Since hurricane Katrina claimed so much of what this city used to be, it warms the belly to realize that in the past nine years the Big Easy has been busy stepping up to reclaim its title as the “dinner darlin’ of the south”. While there may be are a few big guns who have disappeared – their absence has only made more room for a host of hungry new entrants vying fiercely for top honors in the Crescent City’s vibrant food scene. And even though it’s thrilling to see busy lines of jacket-wearing diners still making a bee-line for the many gastro-historic landmarks like Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s and Commander’s Palace, it’s not hard to notice that there is an even more pronounced gourmand shift out of the French Quarter and into the Garden District with the likes off Lilette’s, La Petit Grocery* and Coquette* (* separate blogs to follow) and many others who have bravely traded in the boob-flashing, bead-throwing, spring-breakers of Bourbon Street for the toque-appreciators on shady Magazine Street.
Of the survivors, some still draw a nice crowd to enjoy many of their staples, but some hits and misses on revisited menus (like Emeril Lagasse’s NoLa) challenge their level on many concierge’s lists. The recently added Soft-Shell Crab to NoLa, was so deeply buried in cornmeal batter, it would have taken an oyster shucker all night to re-identify the succulent decapod. His Barbecue Gulf Shrimp on the other hand is still as solidly triumphant as ever. Also on the hit list, the magnificent Garlic Crusted Drum fish with bacon and beurre rouge sauce perfectly paired with patatas bravas.
And because this is such a tradition-rich town, N’awlins wouldn’t be N’awlins without a daily dose of shower-requiring, powder-sugar-buried Beignets from Cafe du Monde, or the never-closed, always-reliable-for-a-greasy-hamburger-at-4:15am bender-ender: The Clover Grill. To this day the cooks in this Pepto-Bismol pink tiled shoebox of a diner, still use motor-car hubcaps to steam whatever is sizzling on the griddle. And just like the rest of New Orleans, this place is real, entertaining and unpretentious – and it never disappoints. Yet another metaphor for a defiant city that will always endure, come hell or high water.