is not provided with compensation by any party affiliated with the city of New Orleans.)

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