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Trip Report New Orleans or how much can two people eat in five days.

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Day 1

We arrived ahead of schedule in New Orleans, starting a 5 day visit with my DH (kids stayed home with family). Thank you all for your input and suggestions as this proved to be an incredible trip.

I'll start with our hotel - Hotel Monteleone was lovely, recently refurbished and looking beautiful. Our executive suite room was large and we enjoyed having the separate sitting area. When we arrived at the hotel, a nine-piece brass band was playing in front of the hotel as if to celebrate our arrival. A large crowd had gathered - it was a rather festive way to begin our visit.

We had more than a small delay getting the bags to the room (more than 45 minutes and three phone calls). Several conventions were in town (among the half dozen conventions included the folk lore society and plastic surgeons) and the front bell service seemed a little lost. But overall we were very pleased with the hotel and would stay there again. And there will be a return trip!

With an extra hour unaccounted for on my schedule, I stretched my legs and wandered the French Quarter, mostly Chartres and Royal streets, getting my bearings and a preview of the next day. To start our evening, we went downstairs for drinks at the famous Carousel bar. Fortunately, we found a table next to a window looking out on the street and within sight of the bar so we could be entertained by the people outside as well as by the rotating bar inside.

We had previously arranged a carriage ride with Robyn, but she called to let us know that she would not be available. She arranged for Paul and his mule Firefly to pick us up in front of the hotel. As this is New Orleans, we put our unfinished drinks from the bar in to-go cups and climbed aboard. Paul, a New Orleans native, guided us through the French Quarter with funny stories, a rather comprehensive grasp of New Orleans history (architecture, politics and the genesis of “Dixie”) and the occasional shout out to and from the assorted musicians and tarot card readers set up in the streets. He pointed out that the pirate Jean Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop is kitty corner to the elementary, so the kids always know where to find their parents when school lets out. When our tour concluded, Paul dropped us off in front of Restaurant August. The door-to-door service was wonderful and we most assuredly overpaid but we were feeling great about the experience. It was a terrific way to begin the trip as we saw sights that we later came across in our wanderings and we remembered Paul’s stories, we also saw some things that we never found again – such as the wrought iron inspiration for the song “House of the Rising Sun.”

Our meal at Restaurant August was wonderful but unfortunately my notes were not terribly good and the meal has faded after several more days of wonderful meals. We thought the egg starter with caviar was either weird (DH) or yummy (me). I also have a strange note re “magic tonka beans” which I can’t really explain. We enjoyed a lovely bottle of L’Angevin. The blue crab gnocchi was as good as the various reviews said. I thought the “trout Pontchartrain” with jumbo lumb crab and wild mushrooms on top was amazing. DH tells me the duckling was good but has no editorial to add. We finished with the napoleon of nougatine.

After dinner, we took a cab to Frenchmen Street. I loved the big band sounds at Snug Harbor but we also enjoyed ourselves at The Spotted Cat listening to a small jug band, and we stopped in at Blue Nile and d.b.a. To the delight and envy of our friends, we posted several pictures on Facebook which set a pattern for the rest of the trip. This vacation was probably the best documented by us through social networking check-ins and posts.

I enjoyed my (pre-dinner) French Martini, wine (with dinner) and local Louisiana beer Abita (post-dinner) after a few more martinis; this first night proved to make the next morning a little less friendly. My advice - start off easy in the Big Easy. My favorite Abita brew was Turbodog, but the lager was good and generally available. We did not make it to Three Muses (our first night) but we learned that it is owned by a friend of a friend, so we determined we would make it back to Frenchmen before the trip was over (and because the music scene was really good).

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    Day 2

    After a quick workout in the rooftop gym (overlooking the city and the river), we made our way to Red Gravy (125 Camp Street). I was warned that it was quite popular and small, so there might be a line. But, when we arrived there were several tables available so we quickly settled in. I couldn’t decide what to order as it all looked tempting. I ultimately chose the pecan waffles with spiced pears and the oatmeal. DH ordered the French toast, served with really thick, gorgeous syrup. The waffle was delicious but the oatmeal was amazing. Cooked to order and mixed with coconut, dried fruits and a yummy carmelized topping. The table next to us raved about the meatballs.

    From Red Gravy, we walked to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (located at St. Louis and Basin). It was a gorgeous day and we wanted to walk off some of our breakfast. The area did get a little suspect as we got closer to the cemetery but we never felt uncomfortable. At the St. Louis visitor’s center, we met our guide, Brad from the Save Our Cemeteries non-profit group, and after a brief introduction to the geographical features of New Orleans and a history of the cemetery, we made out way over to St. Louis #1. Brad was very knowledgeable. We saw several large groups make their way through the cemetery and we were quite happy to have a personal tour. It lasted a little over an hour and was very interesting.

    After touring the cemetery, we walked back to Chartres Street for some shopping (blocks 200-800). We enjoyed the architecture (great balconies all dressed for Halloween), cute shops and galleries. I liked the Mardi Gras art and posters at Jamie Hayes gallery (we liked the blue jazzy cat) and DH enjoyed Faulkner House Books in Pirate Alley and the Gallery for Fine Photography. We picked up some candies at Laura’s Candies (glad we stopped here as Southern Candymakers had a huge line at the end of our trip and we sadly passed it by). I also picked up some lovely soaps, bath products and perfume at Hove (terrific little shop). I like the Tea Olive scent.

    After wandering a bit further, we returned to Muriel’s (801 Chartres) near Jackson Square for lunch. Lunch was delicious and very calm and relaxing. It is a lovely building and we were given a quiet little corner table. DH had a pork chop and I enjoyed Alligator Picante (we both started with a really good chicken soup - chicken broth with artichoke reduction, chicken, okra, wilted spinach). Great value too, at only $16.95 for soup and a meal.

    We next walked along Royal, took more pictures, shopped and took a break at Café Beignet (which our waiter at Muriel’s recommended as the local favorite). It was a perfect break for tired feet. The beignets were super hot and airy and yummy. I also enjoyed the small birds flying in and out of the cute little café. Apparently, they like the beignets here too.

    After a little more shopping and wandering the streets of the French Quarter, DH went back to the room for a work call and I made my way to the Bottom of the Cup Tea Room (327 Chartres) for a tarot card reading with Otis. I arrived a little early and chatted with the lady in front. She was having some difficulties finding a dustpan that had been misplaced while she was out. I said what she needed was a psychic. A few minutes later, while making my tea, she mentioned to another gal that she couldn’t find her dustpan. At which, the other replied “it is right there,” pointing to the dustpan. We all laughed because she was one of the psychics. My reading was interesting – all good. I am a pretty happy, easy read. No troubles surfaced but two things made it interesting – one, Otis records the session on a CD (I haven’t listened again but I probably will down the road) and two, in the middle of discussing something he stopped and seemingly off topic said (regarding my DH), “he needs to write,” which is what I have been saying for years. If nothing else, it was money well spent to have my opinions reaffirmed!

    Dinner that night was at Bayona (430 Dauphine Street). Susan Spicer was in the kitchen and graciously agreed to sign our menu. The restaurant is lovely and our small dining room was painted with muted tapestry-like murals of the (French?) countryside. The waitstaff was superb - very engaging, responsive and made terrific suggestions. As for the meal, it was great, straightforward flavors, nicely prepared, not at all fussy – I started with a goat cheese crouton and local market tomato/beet salad (one of my favorites of the trip), my main course was rabbit and I finished with a chocolate panna cotta. DH started with split pea soup, followed by the veal and finished with apple pandowdy (which he finished before I could even think to ask for a bite). We drank a Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, a perfect complement to the meal.

    That night we went to Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter). We bought VIP tickets in advance so we would have a seat secured and not wait in line. $30 for a 45 minute set and totally worth it. Before the set (and because we didn’t have to wait in line), we stopped in at Pat O’Brien’s next door and got a drink. What a place, definitely check it out – we liked the piano bar room which had seats available at 9 or so but was much more crowded when we stopped by after the set at Preservation Hall.

    Back to Preservation Hall - It was my favorite music experience of the trip. The hall is a small dark room and we were practically sitting with the band. The VIP seats (4 total) are on the side walls, with the remaining seating consisting of a few cushions on the floor in front, a couple of rows of benches and the rest is SRO but probably all good seats as the room was quite small. It was old time New Orleans jazz – The Tornado Brass Band - and the lead vocalist had such a sweet lazy river of a voice. I can still hear “Yes sir, that’s my baby” in my head. The horns were awesome too. Just a really great time.

    We walked Bourbon Street on the way home, which is a sight to see. More from Bourbon (“Big Ass Beers”) Street later in the trip.

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    A great report! You can write, you know what is important, and you make me want to eat all that food! I can't drink like that any more, but I have a good memory.

    Having a good local guide really adds an important dimension to one's experienc, even if it is expensive. I would rather scrimp on the hotel in the future than on food and a local guide.

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    Day 3

    While DH was sleeping in, I wandered the quiet early morning streets of the French Quarter making my way past linen deliveries, kitchen workers, and artists setting up in Jackson Square, to find myself at the world famous Café du Monde. As there were very few people, I settled into an outdoor table and was quickly served beignets and a hot chocolate. The beignets are a little smaller and denser than Café Beignet, drowning in powdered sugar and oh so good. I might have to try some more of both before declaring a winner. I especially loved dipping the beignet in the chocolate. I highly recommend an early morning arrival at Café du Monde – just sit back and enjoy the sounds and sites of a city waking up.

    We loved our morning meal at Brennan’s (417 Royal Street). The breakfast/brunch menu is expansive. We both ordered off the prix fixe menu, starting with double cream strawberries. I thought my salmon eggs benedict was amazing – the salmon was cooked perfectly and the poached eggs were the ideal mix of firm and runny. We finished with the Bananas Foster (first created at Brennan’s in 1951). What a show, what a dessert. I am surprised to report I finished mine completely. If the rest of the meal hadn’t been so good I would have said go just for the dessert, but it is all so good. A little note about our waiter too. He was very friendly, knowledgeable and made quite a good show of the Bananas Foster presentations. He also recommended SoBou when we asked whether to check it out. After further discussions, we decided to change our lunch from Cochon to SoBou. While he recommended Cochon for dinner, in his opinion lunch was more sandwich based and for the business crowd. I had wanted to try SoBou (as it was recently named one of the best new restaurants in the US by Esquire magazine). Showing that carefully planned itineraries can have flexibility, we made the change through Open Table and set off for our morning “walk-off-breakfast walk.”

    We walked our way over to Jackson Square to go to the museums and see the river (having decided to save the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for later in the trip). We never quite made it past all the shopping to actually go to a museum or see the river this morning. We spent a considerable amount of time at M. Rau antiques – amazing. It has pieces as good as I’ve seen in a museum – silver plates by Paul Revere, Tiffany sterling silverware sets, cut glass crystal, paintings, relics, furniture, and jewelry among other treasures. DH wanted to buy the 65 million year old dinosaur egg fossil, a bargain at $5,000 compared to the complete Tiffany silver set in a standing chest that I loved (priced around $400,000). The staff was quite welcoming of us even though it was highly unlikely we’d be making a purchase. Who knows, we might have been in the market for a small Rembrandt (also available for sale).

    We did buy some items elsewhere – on Royal Street. We bought some Mardi Gras masks for the kids at Mask (636 Royal) (definitely the store I will order from the next time I need a carnival mask). I also selected a small antique ring at Moss Antiques (411 Royal). I wanted to buy much more from their collection of jewelry, small house items and furniture – lovely collection and great service. But I am glad I didn’t because a few blocks later, DH and I both fell in love with a small original pen and ink by Alex Beard. Alex has a studio/gallery right off Jackson Square (712 Royal). Most of his art is bright, colorful animals. He is also a children’s book illustrator. He offers originals and commissioned work, but apparently does brisk business with reproductions that he then personalizes by extending the pictures into the mattes and adding little details. Alex was working in the shop when we visited. We really enjoyed talking with him and his sales partner. We stayed for a bit sharing personal stories of travel (if you see him, ask about his adventures buying the floor rug in his space).

    On the topic of shopping, one of my other favorite purchases from the trip was a hand loomed custom rug from Louisiana Loom Works (616 Chartres). This shop was not on my list to visit but I am so glad we wandered in. The owner spent time explaining the process of looming, how she selects the threads and fabrics, and the limited supply of fabric remnants available in the US (as manufacturing has moved overseas). I ended up buying a beautiful blue/beige rug that fits my office perfectly (I also ran into a doctor – perhaps one of the plastic surgeons from the convention - selecting a few for his office too). She also does custom work where you can send her the colors you are looking to match and she’ll create art in a rug (that’s machine washable too!) I love finding artisans on my travels, passionate about their craft and willing to share with you. Even if you are not in the market for a rug, wander in, pet the cats and appreciate the artistry.

    Time to eat again – lunch at SoBou was just right. We sat in the corner and ordered the Cochon de lait Gumbo because the waiter highly recommended it and the couple next to us raved about their gumbo, so we dubbed our little part of the restaurant “Gumbo Corner.” We all happily ate the delicious gumbo served the way the chef’s mama serves it – with a scoop of warm potato salad in the middle. And, I got the bay leaf – which in my family is a sign of good fortune to come (just don’t eat it). I also loved the Chicory shake chaser that came with the Chocolate Coma Bar but the dessert itself was only so-so.

    After lunch, DH and I split up…he headed to the World War II museum and I headed off to the New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis Street, between Decatur and Chartres Streets). I had a terrific time at the cooking school. The teacher was very funny – he shared lots of information about the history of New Orleans and its impact on the food. The food preparation (gumbo, jambalaya and pralines) was fun to watch and even more fun to eat. They also served Abita beer, adding a little more fun to the event (and probably loosening wallets a bit in the adjacent store). I definitely recommend. DH also thought the museum was very interesting but remarked that it might be a bit much for the kids. For us, it was a great way to pursue separate interests and provide stories to share over dinner. Is it time to eat again? Of course it is: we are in New Orleans.

    Friday early evening (5:30 or so), dressed up for dinner at Galatoire’s. More coming....

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    We were at Preservation Hall on Sunday 4th Nov, we thought about the VIP tickets but decided to brave the queue. We waited 30 minutes or so for the 9pm set. We loved it also.

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    Friday early evening (5:30 or so), we are dressed up for dinner at Galatorie’s. One of my favorite experience’s of the trip. The dining room is one large room with high ceilings, antique lighting fixtures and mirrors on the walls. This feeling of “ballroom turned dining hall” is a notable feature as I think it is in part responsible for the bonhomie. The other is the feel of tradition (Galatoire’s has been in New Orleans for over 100 years). We had the sense that many of the tables were long-time guests hosting close family and friends with something to celebrate. The room echoed with laughter and was full by 6:15. The good-natured feeling was infectious and soon we too were having the best time. My Facebook post from Galatoire’s: "I'm getting the impression that New Orleans is a city that likes to party.” The food was classic and prepared very well. We loved the Soufflé Potatoes which we ordered after seeing another table served several plates of them. The French bread was warm and crusty (several servings of bread disappeared as well). I enjoyed the Crab Maison (starter salad, lovely with mustard seed) and Duck and Andouille Sausage Gumbo. DH ordered the Crab Au Gratin for his main. We enjoyed a lovely bottle of Chardonnay and skipped dessert as we planned to go to Emeril’s later for the Banana Cream Pie.

    Emeril’s (800 Tchoupitoulas St.) was fine but reminded us a little too much of nice restaurants in any city, including our own. We were a little deflated after the ambience of Galatoire’s and maybe a bit full and tired. This was perhaps not my best idea of the trip. We ordered another bottle of wine and settled in for our second dinner. I loved the French bread, disliked the blonde gumbo and thought the Banana Cream Pie was among the best I’d had. At this point, we were ready to return to Frenchmen Street.

    Frenchmen felt like a block party. The sidewalks were filled with people and hawkers. Want a poem written? Several aspiring writers were set up with old-school typewriters ready to write an ode in your honor. How about getting your fortune? You had your choice of Tarot card readers, palm readers, and psychics. I think I saw someone with a parrot on his shoulder. There was an open-air arts and craft market going strong around 11:00 p.m., and several food vendors set up on the sidewalks (no room for food trucks). Every club was crowded. We started the night at Three Muses but never did find the friend of a friend who owns it. Snug Harbor was between sets so we didn’t stay long. We settled in for a while at Blue Nile which was featuring Soul Rebel - a 9 piece jazz funk brass band that I quite enjoyed. After much dancing and drinking, the evening finally began to wear thin and being well past my normal bedtime, it was time to head back to the hotel.

    We decided to walk, as the streets were still pretty crowded and traffic was slow. We ended up taking a couple of wrong turns at DH’s suggestion, which sent us the long, long way home. My DH blamed the two “scotch & whiskeys” he had recently consumed. I think he meant “Scotch and Sevens,” but I teased him anyway for the rest of the walk and trip. Lesson learned: don’t trust navigation to the guy who has had two “scotch & whiskeys.” Along the way, though, we walked through a quiet little section of older homes that looked quite lovely in the dark. We also stopped in at Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop. I wish we had been a little less tired as the place looked fun – a piano player was singing “Sweet Caroline” in the back of the bar.

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    Day 4

    Morning came early for me. Letting DH sleep-in, I took the opportunity to visit the rooftop gym again and head to Croissant D’Or (617 Ursulines Street). There were several people in line and at the tables. I know others have recommended the café as among their favorites, but I wasn’t all that impressed with my croissants and tea latte. So, I stopped at Café Beignet on the walk back and very much enjoyed a piping hot beignet – made all the more nice because the weather had turned dramatically cold after several days of warm sunshine.

    We began our Garden District day with brunch at Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave). Another don’t-miss opportunity. Jazz brunch is a rather festive affair with balloons and Bellinis. We had a table upstairs with a window looking out on the neighbor’s yard, but most of our attention was drawn inward by a wonderful jazz trio. We both loved our food. I started with a classic – turtle soup – and DH enjoyed a dish called “Bacon and Eggs.” For mains, I ordered Eggs Cochon du lait – fabulous – and DH ordered the Laquered Quail. We both thought our dish was the better one. I am sure we ordered dessert as well, but no notes and can’t recall. Our waiters were great. They were very attentive, made great suggestions. They even got our menus signed and made a little paper chef’s hat for us to carry them in (which DH so enjoyed doing the rest of the day).

    From breakfast, we mostly followed a guidebook walking tour of some Garden District homes – Musson-Bell House, Robinson House, Davis House, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (viewed from across the street), and other beautiful houses on Prytania. We made the obligatory stop at Anne Rice’s house, along with other vans full of tourists.

    It was cold out so we didn’t linger long on our house walk but made our way over to Magazine Street for some shopping. Having already walked quite a distance, we were debating getting in a cab to cover a little more ground, but after a restorative stop at Starbucks we just kept walking. Our shopping highlights – chocolates from Sucre (3025 Magazine Street, great place, be sure to stop for a treat) and jewelry at Mignon Faget (3801 Magazine), which I later learned was a favorite of many New Orleans ladies. I will likely be ordering again from both as they have online catalogues.

    After quite a bit more walking, we found our way to the Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles) for a pre-dinner cocktail. Founded in 1883, the hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places. We settled into our dark corner of the bar, rested our very tired feet and ordered drinks and a very unimaginative fruit and cheese plate. I tried a Sazerac – the city’s official cocktail. It was pretty good but I couldn’t imagine finishing it and ordered a diet coke instead. The hotel was hosting a wedding on its front lawn so we didn’t sit out on the porch overlooking St. Charles and the streetcar line. It was pretty cold anyway and we were cozy in the bar. After drinks, we tried to hail a cab. The St. Charles Streetcar would have made the most sense but the line was undergoing construction work and you had to transfer to a bus a few blocks up. No cabs. However, DH managed to accidentally flag down a U.S Postal Service minivan. (I told him that his eyesight might have been affected by the scotch and whiskey he had at Columns.) We finally made our way to another hotel and asked them to please call a cab for us.

    We started our evening at Bombay Club (830 Conti St.) for drinks and some jazz piano. The club has a really nice atmosphere and I can definitely see coming back here. The piano player had a lovely voice and was very enjoyable to watch. He even took a request – “Someone to Watch Over Me.” After a few songs, we made our way to R’Evolution (777 Bienville Street) for dinner. I have mixed feelings about this restaurant – we were made to wait more than 20 minutes for our table even though we arrived on time, and then the service was inconsistent. But, our corner booth table was very comfy and the room was lovely. More importantly, the food was really really good. We started with a chef’s bite – a yummy carrot/clementine chilled shooter. I loved my Raw Salad starter featuring market vegetables and the most amazing dressing. DH ordered the recommended crab beignets and we debated over which dipping sauce was the best. DH thought his Braised Boneless Short Ribs were great and while I didn’t love my Paneed Veal, the warm crabmeat salad on top was terrific. We also much enjoyed a Willa Kenzie Pinot Noir. My favorite dessert of the trip was here - the Banana Foster Soufflé, which I ordered early (it being a soufflé and all). The waiter, however, forgot to come back with a dessert menu for DH (maybe he thought we were going to share the soufflé, which only shows how little he knows of our dining habits – why share when you can try two?). DH ordered the Turbodog Stout Chocolate Cake. We also loved and finished off most of the box of Chocolate Treasures brought at the end of the meal with a cup of tea.

    Tonight we returned to Bourbon Street for people and spectacle watching. Inasmuch as it was the Saturday night before Halloween, the streets were filled with all manner of costumed characters (or maybe this is normal for Bourbon street; hard to tell). Many of the costumes cannot be described on a public forum but gave us a good laugh. One woman we met earlier in the trip explained that New Orleans likes to dress up. People have trunks of dress-up clothes, costumes, and hats and they just pull something together. It doesn’t have to make sense, just be festive.

    We marveled at the balconies filled with partygoers, throwing beads down on the crowds. The signs – “Big Ass Beers,” “Three for Everything”; the “dancers” in the windows and doorways; the creative efforts made to lure you into a bar or club, to join the party already well underway. What a scene – part fraternity party, part tawdry affair, mostly good-natured and really crowded.

    On the recommendation of our waiter at Brennan’s, we made our way to the Foundation Room of the House of Blues for a special Halloween party featuring some band and a stepper – but it wasn’t really for us and we left shortly after arriving. The Vampire Ball downstairs looked intriguing as well but we made our way home instead. I think the long days and nights were starting to take their toll.

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    One more day still to come, hopefully this weekend I can wrap up the trip.

    Nelsonian - I agree Preservation Hall is great and people should go in whatever manner they can - sit on the floor, grab a drink next door, whatever works.

    SF7307 - I have been busy trying to think of other places in my house for another rug, just because I want another one. They are such fun and really warm up a space.

    Ackislander, Lookin_glass, and Andeesue - thank you for your kind words. I don't always write a trip report, but I received so many good ideas and really wanted to give back to the forum. And, it gave me a chance to remember so many great meals and experiences.

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    I love reading this trip report! You have managed to capture all the things I love about New Orleans...food, music, shopping, lovely old homes...and remind me that I need to go back NOW! I had convinced myself that frequent trips to Charleston, SC could satisfy my foodie/shopping/history jones, but your report reminds me that only NOLA is the true cure. Great report! :)

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    Day 5

    Another early morning walk over to Café du Monde. My favorite memory of this walk was crossing paths with some costumed characters just making their way home from last night’s party. Classic.

    Café du Monde was still setting up for the day, so I joined a dozen or so people inside, read a book and enjoyed my beignets and chocolate.

    This morning we crossed the street from our hotel and enjoyed a wonderful brunch at Mr. B’s Bistro (201 Royal). This was another champagne, balloons and jazz kind of morning affair. I loved the atmosphere, and our waiter was great. Unfortunately the jazz trio never quite made it to our side of the restaurant but the food more than made up for this failing. Another wonderful brunch featuring eggs benedict – I know gumbo and po’boys get all the attention but boy can this city put out a perfect eggs benedict. I finished with the chocolate profiteroles – yummy, but didn’t blow me away. We really enjoyed our morning here and would return. Brunch at Mr. B’s was the ideal way to start our last day in the city, not far from the hotel, festive but easy.

    Our game plan today - visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, see the river and pick up souvenirs for friends and family. As was now our established pattern, we took our “walk off breakfast” and walked the 8 blocks or so to the Ogden. I really enjoyed this little gem of a museum. Folks are right, it doesn’t really need more than a couple hours and it helps if you have a little knowledge as to what you want to see. The lovely young woman in the gift shop identified her favorite sections and so we set out. Two exhibits of note – a powerful series of photographs of hollow dwellers of eastern Kentucky taken by Shelby Lee Adams. The other was a collection of portraits painted by Michael J. Deas. Deas is well known for his postage stamp portraits of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean among others and his commissioned redesign of the Columbia Pictures logo – this painting is really quite striking and just fun to see. My imagination was sparked by George Rodrigue's Aioli Dinner (1971). He is better known (famous really) for his Blue Dog series, which you can see in his French Quarter gallery (730 Royal) and at the Sheraton on Canal if you happen to need to feed a Starbucks addiction like me. The painting was based on photographs of a gourmet dinner club, the Creole Gourmet Society: a monthly tradition of men gathering for a 6-hour meal cooked by their wives and served by their sons. Each is pictured with his own bottle of wine. Nice (for the men).

    After the museum, we thought we’d walk toward the river to see what there was to see. Well, we saw Riverwalk, the Aquarium, and some cool warehouse buildings and we walked some more. We finally got as far as the Casino and decided to hail a cab to Café du Monde. My early morning ventures meant that DH had not yet gone and I was excited to share the experience.

    When we arrived at Café du Monde, it was as if a cruise ship full of tourists had docked and raced over to my quiet little café. The line was ridiculous. People were everywhere! Some street performers (of the manner most frequently observed in New York City and Venice Beach) had gathered quite a crowd on the steps nearby watching their acrobatics, such as walking on their hands up and down the stairs. We made our way over to the river instead. A lone sax player was playing to the few milling tourists. An accordion player just happened along and joined in with the sax player. A train rumbled by. A riverboat ambled along. A cruise ship was, indeed, anchored in port. Just another morning on the river. With pictures taken and more to see and do, we moved on.

    Jackson Square and Decatur were really crowded this morning. We realized this was our first weekend day in the French Quarter as we had spent the previous day in the Garden District. Little did I know what a good plan it was to focus my French Quarter wanderings on the weekdays and early mornings. We stopped in a few crowded tourist shops for beads and t-shirts for the kids, visited the Christmas store (as I have a soft spot for Christmas ornaments from our travels), returned to the New Orleans School of Cooking for “fresh made on the premises” pralines for my colleagues at work, and picked up a couple of boxes of beignet mix (which cooks up very well, as we learned this morning; this trip report really had me wanting a beignet).

    We stopped for a while to watch the activity in Jackson Square. A juggler had attracted a small crowd but it was hard to compete with so many other things to catch the eye – artists with works hanging on the wrought iron fence of the park, the Cathedral, the palm/tarot/bone readers with hand drawn cardboard signs and worn tablecloths. The background sounds of a jazz band somewhere supplied the soundtrack while various other musicians scattered at reasonable distances around the square tuned up, power-napped, or chatted.

    I planned a late lunch today at Camellia’s Grill. Several books and forum contributors had recommended the one at the end of the St. Charles Streetcar line but inasmuch as the line was undergoing construction, I opted for the grill recently opened (2010) in the French Quarter (540 Chartres). From online reports, it looks like its cousin in Uptown and I imagine the food is the same as well. We ordered burgers “all dressed up” (a very good burger), fries (one order would have been enough) and a chocolate freeze (not to be confused with shakes because I really don’t think any ice-cream is used, though we imagined they might be good on a hot muggy day). We loved watching the waiter interact (yell at) the chef at the grill. Maybe a better burger is available at Snug Harbor or elsewhere in the FQ but we really enjoyed the experience and the burger at Camellia’s Grill.

    Running short on time and done packing and shopping and, dare I say it, eating, we decided to visit the Louisiana State Museum to view a Mardi Gras exhibit. This fascinating exhibit highlighted the history and traditions of Mardi Gras – the krewes, the balls, the parades and the costumes. In stark contrast, we also toured the museum’s Katrina exhibit, which was very well done. Both sobering, seeing what devastation nature can bring, and hopeful, reading the stories of resilience and regrowth.

    And with that final stop, our time in New Orleans came to an end. It was time to head to the airport.

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    Thank you Rich and BetsyinKY. Now I just need to figure out when we can get back there. I'm thinking a Christmas trip sounds nice, but probably not this year. I may need to practice what I learned at the New Orleans School of Cooking if I want some gumbo!

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    Thanks AnnMarie. Have a great trip! Some lessons learned from our trip: do brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. If you are watching calories (a shame really in a city like New Orleans), opt for beignets instead of dessert. Or, do both and just walk alot. Frenchmen is great for music but so are some of the local FQ lounges such as Bombay Club (and others have mentioned Sonestra hotel). Spend a little time on Bourbon just to experience it. Be sure to go to Galatoire's and Commander's Palace to celebrate (anything). And, definitely go to Preservation Hall. Cheers!

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