Some people trek to New Orleans every February for Mardi Gras. Others make it a point to be in the city in May for the Jazz Festival. Still others are doggedly determined to make it to Bayou Bacchanal in November.
While those are all excellent reason to make your way to the city, in my book, the “We Live to Eat” Louisiana Seafood Restaurant Week is at the top of the list.
Why? You get to eat and travel. New Orleans hosting its second-annual Louisiana Seafood Restaurant Week (it runs through the end of Sunday, making for a perfect potential weekend getaway).
Martinis for a quarter? Only in New Orleans.
One might wonder “what’s the fuss?” Well, on paper, the Louisiana Seafood Restaurant Week has a very similar blueprint to most restaurant weeks: Two- (sometimes three-) course lunches cost $20 and three-course dinners run $35, with several terrific restaurants to choose from.
But this is New Orleans, dawlin', and restaurant week has a slightly different spin on it.
A saying attributed to Ben Franklin states that one should “Eat to live, not live to eat.” As a city that culturally identifies itself by its cuisine, and where indulgence is practically an art form, the philosophy isn’t “eat to live” but rather “live to eat.” It’s quite apropos, then, that the Crescent City’s Louisiana Seafood Restaurant Week is aptly named “We Live to Eat.”
Clearly, Mr. Franklin would have utterly despised New Orleans.
A Dining Strategy
I had the providential good fortune of being able to attend the inaugural seafood week in September 2011. In order to develop a good dining strategy to determine which restaurants to pick, I decided to reach out to Sarah Peltier, Greater New Orleans regional director of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. She immediately suggested Mr. B’s Bistro which turned out to be an amazing choice.
Mr. B’s Bistro is owned and operated by the Brennan family. Many members of the wait staff have been working there for 20-plus years, which is a testament to how the owners treat them like family. Once you step through the wood and glass revolving front door, you’ll be treated like family, too.
The city has such a connection to food that it’s easy to have a fantastic meal in New Orleans, and during this week chefs are eager to put their cooking prowess on full display.
I decided to dive right into the spirit of “We Live to Eat (WLTE)” and ordered several dishes to sample, starting with shrimp and grits. The smooth, buttery and creamy grits were topped with bacon-wrapped shrimp and a generous drizzle of savory-sweet red-eye gravy. It was perfection on a plate.
My next dish was classic Mr. B's Barbequed Shrimp: A bowl of plump, juicy shrimp covered in a velvety, peppery brown butter sauce that found me “kissing” my fingertips (because “licking your fingers” sounds so un-Southern belle-like).
The final entree made me feel like I’d hit the culinary trifecta when the soft-shelled fried crab arrived. The sweet crab was encased in a crisp, crunchy, seasoned crust and nestled in a pool of lemony butter sauce that was almost good enough to drink. For dessert, I tried both the white chocolate brownie and the pecan pie. The pièce de résistance, however, was a fresh, hand-crafted blueberry mojito to-go, which allowed me the distinct pleasure of strolling through the French Quarter to walk off the meal I’d just reveled in, while sipping my cocktail.
You can’t get that at restaurant weeks in Texas.
Next up was lunch at Café Adelaide located in the Loews Hotel. I looked at the menu and my jaw dropped: the restaurant offered full-sized 25-cent martinis. Martinis for a quarter? Only in New Orleans.
The numerous first course offerings included turtle soup, blue crab-golden tomato gazpacho, a duck tasso flatbread and the B.O.L.T (bacon-crusted oyster, lettuce and tomato) po'boy. I picked the po'boy as a starter, another version of shrimp and grits with basil beurre sauce for my entree and creme brulee for dessert. The po'boy got a resounding “thumbs up.”
Although my shrimp and grits were tasty, they were edged out by those I’d had at Mr. B’s. The creme brulee custard was wonderfully silky with a perfectly crunchy-charred sugar crust. As for martinis, I’m pleading the fifth on how many, if any, I had.
Dinner found me at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which was the first one ever built. The chain was founded in 1965 by Ruth Fertel after she bought the existing Chris Steak House in New Orleans. In buying the restaurant, Fertel had to agree to keep the "Chris" name for a certain period of time.
She later relocated the restaurant and renamed the rebuilt establishment "Ruth's Chris." I wanted to test the saying “there’s nothing like the original” and I wasn’t disappointed.
I enjoyed the nods to New Orleans reflected in the menu such as the quintessential bowl of gumbo, which was delicious. I also thoroughly enjoyed the decadently delicious lump meat crab cakes which were filled with crab meat that was barely bound together. For my entree, I ordered an exquisitely cooked filet mignon with a side of butter-laden mashed potatoes. It was an impeccably classic steakhouse meal, with a nice “down-on the-bayou” touch.
The final entree made me feel like I’d hit the culinary trifecta when the soft-shelled fried crab arrived.
The city has such a connection to food that it’s easy to have a fantastic meal in New Orleans, and during the WLTE week the chefs really are eager to put their cooking prowess on full display. Add in the fact that the restaurants also feature fantastic and inexpensive drink specials (that you can take with you as you peruse the French Quarter while listening to jazz and brass band street players) and you have a restaurant week experience unlike any other.
In my assessment, and without question, the “We Live to Eat” New Orleans Seafood Restaurant Week is definitely worth the trip for a high octane, epicurean-fueled weekend.