Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Foodcation: We Ate Like Champions

My friend Juliet from New York came to town for five days for the holidays. She celebrates Hanukkah, I celebrate ... well nothing really, but we were able to meet in mutual celebration of the fact that we both appreciate food to the point where it's almost sick. (Almost.)

Her five-day visit soon turned into a Foodcation. I'm sure I'm only skimming the surface of New Orleans's culinary glories, but this newly initiated New Orleanean and her cynical New Yorker friend were impressed:

Mother's Restaurant:
401 Poydras Street

Yep. Lots of tourists. Worse, they created this annoying line that wrapped clear around the block. Juliet and I were starving and ready to kill each other, but all homicidal tendencies abated once we entered to a tray of biscuits being pulled out of the oven.

I never understood the southern obsession with soul food. This was an "Ah-Ha!" moment.

I had an omelet with grits, three biscuits, and a huge slab of butter to slather over everything.
Juliet had a sandwich named Ralph -- a beef po' boy with ham and cheese.

We had to take five minutes after we finished to lean back in our chairs and stare dreamily at our empty plates. The waitress understood and gave us our space. I'm guessing this happens a lot.

209 Bourbon Street

I've read many gushing articles about this place, so Juliet and I got dressed in finery (tight dress ... not a good idea ... no room for expansion) and braved the catcalls of Bourbon Street to pay a visit.

First impression: a lot of "Haw-Haw"-ing and khaki.

But the atmosphere makes you feel just as classy as some of the patrons pretend to be.

We put our trust in the waiter to impress us with some cocktails and he delivered. He got a bit miffed when I unexpectedly changed my wine choice from red to white, but I appreciated his reverence for the food-wine balance.

This is what my lovely dish looked like:

It didn't leave me with that shit-eating Mother's grin, but the potatoes au-gratin had a lotta character, enhanced, of course, by the cavernous ceiling and antique ceiling fans.

Juan's Flying Burrito:
2018 Magazine Street

I ate here during my first New Orleans visit five years ago, and it is still worth every step of the painfully long trek down Magazine.

You can smell the food about a block away. Juliet smelled it too, and looked at me in awe at the glorious culinary images her brain was already conjuring.

You're seated and they immediately get down to business with menus and drink orders. The Margaritas helped us to momentarily forget the yearning in our stomachs, as did the salsa and chips.

Come to think of it, I think this place specializes in preemptive food and beverage strikes, otherwise starving food enthusiasts like ourselves would have long ago ransacked the kitchen and had our way with the black beans and tortilla shells.

We licked our plates -- it doesn't happen often, it's pathetic, but after a plate of glistening black-bean tacos, it had to be done.

Here's a song from their web site that heartwrenchingly lists some of the other menu items:

Dave's Flying Burrito from Juans Flying Burrito on Vimeo.

Various locations around N.O.

A lot of people know about this place, but I have to extol the virtues of their Lebanese iced tea. It's this delicately floral tasting tea with pine nuts floating on top.

I got a cup to go one afternoon (with extra pine nuts), started drinking it while wobbling down Decatur on my bike, and narrowly missed using a small dog as a speedbump -- that's how much I like this stuff.

Turkey Frying:

One messed-up southern tradition that could explode your house, melt one of your limbs off, or create a fireball. Most fire departments issue stern warnings against it.

Men love it:

This a trashcan in front of a house that burned down on Napoleon. Turkey fryer? Highly likely ...


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Work Nola

Join new job finding website will launch March 1st

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

YURP Profiles: Westley Bayas

By Isaac Arnsdorf

When Westley Bayas, who grew up in New Orleans, left for college, he said he never planned to come back. He fully expected to live somewhere else. But today he is the director of community outreach for Phoenix of New Orleans, a rebuilding non-profit named after the mythical bird that is reborn from ashes.

Asked what changed his mind, he answered immediately, “Katrina.”

He was a student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge at the time. The gym was converted into a makeshift triage center, and Westley volunteered to help. “I realized I had to go back home,” he said. “I wanted to play whatever part I could to make it into the New Orleans I remembered.”

He remembers the look and the feel, the neighbors shooting the breeze on their porches. But after Katrina, he saw overgrown grass, and blocks and blocks of emptiness. He wants to help bring the old New Orleans back.

Hopefully a little better, he added. At Phoenix, he helps displaced homeowners get back into their homes. Now he expects to stay for the foreseeable future. “I need to stay,” he said. “I’m taking part in a lot of things to improve the city and push it in the direction that I want.”

As New Orleans rebuilds, it has opportunities for young people to get jobs for which they would not otherwise be qualified, to start businesses or to “blaze their own path,” Westley said. “New Orleans is a place where young people can come and prove themselves.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm Just Here for the Gin and Horses

I spent Thanksgiving at the New Orleans Fair Ground Racetrack. I'm a sucker for showy hats, cigars, and horses, so the experience appealed to me immensely... despite making only $4.

Here is my writeup of the experience on the blog I edit (my day job), along with some semi-interesting betting analysis and news about how the racetrack is boosting New Orleans's economy.

The photo above was taken by Sean Gardner (a local) for U.S.A. Today. I'm the one with the cigar.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

YURP Profiles: John Moore

Isaac Arnsdorf, a student at Yale, is writing different profiles about YURPs. The first one is about John Moore. Contact if you would like to be profiled.

John Moore left New Orleans for college with no intention of returning. Then when Katrina hit, he thought it was the city’s death knell. He tried to convince his family to stay with him in Atlanta.

But they would return, and — in a twist of fate — so would he. John took a job with Global Green, an environmental non-profit developing affordable and sustainable housing in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Today he is an energy and environmental policy analyst in the city government’s newly founded energy unit.

John’s roots in New Orleans stretch back five generations to the earliest settlers of the city. But as John followed another family tradition — becoming a third-generation student at Morehouse — he thought he would leave the Bayou behind.

So did leagues of his peers. New Orleans’ population has been declining since 1960, and young people in particular were leaving the city en masse in recent decades. Katrina, John thought, would be the knockout blow.

But the opposite happened. Since the storm, young people have started flocking back to the city, including John.

“I felt like I had to return,” he said. “That’s what I knew I had to do, and I did it.”

John was in Atlanta interning for Southface, another environmental non-profit, when the storm hit. His family took refuge with him but were determined to return, despite John’s urging otherwise.

John studied architecture in college and helped develop an eco-friendly dorm. At a major conference of U.S. developers, he caught Global Green’s eye. They wanted him to join the Holy Cross Project, which partnered with Brad Pitt to sponsor a design competition for sustainably redeveloping the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.

At first, John didn’t want to go back. But when he realized all his family was returning, it wasn’t even a choice anymore, he said. His grandmother, aunt and cousins were all trying to rebuild their homes, and he knew he could help.

But the city he returned to was not the city he remembered. Surrounding by roving military police, he rode around the neighborhoods where he grew up. John said it was like looking at ghosts.

“It was a gut-wrenching thing to see all these neighborhoods destroyed,” he said, “like, the first place I hung out, or the first place I had a beer.”

Though John felt a sense of duty in his homecoming, in other ways he had to make some sacrifices. He had been accepted to architecture school in California, which he deferred to join Global Green. In some ways, he said, he had to put the rest of his life on the back burner. But that’s because he had a responsibility in New Orleans that came first.

His new job with the city runs through 2009, so he’s sure he’ll be in town at least that long. After that, he’s not sure where grad school or career moves might take him. He wants to be back in school by 2010. For now, he’s been working with Tulane as a consultant on sustainable construction.

As he returned to help his family recover, he joined of movement of young people helping to rebuild his hometown.

“I’m passionate about what I’m doing,” he said. “I feel like I have some effect. I want to see if I can push the ball forward.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

When You're Serious About Getting Stuff Done, and Eating a Homemade Bran Muffin

I dragged myself to the Orange Couch cafe (2339 Royal St.) last Monday with a hangover still lingering from the weekend and a yucky work deadline staring at me from an hour ahead.

I love sitting in New Orleans cafes (listening to gossip-masked-as-small-talk, making said gossip-talk with the few people I'm starting to recognize).

But that day I needed this place (which just opened two days prior) to part the thick fog of too much gin and bar bands.

I set up my laptop and spread the tools of my trade on a luxurious expanse of white table under the reassurance of everlasting wireless.

With other people on laptops around me, I felt like part of a productive brotherhood. (This is my brain on three jobs.)

Upon walking in, everyone realizes this place isn't from around here. (The owner, in fact, is from San Francisco.) But they go on to marvel at the light fixtures and order the highly-recommended mango black tea.

One guy even asked permission to have ice-cream with his coffee.

I rewarded myself for doing stuff with a piece of green-tea Mochi.

This was on the wall somewhere in the cafe. Look for it if you go there.

They're open until 10. I don't know if I'm cool enough to go there late-night (at least not without a serious beehive or maybe a jumpsuit), but here's what it looks like:


Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting My Hair Did

I hate hair salons: the $60 for a haircut, the "funky L.A. vibe," the stilted hairdresser-client prattle.

Every Monday at the R Bar, New Orleans provides a hair-cutting experience that involves none of the above:

As I folded my laundry last night and waited for 9 p.m. to roll around, I was nervous about two things: what $10 could do to my hair, and whether I would look like a loser sitting at a bar alone waiting for a haircut.

There were two people in line before me. I ordered my drink at the bar, marveling at the low price (my $4 drink would have been $7 in NYC), then tried my best to ignore the current haircut being performed.

Everyone else was more enthralled with the sex scene in the movie Fear being projected over the bar.

When it was my turn, the hairdresser summoned me from my bar stool, I gave a quick, jittery description of what I wanted, and the cutting commenced.

I never caught her name -- or any conversation at all -- but she did pause once to tell an inebriated regular named Dan (?) to get out.

Though I felt pretty cavalier gripping my gin and tonic while my hair flew in pieces behind me, I was taking mental stock of my hat and bandanna options.

I paid the $10 as advertised, plus $3 for tip, and sat back down at the bar to let my hair dry and pick some split ends out of my drink.

I received immediate, slightly beer-goggled, reviews from two gentlemen at the bar. One liked my style so much, he was thinking of having a seat himself.

When I got home, I thanked my mirror that it looked like this: