New Orleans – a humid Harvester

20 Jun

Work took me to New Orleans last week. I had some pretty romantic pre-trip notions about what the city and its cuisine would be like. In the end none of those notions turned out to be true.

Creole cooking, at least the version we get in the UK, is not subtle at the best of times, but it’s flavoursome and unique. This was not a budget trip, so I expected I might be surprised about what the real thing presented.

My first exposure was ‘biscuits in sausage gravy’. This was not a dish that I was queueing up for. Actually technically speaking I was, but I was intending to skip the biscuits and go for the stack of pancakes at the end of the buffet. A US colleague had no intention of letting me play safe. ‘You gotta try the biscuits,” he said. “It’s a Louisiana tradition.”

I noted that he was not loading up on this dish himself, but as a good guest I obliged.

The biscuits in question are actually a fairly tasteless scone. It’s a good job that they are tasteless because the ‘gravy’ is not. Salty and sausagy, this stuff was a breakfast nightmare – a real heart attack on a plate. I honestly could see no appeal in this stodgy mess. Oh, how I wished I had stuck to my guns and hit the pancakes.

I’m aware that McDonalds incorporates local specialities into its menus around the world (it draws the line at roast pudding burgers in the UK) but I didn’t expect to be walking past a Lousiana MickeyD’s the next day and see the dreaded biscuits and gravy advertised for a dollar fifty. I didn’t drop by.

So, breakfast was hit and miss. Global breakfast conventions one, Southern specialities nil.

Later that day I had the opportunity to visit a New Orleans institution – K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter. Made famous by chef Paul Prudhomme,this place is a fine dining introduction to Creole and Cajun. It has a waiting list. It has a dress code. When I told people where I was going there were gasps of jealousy.

Before I get to grips with the food, I need to make a few points.

1) I was pleased to get the chance to visit K Paul’s

2) I loved the atmosphere

3) The service was fantastic

4) Perhaps I just don’t get it

The starter I ordered was popcorn battered crab fingers. I was used to US sized portions. I offered to share it with my dining companions, fully expecting that I would struggle to finish it.

Where on earth did they dig up these crabs? You know the soldier crab, the one with one huge claw and one tiny one? K Paul’s crab fingers have left a huge number of soldier crabs wandering around with one large claw left attached. They really were tiny. (Disclaimer – I have no idea what type of crab it was. K Paul’s is not mutilating soldier crabs and then abandoning them to their fate.).

They were tasty, although the dipping sauce helped, but I was ready for my main course. I would have been ready even if I hadn’t given half my dish to my colleagues.

I chose blackened fillet and sweet potato mash. The waitress sold me on this in no uncertain terms. “It’s just….oh. Just….oh.”

I asked for it rare which was possibly a mistake. It was rare to the point of bleu. However, what distinguished it from your average rare steak was the thick layer of charcoal that encased the raw meat. This was blackened fillet after all, but had I been served this in any other environment I would have been unimpressed with the contrast. This could only be achieved by a grill set to nuclear.

Having said those uncharitable things there was a lot to like about this dish – notably the obscene amounts of beef on the plate, but in particular the delicious sweet potato mash. Yams are rapidly becoming my favourite vegetable.

I obviously hadn’t had enough of them because I ordered a sweet potato and pecan pie for dessert. I expected a large portion and I got a large portion. My dining companions looked on in pity and I struggled to down this monster slice of pie. Every bite was great, but the sheer volume created an ordeal. This was Man Versus Food, UK style.

Food in New Orleans is like the city itself. Exuberant, slightly sleazy and something you either love or hate. I was much closer to hating both than I expected. Spending a few days there was like being trapped in a giant US version of Harvester, only without the salad bar.

Advertisements

One Response to “New Orleans – a humid Harvester”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Warm blue cheese, chorizo and cucumber salad « lazy gastronome - July 10, 2012

    […] to recover from the waistline exploding effects of two weeks in the USA (see my foodie exploits in New Orleans and New York to understand why adding just shy of a stone was almost inevitable). This makes eating […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: