Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brad and I just returned from a fantastic few days in New Orleans. There are so many reasons that made this vacation great. The original purpose for the trip was to see Alabama win the Sugar Bowl....Clearly that didn't happen, but we still love BAMA even if they did lose to Utah. Regardless of Alabama playing and losing, this vacation turned in to so much more for us.

Oh My NOLA...A Reunion & Introduction of Friends
It worked out perfectly, and we were able to spend time with Abbie & Nick and Abbie's parents, Jack & Emma Leigh. Abbie is one of my all time favorite people in this world. The days Abbie and I spent together at UNA are so special and it has been so long since we've hung out. The last time was at Anna & Jeff Lard's wedding, but it was too short. From my four years in Florence, AL, I knew that Jack and Emma Leigh were two cool cats but that doesn't even begin to describe how great they are.

Hanging out with Abbie was different this time. Not just because we've gotten older, matured a bit, were in bed in New Orleans most nights before midnight, etc., but because it was our first time to hang out with our husbands! Abbie and Nick are perfect together. We all want our friends to share their life with a partner that makes them happy....And deep down, we want our friends to marry someone that our partners get along with also. I've only met Nick twice, one at his wedding, and two in New Orleans. He is just one of those people that is genuine, down to earth, and a true Cajun man that people migrate towards. That's how Abbie described him 3 years ago and that's how he was to Brad and me. Our knowledge of Louisianna and Cajun traditions were little to none as of 12/31/08. After three days with the Speyrer and Johnson families, they left us wanting to learn more about cooking, religion, and all the other family traditions.
You know when Brad enjoys hanging out with a LSU fan, he's a great guy. This was Brad's first time to really hang out with even Abbie, Emma Leigh and Jack, and he had as good of a time as I did.
This was Brad's first time to New Orleans and my second time in 10 years. The first time doesn't count because I was 18 years old, no money, and didn't see anything except Bourbon Street. To be honest Brad and I are blown away by how much we enjoyed our time in NOLA. We stayed at the Westin Canale Place adjacent to the French Quarter, so everything was within easy walking distance. We relied heavily on Abbie and Nick to show us the ropes. They did a great job of making sure we took in the must-see tourist venues but also gave us the opportunity to experience some special treats.

When we got into town, Brad and I had lunch at Cafe Maspero's. We wanted lunch so the first place we saw with a line looked like a winner. It was a good cafe on Decatur St. known for its Muffaleta. This sandwich was so big that I gave up on the bread early on and ate only the middle. After lunch, it was straight to Bourbon Street like all responsible 30ish year olds do in New Orleans at one o'clock in the afternoon. We found ourselves right at home at the Old Opera House with their Cajun band. We loved the music even though we couldn't understand a word they sang on most songs. They did sing a little diddy that is officially our new favorite song, "Whatcha Gonna Give Me for That Piece of Cornbread". I do love cornbread, and now I have a song to love about it!
Oh My NOLA...Oooh-Weee They Serve Up Some Good Food Down There!
The food was a highlight of the trip and quite possibly one of the reaons we fell in love with New Orleans. From the simple sandwich at lunch to raw and chargrilled oysters at ACME, the first day was yummy and filling....little did we know this was just the beginning. Day two opened up the door for some of the best food we've ever consumed. For breakfast, we dined on beignets at Cafe Du Monde in the French Market area with Abbie, Emma Leigh and Nick. Brad said he could stay there and eat these all day. They were good but I fell in love with the Cafe Au Lait and brought some of the coffee home with me. I whipped up one of them this morning but wasn't nearly as good as the real deal.

Now for dinner on 01/01/09, we all went to Commander's Palace. Nick and Abbie's friends are friends with the owner or chef and were able to swing us reservations at this jewel in the Garden District. This is where Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Jamie Shannon, made their name. There is no way that I will do justice in describing how absolutely fantastic this dining experience was for all of us, but will try. From the moment we walked in the door, the service was impeccable. I find that most fine dining restaurants are stuffy, dimly lit, and have waiters that are more impressed by themselves than the food. But I guess what they say about the best people holds true with the best restaurants - When you are secure and know you have a good thing, there is no reason to put on airs....It all comes naturally. We decided to dive in feet first and go with the Chef's Tasting Menu. Everyone at the table must commit for the concept to work. Most of us agreed there were items on the menu we would never order directly but loved every single bite. In addition to the Chef's Tasting of demi portions, we ordered Alligator Soup & Crawfish Bisque to sample. The soups were just beginning of the tantilizing journey our taste buds were about to embark. I can't remember all courses and elements and for sure can't remember the wine served with each but here's a sample - Caviar & Lump Crab Meat on pancakes; Fois Gras on beignet - absolutely to do for!; Red Fish; Veal; and Moulten Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Martinis. I'm going to email the restaurant and see if they will send me a complete menu, so we'll know what we loved so much. Every course topped the previous. This isn't an inexpensive restaurant by any means but it is 500% worth it. If you ever have the chance to go, take advantage...and make sure you invite Brad and me!

Brad and I also did a horse and carriage ride through the French Quarter, learned a litlle history of the French Quarter, saw Angelina & Brad Pritt's house and other notable places. We walked through St. Louis Cathedral and admired its beauty; and took in the French Market while sipping on Bloody Mary's.

Oh My NOLA....We Were There but Where Was the Tide?
On Friday, we headed to Pat O'Brien's on Bourbon Street right after brunch at Mothers on Poydras. Fortunately, we got a got a great table in the Piano Bar right in time. To make the day even better, Josh & Emily and her dad and brother swung by and hung out for a bit.
One of Nick's friends also came by (another die hard LSU fan) and hung out. He had great tickets to the game but said he just couldn't stand going to see Alabama play. So, we swapped tickets with him and let him sell ours on the street. The days was great and we now had great seats on the 30 yard line in the lower bowl of the Super Dome.
Unfortunately, the evening wasn't so great. It was just horrible to watch the game. We wanted to take in the moment because of our awesome seats but didn't want to look up because Alabama just played horribly. A week later now, and I guess we're finally over how bad the game was. It was as if the entire team left New Olreans when Andre Smith did because they just didn't even show up on the field.

There was one highlight of the game. While in line for the restroom, I heard someone shout my name. Who else, but Barbara Nash in Huntsville (my first professional mentor and boss)! I love and missher greatly! She and I caught up quickly had someone take our picture (yes in line for the restroom) and chatted a bit.

Oh My NOLA....There is Definitely More in Life Than College Football
Many years from now, Brad and I will remember how badly the Crimson Tide played in the Sugar Bowl. But most of all, we will remember the great time spent together and with Abbie, Nick, Emma Leigh, and Jack in New Orleans to kick off 2009

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio
Brad and me in Florence, Italy