Coming to NOLA I was so curious and excited to explore and that included doing something JDT and I love to do, EAT! I really wanted to explore from fine ding to truly hole in the wall dives. From traditional NOLA fare to the edges of other cuisines. From the well established to the new and daring. AND to a large degree we have been wildly successful. We remarked to each other that we had cooked very little while in NOLA. This is crazy different to our experience in Brooklyn. This is 180 degrees polar opposite to our life in Walnut Creek.
Last night we dined at (another) NOLA institution, Irene’s. I have dined there three times over the many years and frankly always left underwhelmed. Yes, the food was good, even very good in some items. Yet underwhelmed. Over the years they have changed locations, not unusual for NOLA. I’d never been to their new location on Bienville between Decatur and Chartres. It certainly is an upgrade to the whole experience. Upon arrival we were seated in one of the dining rooms next to the back patio. We tend to dine early. If you must, call it a late lunch. We got there right at 5. The only other people in the area were a young woman and what seemed to be her young (5ish) daughter. Our waiter came up, introduced himself (Michael) and did an excellent job of setting the tone for a wonderful great experience to follow. We ordered cocktails (hmmm, maybe this contributes to my dizziness – damn!). The young woman and daughter (?) proceeded to get up and leave. JDT then asked the young woman a question as they walked by, “Is she 5 or 6?” She responded “6”. JDT then said “I could tell, I taught first grade for a LONG time”. The young woman took a couple steps further, then handed JDT a piece of paper and asked her a question about some vocabulary “they” were working on when we arrived. As all of this was happening the waiter reappeared. And what we learned, in a matter of two minutes, was that he was a single Dad (HIS daughter) and that this must be his girlfriend (learned this when he said love you to THEM as they left). JDT’s simple two sentence “investment of herself” led to us getting to know Michael over the course of the evening. I learned a TON. AND he helped me figure something out and gain a new perspective. I, and perhaps we, take for granted the many bounties of Walnut Creek and the Bay Area. Among those is something I had never really thought about, or considered, regarding dining. We got to the final stages of our meal and Michael asked us about dessert. Our pat answer is, “It doesn’t hurt to look”. Michael told us there was no dessert menu, that he would tell us the dessert options. BTW, I really like this. It creates communication. After we went through the “all too familiar”, even cliche desserts. My frustration emerged and I said, “why no seasonality, or freshness to what appeared to me common dessert list among all fine dining in NOLA?” And his answer was the prize. He had learned we were from the Bay Area (short conversation about Cioppino) and he said the Bay Area restaurant scene had evolved to that state and that NOLA lagged in that area.