Monday, March 20, 2006

A Big Time in the Big Easy, Part 2

The saga from this past weekend continues...

The food
As I've said before, food is one of the really special things about New Orleans, and we were able to sample a decent amount of it for the short time that I was there. Friday night after the concert, we wasted no time heading out to the West Bank and the nearest location of Copeland's that I had found on the Web. I had missed it during my past two attempts--in '04 on the New Orleans Bowl trip, when they closed an hour earlier than we'd been told on the phone, and this past year's birthday, when the Dallas outlet had shut its doors. Since the hurricane, the St. Charles Avenue location has yet to reopen, but the great food was worth the extra drive across the Mississippi to the Harvey outlet.

We had been concerned that perhaps we would just miss them being open, as it was a bit after ten when we arrived, but not a chance--the place was still very much abuzz, and we got a table within five minutes or so. They've combined their seafood and steakhouse menus into one gargantuan offering that's around the size of a coffee-table book, but I was only looking for one thing: Grilled Fish Copeland. It's been my birthday dinner of choice for well over a decade now, so I was happy to at least get it some nine months too late this time. There was a minor panic when I couldn't find it on the menu, but thankfully, it had only been renamed (it's "grilled farm redfish" or something like that now). The famous biscuits (shared with Copeland's corporate cousin, Popeye's) were no longer included, but the "smashed" potatoes and the shrimp-filled Lacombe sauce made it a meal to be savored (and, at twenty bucks a plate, that savoring won't happen all that often--but certainly as often as I visit New Orleans, at any rate). This was the one place we had to visit while I was there, so the first night was already a success.

On Saturday, after the Mintzer concert, we went to a great little Thai place called the Basil Leaf on Carrollton Avenue. I had something called Phat Thai (which is not pronounced like you'd think, yo) and it was absolutely delicious. Evidently it's considered the "national dish of Thailand," and it contains things like shrimp, chicken and bean sprouts on a bed of rice noodles (one recipe may be found here). It was a little pricier than some of the places I go, but, like most Asian food, the portions were quite generous. Everyone at the table got to try some of the desserts as well, and both the traditional (turtle cheesecake) and the exotic (mangoes and sticky rice) were amazing. This is definitely a place I'll visit again when I'm down there.

And yes, this was the place where one of my fellow diners included Bob Mintzer. I was talking with him a bit after the concert, and we were soon joined by the jazz director's wife and eventually Jordan as well. When the director himself was done putting everything away, he asked if Jordan and I would like to join the three of them for dinner, so we jumped at the chance. While I'd gotten to talk with Bob briefly at a Yellowjackets concert in Ft. Worth a while back, it was great to spend a good deal of time in his company. He's definitely a down-to-earth guy--nice as can be, doing work that he loves which just happens to take him all over the world in the process (his itinerary between now and the Addison festival in a few weeks is almost dizzying). Sure, he had some great stories, but the coolest thing was just discovering that one of the people in jazz whom I really look up to is equally admirable as a human being.

OK--back to food. Of course, we topped off Saturday night with a trip to the Cafe du Monde for some of their excellent coffee and famous beignets. The French Quarter was quite crowded, and we had to park quite a ways away from the French Market area, but it was worth the walk, and it was good to know that the most famous part of down is definitely "open for business" again after Katrina. The food was great, and, as usual, the people were sometimes pretty colorful in there (at one point, a shouting match broke out across the patio, and I think it was an employee doing most of the shouting). In other words, things are just as they're meant to be.

Wow, this post is becoming gargantuan; I'll save the music portion for Part 3.

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