I saw this dilapidated Partridge Family Bus traveling next to us as we entered New Orleans. The bus was a perfect metaphor for how I felt after this particular road trip. We arrived in New Orleans, exhausted and dirty, to discover the hot water in my friends’ apartment was not working. So, in lieu of a soothing hot shower after another 600 miles on the road I had to settle for what else….more food.
My hunger for a complete meal prepared by a chef…not a short order cook…was sated in…well…short order. We only needed to travel an additional 2 blocks on foot to Maya’s, a Latin fusion restaurant on Magazine Street. I began with a mango avocado salad and nibbled on the crab avocado stack that arrived for my friend. The three mains that we ordered were passed around the table rotisserie style and were all equally special in very different ways. The first bite of my red seafood curry was an explosion of chili peppers and coconut milk. The little neck clams, green mussels, shrimp and squid were all terrifically fresh and delicious but it was the fried frutte di mare to my right that garnered most of my attention. The enormous pile of oysters, squid, clams and shrimp were topped with the most enticing soft shell crab. The plate had barely hit the table before tore off a claw and dipped it in the rémoulade sauce. The meat and rice stuffed poblano chile on the opposite side of the table was feeling a little ignored but I found some room to accomodate. Two San Miguel’s in a frosted glass and a few more passes around the table and I felt human again…in spite of the lack hot water.
The next night I ventured out on my own into the French Quarter. It took me all of 10 minutes to realize I was 15 years too old and way too cynical to remotely enjoy the reverie on Bourbon Street. I looped back down a side street to avoid the throng and landed at the oyster bar at The Bourbon House. A dozen Gulf oysters and 2 Abita Ambers warmed the engine, veal osso buco topped with lobster claws and a mushroom demi glace over cauliflower polenta and a Malbec had the motor humming and a frozen vanilla bourbon smoothie brought it into the depot for the night.
I wandered the Quarter for a while in the rain, dressed in black with a black ski cap on. My inner New Yorker was on high alert walking the streets of strange city alone but when I noticed people crossing the street as I moved toward them, I realized that I was projecting that criminal-on-the-prowl look…so I headed home. My cabbie tried to feign ignorance of my local address and take me on the scenic tour but my look and my…let’s say…inflection…convinced him he had the wrong tourist in his cab. He found his way just fine after that. I tipped him anyway…can’t blame a guy for trying.
The remainder of my trip was spent west of New Orleans in Scott, Louisiana. The details and images of those days are much too abundant to be contained here today. Upon returning to N.O. for one last night before heading north, instead of another glorious night of culinary bliss…it was spent with a blanket, a bucket and a belly ache. I flew home with a stomach virus as an ironic souvenir of my latest foray to the Crescent City.