Traveling | Somewhere in Middle America

Oysters at Felix’s

Not pictured: Char-grilled oysters that were BEYOND insane.

Beignets and Hot Chocolate at Café Du Mondé

My dad was the only one of the group who accidentally sniffed the powdered sugar. And suffered.

Pretzles, Boudin and Sweet + Spicy Brisket Sliders at Butcher

We also ordered a muffaletta (never did make it to Central Grocery) and duck pastrami sliders. The guys drank LA 31 Biere Pale while my mom sipped a “Peel-n-Squeal” – vanilla vodka, satsuma juice and mint.

Pecan Waffles and the Chef’s Omelet (chili on the side) at The Camellia Grill

At the French Quarter location, we got a kick out of our server, who kept referring to the six of us as “New York.” Was it that obvious?

French macaroons (my first ever!), Gelato and Cappuccino at Sucré

We gave ourselves permission to enjoy dessert before lunch when we passed by this charming “sweet boutique” while browsing the shops on Magazine Street.

Po-Boys at Domilise’s

At the very last second we managed to score a table for six at this hole-in-the-wall shop, and we passed around shrimp and oyster po-boys to share. My dad, who doesn’t eat shellfish, had a catfish po-boy all to himself. (Note to future customers: These po-boys are expensive! Was not expecting to pay around $15 for a sandwich!)

Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

A trip to New Orleans would not have been complete without a visit to Commander’s Palace. We were seated for nearly two and a half hours, which should give you an indication of how much we ate! Apparently I was too busy stuffing my face to take any photographs of our food, but my sister captured this table shot while we were still deciding what to order. Thankfully my mom, who snagged a menu, was able to remind me what we all ate (some of us ordered the same thing): Turtle Soup, Smoked Chicken and Oyster Gumbo, Open-Faced Croque Madame, Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish, Scrambled Eggs and Crab, Commander’s Mixed Grill, Pecan Pie, Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake and Baily’s Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Parfait. And now I feel stuffed all over again!

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Our first night in NOLA, before my parents, sister and brother-in-law arrived, J and I had dinner at Dick & Jenny’s. I wish I could’ve taken photos of the amazing food we ate, but it was too dark inside the restaurant.  We started with the Gumbo Du Jour (shrimp and blue crab) and the Filet Mignon Meat Pie (a pocket stuffed with beef tips, red potatoes and smoked mushrooms and topped with a garlicky cream sauce). After stuffing our faces with oysters at Felix’s earlier in the evening, we weren’t hungry enough to each get our own entree, so we shared the Seared Duck Breast with Louisiana alligator sausage (surprisingly tender!), dirty rice and southern greens. (The greens were not my favorite.)

What caught my eye at Lafayette Cemetery #1 in New Orleans, more so than the historical dates on the tombstones, were the flowers honoring the deceased. The muted colors of those somber bouquets were so beautiful. Who left them? How long had they been sitting there, wilting?

To be honest, I couldn’t tell if the flowers were real or fake, and I didn’t want to touch them, only photograph them. Do you know?

It was up in the air until the very last second whether my family’s planned vacation to New Orleans would actually take place this past weekend. As J and I were literally boarding our 6AM flight on Thursday, my parents called to let us know that their noon flight out of New York had been canceled. This was actually the second flight of theirs to be canceled, and as J and I were settling into seats, they were scrambling to find out if Continental could book them on their third later that evening.

J and I had to wait until we landed in Chicago to catch our connecting flight to find out whether our family getaway would become a romantic weekend for two. Thankfully, my parents, sister and brother-in-law finally made it to NOLA – but not until 1AM on Friday.

Because I spent so much time researching restaurants (more on that in another post!), I hadn’t created much of an itinerary of things to do or to see when we weren’t eating. I probably should have read up more on the history of the city and scouted out activities for us to do as a family. Besides wandering around the French Quarter and the Garden District (although after a while, you’ve seen enough antique shops and big houses), there wasn’t much else I was really excited to do. I would’ve been interested in visiting  The National World War II Museum, but the rest of my family didn’t seem too keen on going, and there weren’t any other museums that I was truly dying to explore.

Dare I admit that I found New Orleans a bit boring?

What made the trip worthwhile (besides the food) was being able to spend time with my family. We last saw them over Thanksgiving, but for a girl who is extremely close to her parents and sister, that was way too long ago. It was also a relief to be able to walk around the city wearing only a long-sleeved shirt and lightweight jacket; I’ll take 60 degree weather over the snow and ice any day. And I always enjoy the opportunity to practice my photography, and there was certainly plenty of interesting architecture and people to capture on (digital) film.

Finally, some general thoughts about NOLA:

As an almost 31-year-old, I had no interest in partying on Bourbon Street (does that make me old or just boring?), although I did get a kick out of the vendors selling frozen margaritas and beers to go out of closet-sized shops. Bourbon was interesting enough to walk up and down once, but the street reeked of cigarettes (outside!) and I feared being clonked in the head by the handfuls of beads being chucked off balconies by drunk fraternity boys. And don’t get me started on all the boobs and booty!

To the disappointment of my jazz musician brother-in-law, the only live music we heard on Bourbon Street was from cover bands playing in the bars. It’s a shame we didn’t learn until just before we left for the airport that Frenchmen Street was where we would have found authentic New Orleans jazz. A couple of local twenty-somethings told us that Bourbon Street was very different before Katrina hit and that you could pop into almost any bar on Bourbon to listen to jazz. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

And on a positive note, nearly everybody we encountered, from cab drivers to waiters to the tipsy Southwest flight attendant enjoying oysters next to us at Felix, were extremely friendly and forthcoming with information and suggestions. New Orleans might be one of the most affable cities I’ve visited.

If you’ve had a different experience in The Big Easy, I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below!

I’ve been so obsessed with researching restaurants that I haven’t given any thought to what my family should do in New Orleans when we aren’t eating!

(Wait, you are supposed to go sight seeing while traveling and not just eat?)

The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau is overwhelming, to say the least, and design*sponge’s 2008 New Orleans City Guide features more boutiques than tourist attractions.

I’ve been told that Bourbon Street, The French Quarter, Jackson Square, The Garden District and Magazine Street are the areas of the city to visit, and, like every big city, New Orleans has a plethora of museums to check out.  According to the CVB, New Orleans has museums celebrating art, military history, architecture, sports, Voodoo and Mardi Gras. A Voodoo museum? Maybe not. I have to say, though, I’m kind of intrigued by the Pharmacy Museum. Have you been?

So, friends, I’m looking to you to help me build my perfect itinerary. We’ll be there for about four days. What should be on our New Orleans “must see” list?

(photo via Flickr by Wilfried Vogel)

What do you love about traveling? A novice foodie, I love experiencing the local cuisine of whatever city I’m visiting. Which is why my taste buds have already begun salivating in anticipation of my first trip to New Orleans in just a few short weeks.

A couple of months ago, my father suggested that the entire fam plan a weekend getaway someplace warm during the winter. Some how my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, husband and I all agreed upon New Orleans. Granted it won’t be bathing suit weather, but it will be warmer than Omaha!

But who needs beaches and bikinis when you have po’ boys, jambalaya and gumbo? Of course we’ll have to try beignets at Cafe Du Monde, but I’m actually more interested in checking out the local hot spots rather than the typical tourist traps like Emeril’s restaurants.

Since the Food Network always seem to be on in my house, I’ve been paying attention to any time somebody mentions New Orleans cuisine, especially on “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Ate,” and jotting down the names of the restaurants suggested. Here’s what’s on my list so far:

K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen for Blackened Louisiana Drum

Cochon Butcher for Boudin Sausage

Domilise’s for Shrimp Po Boy

Now I need your help. Have you eaten in NOLA? Leave your restaurant recommendations in the comment section below!

(photo by FNP via Flickr)

I’m not typically drawn to the masculine color scheme of this room at the Chancellor Hotel in San Francisco, but I rather like it. I’d even consider redecorating my bedroom one day in a similar fashion. The pattern on the valance and the stark white bedding add to the room’s preppy charm.

PS – I heart San Francisco.

(image via Jagger Photography)

Goal: Travel the World

While my sorority sisters were participating in wet t-shirt contests during Spring Break, I was sightseeing in Spain. The previous year I looked around London. Ever since I got my passport during my sophomore year of college (was I late bloomer?), I’ve made international travel a priority. In addition to Madrid, Seville, Granada and London, I’ve been to various cities in Israel, Australia and Italy, as well as our lovely neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

I doubt my thirst for travel will ever be satiated. There’s a time and place for relaxing on a beach, but I’d rather explore  narrow, cobblestone streets in historical cities and towns. I follow Rick Steves on Facebook (his tour guides are my bible), and I’m totally jealous that Anthony Bourdain gets to eat his way around the world on “No Reservations.” My dream job? Theirs!

In an ideal world, J and I would be able to spend a couple of months or a year living abroad (somewhere glamorous, not on a military base). If we had children at the time, even better. They – and I – would be able to learn a foreign language through immersion. (Really, all I’ve ever wanted is to have children who call me “Mum.” British is a foreign language, right?)

On my travel wish list: Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Tokyo and Barcelona. Ireland. India. China. All over South America. Basically, the whole wide world. Who can blame me? There is so much culture to experience out there.

Where would you go, if you could?

(image by me of Florence in 2008, one of my most fav cities)

As I mentioned in a previous post, my thirtieth birthday is growing near. My dream is to usher in the new decade some place cosmopolitan like Paris (the city, not the hotel in Las Vegas–although if Vegas is on the agenda, I won’t complain!). Unfortunately, financial constraints and my husband’s work responsibilities are holding us back from international travel. Perhaps a weekend getaway would be more practical?

I’m not much of a skier — In 8th grade I went skiing once — but I wouldn’t mind being holed up at the Sky Hotel in Aspen for a couple of days. I love the decor. It’s modern yet cozy. Sky Hotel even offers a Winter Alternative Package called “But I Don’t Ski,” although I think I’d go for the spa package.

(images source)

Wouldn’t Treehouse Point be an incredible place to escape the dread of turning 30? (I wish I could feel as invigorated as Mollytics about coming to the end of my twenties.) Sleeping high up in the trees would certainly make me feel younger than my age.

(via A Cup of Jo)

A couple of years ago, while I was the youth group director for a local synagogue, I took a group of middle schoolers to St. Louis for a convention. The trip included an evening at City Museum, where they crawled through tunnels, slid down slides and explored enchanted caves. Though it’s called City Museum, it’s more-or-less just a hands-on children’s museum, and I didn’t think I’d have any reason to return to it until I had kids of my own.

So where did J and I find ourselves this past weekend? You guessed it. One of his high school buddies got married in the museum’s Vault room. Though it wouldn’t have been my choice for a wedding venue, it perfectly suited the bride’s and groom’s personality: a bit goofy and bit random. The non-religious ceremony was brief and held in a small room featuring vintage opera posters. The reception space was vast and sparsely decorated. Instead of traditional floral centerpieces, a big bowl of LEGO pieces sat in the center of the tables surrounded by tiny boxes of Nerds candy. Rather than dance to disco tunes, the majority of guests spent their time building LEGO structures. Lunch was served buffet style by an off-site catering company and was actually quite delicious. Oddly, for a wedding, there was no alcohol served besides one glass per guest for toasts. Perhaps this was because it was an early afternoon affair. Or maybe the bride and groom just aren’t big drinkers. Either way, it wasn’t that big of a deal, and I was happy to drink the strawberry lemonade that was offered.

According to J, City Museum looked like it was designed in the 1970s by somebody with an overactive imagination while getting high, although in reality it wasn’t created until 1997 by some internationally acclaimed artist. As guests of the wedding, we received free admission to the museum. Towards the end of the reception, friends of the bride and groom changed into their “play clothes” to explore the space, although J and I didn’t stay. Call me old or boring or stuffy, but I just wasn’t interested in trying to manuever through passageways created for people who haven’t had their growth spurts yet. Instead we did more “grown-up” things, including shopping at Crate and Barrel, a store we don’t have in Omaha.