Saturday, July 20, 2013

Escaping Gastronomic Mediocrity...Again

Back in April my bride and I escaped from the gastronomic black hole that Tampa Bay has become. In Atlanta we experienced savory delights presented by a few of that city's innovative, cutting edge restaurants; none of which presented the diner with the ubiquitous choices found all over the bay area...seared ahi tuna, tuna tartar, steamed mussels, and of course fried calamari.

I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with any of those food items...but, on most every Tampa Bay menu? Where is the vartiety? Why should I go to a dining venue that has essentially the same menu items as that place down the block or across town? Well, the bottom line is that I won't.

So, what is the discerning diner to do? My answer to that is simply to leave town, and this past week the Belle of Ballast Point and I visited the Crescent City, New Orleans. Like Atlanta, NOLA has so many mouth watering choices it is really a challenge to pick only a few in the four days set aside for this trip.

We planned our dining adventures beforehand as reservations are absolutely necessary at most really good NOLA restaurants. Sunday evening we dined at a John Besh restaurant, Lüke, his homage to the grand old Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New Orleans. Monday, we headed over to the warehouse district to partake of the Cochon offerings. Then on Tuesday it was the Boucherie in Carrollton, and finally on Wednesday we went uptown to La Petite Grocery.

You will probably notice a trend here. None of these restaurants are in the French Quarter. That was intentional. Our plan on this trip was to stay away from the Quarter and experience more of the Crescent City. We had pretty well "done" that part of town on past visits. We had also explored the charming Faubourg Marigny a subdistrict of the Bywater. It was time to discover more of New Orleans, and except for two short trips across Canal Street for lunch at Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar (a grand alternative to the "long-in-the-tooth" ACME), and Deanie's, that is what we did.

Our home away from home on this trip was the elegant Le Pavillon in the CBD (Central Business District if you have to ask). Stepping into this hotel was like taking a trip back in time. "Sheer elegance, Le Pavillon Hotel looks like a Palace with high ceilings, antiques from all over the world, and service to match." ~ Travel & Leisure.

Here are a few of my photos from the common areas of Le Pavillon:

With the charming and delightful Pam tending to our every need we totally forgot to check the bar for bullet holes. Al Capone imbibed at this bar before it was relocated from Chicago.

In our room, 220, we had not only a beautiful tray ceiling design:

We also had a flatulent ghost. Every so often we would hear a short "whoosh" of air. For awhile my bride and I accused each other of passing gas. We finally decided it wasn't us, but we were never able to pin-point a source or a reason for this gassy sound. Our cab driver, on the way back to the airport, pointed out that Le Pavillon is home to many spirits from the past. Of course, we had to get the one that farts...a lot.

In addition to stuffing ourselves with some awe inspiring taste sensations at NOLA restaurants, we did a little tourist-style touring. One of the trips was a plantation tour to the Oak Alley property and then on to the Laura Plantation. Both Oak Alley and Laura were sugarcane plantations, and while slave labor has been eliminated, sugarcane is still a cash crop for the area.

Oak Alley - JLR

If you would like a professional photo of the plantation, you may purchase the 24 by 48 image seen below for a mere $600. It's available at the gift shop where they, thankfully, serve beer.

Photographer unknown

The Laura Plantation, so-called because it was run by Laura for many years, is a less grand home in the more laid-back, colorful Creole style:

The left side of the building is where the men were taken to conduct sugarcane business, and the right was for the women.

Laura was the last proprietress of the plantation, but it had been run by women for over a hundred years.

Tours are based on The Memoirs of Laura, a detailed account of 200 years of life on this farm.

Photography inside of the plantations was sometimes a challenge since flash was frowned upon, but the pantry came out well:

Back in the city, I was able to capture a few images in the French Quarter on the way to Felix's Oyster Bar:

On the way back to our hotel we passed this building and were totally impressed to find you could send this stuff by wire:

Our last tour was probably the most impressive. It was a visit to the World War II Museum:

And, most impressive of all was The Final Mission, the USS Tang Submarine Experience. For ten minutes you are aboard the Tang. You are positioned at various duty stations as the commander launches a torpedo attack on multiple Japanese targets. You see the torpedoes, you feel the explosions rocking the sub - you are there for the final mission.

As you enter the sub you are given a numbered card directing you to your duty station. The card has a photo of the sailor you are representing. Mine, coincidentally, was Darrell D. Rector (I don't believe we are related). Rector received a degree of notoriety some years before when he underwent an appendectomy while serving on another submarine.

For my bride and me this was a truly remarkable trip to The Big Easy. The food was superb, the hotel was grand, and it was a treat to discover the charm of New Orleans outside of the Vieux Carré. There is so much to see and do besides barfing on Bourbon Street.

One of these days I will get around to doing restaurant reviews on the restaurants we visited on this trip. The important thing to keep in mind when planning your New Orleans vacation is the vast majority of great restaurants can be discovered outside of the Quarter - they tend to be cheaper, too.

Au revoir, y'all.


  1. Why in the hell have I never been to NOLA???? Great pics...can't wait for the food blog posts. Looking forward to our convergence in two weeks. We've been saving The Pearl for you guys. :)

    1. Yeah, Sweet Polly, why the hell have you never been there? Great food and some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.

      Whenever the BOBP quits farting around and finally wins the lottery we are going to buy us one of them there mansions on St. Charles sitting amongst the trendiest of trendy restaurants.

      The only thing that sounds better is getting together with you guys for another convergence.

  2. . . . and I wish my Sweet Lady and I could be there with you too. Great blog, Jon, and it brought back fond and personal memories of my times there. I attended ninth grade at De La Salle on St. Charles Avenue and a little bit of graduate school at Tulane years later. Great place.

  3. Wow! I love the travelogue. NOLA is on my bucket list, indeed. What a lovely home away from home, Le Pavillon is gorgeous. Honestly, the farting ghost image is just too funny. Jon, I am looking forward to your food reviews. I'll have to win the lottery to be able to make this excursion a reality. All the best!