Friday, November 20, 2009

New Orleans Day 5

It is my humble opinion that New Orleans has some of the best food (and by extension, chefs) in the country.  I had the honor and privilege of spending my last day in the city with two of the city's best:  Susan Spicer and Donald Link.

First stop was Cochon.  This restaurant is only a few years old, but feels like it's been there forever.  Maybe that's because Chef Link's family has been making and smoking sausages for generations.  He has taken this legacy to new heights with this pork palace.  Not everything on the menu is charcuterie (there are great salads, soups, seafood, etc.) but I one would be remiss if they didn't sample the house made boudin, sausages, terrines, or any number of creations being made in the back of the restaurant.  He also has The Butcher, a retail shop displaying and selling many of the treats being crafted there.  Among the many meaty offerings, there are also mustards, hot sauces, books, sides, etc. to peruse, sample and purchase.  A carnivore's heaven.

I had a fantastic time touring the kitchens, dining areas, and butcher shop.  Chef Link and his chef/partner Stephen Stryjewski put together a spread of deliciousness that I plundered for lunch.  Then I waddled out the door in search of some more food.

Next stop was Bayona.  Susan Spicer is the incredibly humble and sweet proprietor of this legendary restaurant.  The place is small.  The kitchen is really small.  I couldn't find a place to stand where I wasn't in someone's way.  You can see what the years have done to the tiny space.  It felt like I was back in my 15+ year old kitchen.  But a customer in this quaint little house in the French Quarter would never know that the food wasn't made in a brand new massive high end test kitchen.  The dishes are simple yet perfect.  Nothing is in the wrong place, nothing is added for flair, and everything is prepared with care and precision.  The flavors are true and addictive.  It's a reminder for me that the simplest food can often be the best.  It must be made by someone who has the experience and the confidence to really let the ingredients shine.  I was so happy to have seen this first-hand.  And I want to spend every day with Susan!

Over?  Not even close.  Now it's time to see another of John Besh's new joints, Domenica.  It was everything Bayona wasn't:  big, shiny, showy and loud.  The place was packed.  It sits in the newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel which is a must-see for anyone spending a little time in the city.  It feels old and new at the same time and it is very very luxurious.  Alon Shaya is the young chef in charge of the kitchen and his years of experience (and working with Besh) show in this Italian masterpiece.  We stuffed ourselves once again and enjoyed the people-watching.

To settle the food of the day, I decided a little time in Harrah's was in order.  We had some fun, some good laughs and looked back on the week.  I am so happy to have made this trip.  New Orleans is one of my favorite places to be and I can't wait to make it back again...

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