Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! Day 3

November 15
Everyone got up, ate breakfast and was dressed and ready to go pretty early. After some discussion of what to do for the day, we decided to drive ourselves to the garden district and do a tour of the beautiful homes that line the streets. C wanted to see the home of author Anne Rice, so we made that a priority. We found it pretty easily. Anne Rice no longer lives in New Orleans, so the house is up for sale. Still, C was excited to see the house, and we got some pictures. There were lots of other great houses to see, and we got out a few times to read placards and look at things. The tree roots that line the sidewalks are enormous, and I was very intrigued by them.

While driving, we came upon one of the many cemeteries in New Orleans, and decided to get out and walk through it. I love looking at old headstones, reading the dates and trying to figure out the connections between people. The cemeteries in New Orleans are different from most I have seen, in that people are mostly buried in above-ground tombs. I vaguely knew the reason, but I did a little research to be sure. This practice is the remnant of a necessary solution to the problem of burying wooden caskets, filled with air, in an area where water could be found less than two feet below the surface. In the early days of New Orleans, it was often necessary to bore holes in the caskets, and load them with rocks and sand bags so they would stay put. Even so, a good New Orleans rain would cause some of them to pop right out of the ground. So, the practice of above-ground tombs was put into use, following the Spanish custom of using vaults, and stacking coffins one on top of the other. New Orleans burial plots quickly became known as "Cities of the Dead." But how can you bury more than one family member in each vault? How can a tomb hold all of those coffins? According to a local ordinance, as long as the previously deceased family member has been dead for at least two years, the remains of that person is moved to a specially made burial bag and put to the side or back of the vault. That coffin is then destroyed and the vault is now ready for the newly deceased family member. What happens if a family member dies within that two year time restriction? Generally, local cemeteries are equipped with temporary holding vaults and the newly deceased family member is moved into their final resting place when the time restriction is met. Pretty interesting! We saw inscriptions of dates that spanned over 100 years sometimes. Some were easy to decipher, obviously the burial place for a husband, wife, their children and their spouses, and in some cases, grandchildren. One crypt was for an orphaned boys’ home. It was sobering and sad to see so many graves of children. I said quiet thanks that I have three healthy, robust children.

After the cemetery, we drove around some more, deciding what to do. D and M wanted to drive to the outlet mall, about an hour or so away, and get a start on Christmas shopping. S, C and I weren’t really interested in shopping, so they dropped us off back at the French Quarter, and headed off to Outlet Mall Mecca. Ha ha! S, C, and I had already talked about where to eat lunch, so we headed off to find Antoine’s. According to the web site, Antoine’s was founded in 1840, is the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and holds the distinction of also being the oldest restaurant under single-family ownership in America. An institution! The menu seemed a little pricey, but since it was lunch, we hoped it wouldn’t be too expensive.

We found Antoine’s and, though we worried about how we were dressed (very casually!), we went in. They seated us, no problem. There were only a couple of other tables occupied, and we weren’t the only ones in jeans, so we didn’t worry anymore. We decided to do another prix fixe menu, and placed our orders. I noticed that the November special included 25 cent lemondrop martinis. Of course, we had to try those! Oh. My. Heavens. Probably the most wonderful thing I consumed the entire trip!! But I cannot let the yummy drink get me sidetracked! The food was also pretty darn good. I chose a trio of soups that included Alligator soup, a bisque and a gumbo, I think. The bisque was really yummy, and the Alligator soup was very good, too. Very interesting. The alligator was ground, and had a very interesting flavor and texture. Reminded me a little bit of a mild chili. I would definitely eat it again. The gumbo was fine, but no better than gumbo I had eaten at home. Frankly, I am not clear on what else I ate. It was another trio from the prix fixe menu, and I want to say it was a crawfish cake (like a crab cake), a trout dish, and something with shrimp. I do know that it was really good. But the martinis were by far the highlight of the meal (and probably why I cannot remember what I ate)! They were sinfully delicious, and so good that it was my dessert. Or should I say, three desserts! Yes, one is normally my limit, but these were so amazing I had three!

We had read about the snooty service at Antoine’s, and we did see some of that. Our water server was rather snotty, but our regular waiter was nice, if a little slow. He seemed like someone who had probably worked there for the last 40 years, and was probably ready for retirement. He forgot a few things, but he saw to it when we gently reminded him. We did see some drama, though! A woman at the table next to us – a regular, it seemed, as she called our waiter by name – had a little altercation with one of the managers. We didn’t notice anything until a young female manager went over to the table next to us and asked what the problem was. From what we could glean, when our waiter took the lady’s credit card to run, he forgot to bring her the slip to sign. The young manager couldn’t find the slip, so she back into the kitchen and immediately begins berating our sweet little waiter in the open doorway, in front of all the customers. He seemed flustered by the whole thing, and tried to find the slip, but it was not to be found. So manager-girl goes back to the desk/register area, which is in the middle of the restaurant, and proceeds to yell across the restaurant that she needs the last four digits of the lady’s card so she can just reprint the slip. The lady then tells her that she still has her credit card, and manager-girl then argues with her about it, again from across the room. Finally she realizes that she does, indeed, still have the lady’s card, so she walks over, tosses it on to the table in from of the lady, and walks away. Not very quietly, the lady sarcastically says, “You’re welcome.” Manager-girl then says to the older manager beside her that she doesn’t know what the problem is or why the lady said that - which, of course, we all heard, including the lady at the next table. She them explains to manager-girl that it was because she was so rude in throwing her credit card on the table. Manager-girl then gets all upset and leaves the room, going in the back and complaining so loudly that we can all hear her in the front. The older manager takes a book of Antoine’s to the lady and tries to smooth things over, apologizing for the young girl. Not sure if it worked, but he at least tried to make things better. Manager-girl has a lot to learn about running a restaurant, and customer service!

We were still drinking our scrumptious martinis so, of course, we were there for the whole thing. After the lady left, manager-girl came out with a simpered smile and apologized to us along the way. She should have apologized to the lady who already left, but whatever.

We finished up our drinks and left, determined to walk off some of the food and martinis. It was quite a bit cooler on this day than previous days, and I was glad to have my leather jacket! We did some window shopping, and went into a couple of shops to make some small purchases. I bought a couple of souvenirs – chickory coffee for my husband, and an ornament for me. Whenever I travel, I try to buy an ornament for the Christmas tree as a souvenir. S bought an ornament, too, I think. There were a number of funny, off-color - waaaaaaaay off-color items that made me laugh, but nothing was appropriate for having around three boys who want to know what EVERYTHING means! So, coffee and an ornament. Good, solid, unquestionable souvenirs.

Just like Bourbon Street is a must on a trip to New Orleans, Pat O’Brien’s and a hurricane is something that must be done! We couldn’t find it at first, having gotten turned around while wandering around the streets. Finally S noticed a woman in a bright green blazer, and asked her where it was. Lo and behold, we were just a couple of doors away from it so, in we went! We entered through a carriageway with crossed muskets overhead. Not sure what they represent, but they looked cool! I meant to point them out to S and C, but I don’t think I did. It was rather cool and windy, but we sat on the patio and had our hurricanes. Just had to do it! We enjoyed our drinks and the atmosphere – lots of noisy people having a good time. In the middle of the patio is something you don’t see very often, a large water fountain with fire emerging from the top! We didn’t really notice it until we went inside and upstairs to the ladies’ room. From a window that overlooks the patio, the Flaming Fountain is hard to miss!

More walking around – all of us wearing more sensible shoes this time, of course! At some point we passed a restaurant with the most incredible aroma wafting out of it! We immediately stopped, checked out the menu and the name of the place – which I now cannot remember – and made mental note to try there for dinner. More window-shopping, people-watching, and cold. So, what else to do but find Jean LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop?? We first heard of LaFitte’s from our carriage tour guide, and it sounded interesting. Perfect for a cold day, so off we went in search of one of the all-time favorite tourist attractions of the New Orleans French Quarter, located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. It was built sometime before 1772, and is one of the few remaining original "French architecture" structures in the French Quarter. According to tradition, the Lafitte brothers operated this blacksmith shop as a legitimate appearing business, serving as a front for their privateer enterprises. One of the brothers was the infamous Jean Lafitte, Privateer, and co-hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Apparently, he came to the aid of one “Angie” Jackson, received a presidential pardon of his privateering, and disappeared into the mist forever. Today, LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a bar and grill that retains all of its Old World charm and character. Inside is dark and small, with a massive stone fireplace taking up much of the front floor. Perfect place to have an Irish coffee! Nice, and warm, just what the doctor ordered. (Oh, and just to be clear, LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop is not to be confused with CafĂ© LaFitte in Exile, voted best gay bar by Zagat. A fine establishment, I am sure, but not the one we visited!)

Back to the streets for more walking, heading back in the direction of the condo. The afternoon was wearing away and we needed to slowly make our way back and get in touch with D and M. We had to figure out the plan for dinner which was, after all, the next important event of our day! We ended up walking back up toward Jackson Square, where there were quite a few more artists, fortuneteller and vendors out than the day before. Up to the street where the carriages wait, and looked at more of the artwork lining the sidewalk. I thought about purchasing a piece or two, but restrained myself. We noticed a large group of people gathered across the road, at a sort of pseudo-ampitheater just below what is called the Moonwalk. There were four or five men, doing some street dancing and joking with the audience. We sat down to watch and laugh at their jokes. I have to say, they were probably laughing at all of us too. We were a crowd of mostly white people, laughing at their jokes on how our contributions were going to keep them out of two places: “the poor house, and your house!” Also, the jokes about one of them not being gay – “not today!” You get the idea. But they were funny, and very talented! All kinds of hip-hop dance going on, head-spinning, jumping, etc. Toward the end, they were looking for volunteers to come down and join them. C was pointing at S, but they came and got C instead! They lined up all these people, and then went around in a dance line, and then made them get down on all fours – you can imagine the jokes then! After a couple of false starts, one of the performers took a running leap over their backs! A good finish to a fun show, and off to the condo! On the way back, we went by a restaurant called Montrel’s that had some good-looking items outside on a table. Filed it away for a potential dinner spot.

It was good to get back to the room, take off our shoes, and rest a bit. Made contact with the mall shoppers, who weren’t far away. So we settled in to wait for them, and discussed our dinner options. We got online to look up the first place, still cannot remember the name, and right on their website it said, “the tantalizing smell of the fresh garlic bread will draw you in,” or something to that effect. Had to laugh, because that is exactly what happened with us! Remember, though, it was Saturday night, and getting later. Probably hard to get in. We called anyway, to find that they only took reservations for 20% of the restaurant, and those were taken for the night. The walk-in tables were all taken, and the lady on the phone said probably a two-hour wait. Ummm, no thanks. The aroma was good, but not that good! We were getting to be some hungry women! We also looked online at Montrel’s, which got high marks for food, but not so high marks for service. We decided to chance it. D and M arrive, everyone gets dressed for dinner, and we head out the door to the streetcar. It was so convenient having it stop almost right outside the condo! Also convenient, Montrel’s was located near Jax Brewery, just outside another streetcar stop, so not a lot of walking involved to get to dinner. That was a good thing! It was cold, and we were hungry. Did I mention we were hungry? Oh, and that it was cold? Just checking.

Get to Montrel’s, the patio is empty, of course. Go through the door, the restaurant is empty, too! Looks like they are closing up shop. We went back and forth on what to do, which gave the hostess time to come over and say they would love to serve us, and please sit anywhere. D was especially reluctant, given the fact that it seemed as if all the staff had gone home and there was probably no food left, but the hostess assured us the chefs were still there and would love to serve us. So, we stayed, against D’s better judgment. Our poor waitress, it seems, had been hiding in the back, and came out to greet us with her coat on! Maybe she had already left, I don’t know. Poor thing. But we were nice to her. And the dinner turned out to be fabulous, with great service! I don’t know how much it had to do with us being the only customers there, but I had no complaints about anything. The food was great, the staff was nice and friendly, high marks from me all around. I think even D was pleasantly surprised!

Our last streetcar ride, back to the condo. We sat around chatting for a while, and again, I have to admit to dozing off. Sorry, ladies. Eleven years of sleep deprivation. What can I say? Nothing but, off to bed!


CrunchyCon said...

You are very good at this! Excellent writing about our trip. I miss those lemon drop martinis!

Kelley said...

Thanks, girl! I swear, I did not know who you were until just now. Now I have another blog to follo!