Monday, April 14, 2008

The Blessed Curse of New Orleans Cuisine

Recently Captain Corporate and I shared emails throughout the day discussing restaurants and dishes which typified New Orleans. That conversation and the results of last week's poll led me to the following consensus: The notion of "New Orleans Cuisine" is a myth. Allow that last sentence to sink in for a moment. This does not mean that New Orleans lacks great restaurants or incredible dishes; rather, defining what is the quintessential New Orleans restaurant experience can not be done.

Think about it. Ask 10 people you know to name their ten favorite restaurants and five favorite dishes. Chances are you will get about 60-70 different restaurants and 40-50 different dishes. I leave the description of this problem to Martha Stewart, "its a good thing."

Nationally, New Orleans cuisine has the at times the ball and chain distinction of being labeled as "Creole or Cajun." Thus, visitors to New Orleans arrive with the expectation of having a culinary experiences which will cause their taste buds to explode and cause capsaicin induced hallucinations. Then they arrive and go to Antoine's. And what is this, simple trout with crabmeat and brown butter? This menu is in French. My travel agent and the Food Network lied to me, again.

Sure, the old line French-Creole spots typify what many New Orleanians think of as representative cuisine. But what about the Vietnamese Shrimper from Arabi? The Italian welder from Kenner? Or the Polish physician? Bayona's website says it all, "Our restaurant gives you New Orleans, our menu gives you the world."

Each person and family in New Orleans has their spots. A spot to celebrate, a spot when Mom does not feel like cooking, a spot for after funerals, a spot to take out of town guests, a spot to take out of town family, a spot that reminds Dad of his Dad.

New Orleans has the blessed curse of being a destination spot for food lovers around the globe. They come expecting something different and they get it, but not exactly what they thought they were going to get. A roast beef po' boy may be the best example of this. Debris, scraps, crusty french bread, arterial ailing gravy, and dressing; yet, that simple sandwich is just as representative of New Orleans as the Bread Pudding Souffle from Commander's Palace.

What a fabulous burden. When those taste seeking travelers from Tampa come to visit, they learn about Cafe Minh, Nor-Joe's, and Upperline. Tulane students and alums single handedly keep Jacque-Imo's open.

This blessed curse of ours comes with a duty to keep supporting the variety of restaurants we call our own. Think about this. According to Fr. Tom, there are 909 restaurants in the greater New Orleans area. That means you could eat out every night for almost 3 years without ever going to the same restaurant twice. Go eat out, its your civic duty.

2 comments:

David C. Coons said...

"Each person and family in New Orleans has their spots. A spot to celebrate, a spot when Mom does not feel like cooking, a spot for after funerals, a spot to take out of town guests, a spot to take out of town family, a spot that reminds Dad of his Dad."

Amen

robert said...

So a Vietnamese Shrimper from Arabi, an Italian welder from Kenner, and a Polish physician walk into a bar...

Also, "the Polish Physician?" What, there's only one?

Thanks folks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget your server.