Tales, alas, is more or less over by Sunday. But we don't leave until Monday, and that means we get to have one more amazing New Orleans day. In fact, it's been kind of sad we haven't taken advantage of the breakfasts this too-generous town has to offer, for the most part. So today we do, wandering into the CBD.
What's a CBD, you ask? The Central Business District, which from the Monteleone out the Quarter is really only a few blocks across Canal, but it's a very different world. For of the three words that make up CBD, one I'm neutral about, but the first two aren't usually things that give me warm feelies. Still, there's some cool stuff that-a-way. Like the Ruby Slipper Cafe, a little southern mini-chain, but also mostly delectable. Or make that liquid-able, as you can see here.
We simply did not have enough Bloodys this trip, but if that's the worst thing you can say about a trip.... Bacon in them is a good idea. (Bacon in your socks might be a good idea. Go, bacon!) And is there anything more pleasing than a pickled green bean, it's flat flavor lifted by vinegar and salt? You do want the BBQ shrimp and grits. The special I had with a biscuit proved that horrible biscuit conundrum--too often the reality of biscuit never matches the biscuit dream. Still, a fine spot.
And while the CBD tends to have more new buildings, more late 20th century hotel, more of less interest, there's still spots like this, as you never escape New Orleans no matter where you are in it. That's part of its magic.
Before we headed out to be poetic, we had to hit a place across the street from the Bienville House that had intrigued us (we are easy)--Evangeline. We don't need anything, don't want much, but it's New Orleans, temptress, and vacation, idealization, and a gorgeous spot, easily romanced. The bartender, sort of a blond Julianne Moore, chats a lot, sells us beers. I get a Southern Prohibition Brewing Mississippi Fire Ant Imperial Red Ale, lots of caramel-rich malt with plenty of hops to balance. Chryss gets the Tin Roof Watermelon Wheat, a special that ends up in a can (a bit of a surprise), but still super refreshing and not too sweet given, well, watermelon.
So. This coming afternoon, thanks to our friends Melinda and Steve from Liuzza's day, we're going to be featured readers at the Maple Leaf Bar. That means Chryss needs a pedicure. (You do know how poetry works, don't you?) While she does that, I wander about and end up at the last Monteleone event, Ya-Ka-Mein by Miss Linda. I won't be able to do Ya-Ka-Mein justice in a couple of sentences, as it's a culture clash of deliciously epic proportions, and has many varieties and proponents. Miss Linda is particularly famous as she's been on national TV (thanks, Chopped!), and her mix was brilliantly spicy without any overpowering hot, and deep deep deep. It certainly packed a flavor punch that helped wash away the rest of the week, so seemed perfect as the food for the Sunday blessing.
OK, then the poetry, you don't need to know a lot about. I read, Chryss read better, there was open mic. It was a crazy honor to be part of this, since this event is the longest continuously running poetry reading series in North America. All props to Nancy Harris who runs it now, weekly. (Do you know what it means to run a weekly poetry series?) I also didn't realize, as I go into that weird fugue state of "oh shit I'm reading poems soon," that one of the audience members was Rodney Jones, one of my favorite poets--tell me this isn't one of the best poems ever. I am forever grateful I didn't realize who I was introduced to before the reading. I hope I didn't offend you, Rodney, with my poems.
After the event Chryss, Nancy, Melinda, Steve, and I all went to one of New Orleans' long-standing best neighborhood spots--Upperline--for dinner. Even better, since Melinda calls ahead, seems to be a bit of a semi-regular, and stresses our Santa Barbara ties, we get sat next to a haunting bayou photograph by Louisiana native/Santa Barbara resident Nell Campbell. That she took the photographs at our wedding certainly makes us feel a bit more welcome than most restaurants could. Restaurateur JoAnn Clevenger goes on and on about Nell, and we completely understand.
And if that perfect bonding welcome wasn't enough, there was the food. Not that everything can't be lovely here, a place that invented the now standard Creole dish fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade (be sure you read that deliciousness really slowly--go back if you have to), but it was also Garlic Fest. Rule 1 of Garlic Fest: everyone must partake of Garlic Fest. Luckily, we met that rule.
There were special martinis, made with things like Dorothy Parker gin (see this day's entry). Then delights like heirloom tomato gazpacho with crab guacamole and garlic crisps--as flavorful as something that light and refreshing could be--and spicy shrimp with jalapeno cornbread and aioli--and those are just course one. For mains Chryss had eggplant and creole squash shrimp boats a la Muddy Waters, which involved the lightest flash fry, very summer eggplants and squash, and perfect shrimp. And I, well, I might have had my favorite duck dish ever. Skin crispy/crunchy, fat rendered, meat tender and not the slightest bit over-cooked. And then the sauce, a port-garlic brilliance I might wear as a cologne. You also get a little cast iron pan of luscious yam-meets-pecan side with that. I so want more right now.
There is still an ice cream sundae with garlic roasted in honey, and that oddly works. Nancy gets a Brandy Alexander as her dessert, and that's so New Orleans. This couldn't be a better last night dinner to celebrate both the brilliance, taste, and extravagance of the week of Tales.
We get back to the Quarter, realize it's our last night, and go out again as it's not too late and, hey, it's the last night! One stop is at the Bombay Club, home of a gazillion martinis, and we fall in love with their coupes and like their drinks too; if you get this The Bombay Club Martini, it's made with Old Raj Gin, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Luxardo, Maraschino Liqueur, and Regans’ Orange Bitters, with an orange twist and tastes a tad sweet for something martini-esque but looks lovely like this:
And, of course, as our last night in town we have to go to the Carousel Bar one last time. This time we get to ride the carousel itself, slowly circling our friends the barkeeps. It's still surprisingly lively, as just enough of the tails of Tales are kicking about. But this ride is about history, about so much aboutness--the words, the proof, the taste, the forgotten, the made up and re-remembered and the joy that our lives are the fictions we get to tell, even if they happened, almost just like that. I promise you the truth, if you just buy the next round.