Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Big Easy, Part II

Yes, I did mean to post this while we were still in New Orleans, but so it goes!

Last night A and I did some scandalous shopping and bought a mask or two... in addition to the ones we already had. I woke up at 6 in the morning and made good use of the almost empty fitness room before taking a quick shower and making it down to breakfast just after 7:30. Some cheese grits and a healthy helping of fruit with fresh grapefruit juice set us up nicely for a morning of talks. Three hours later, without any talks of interest to us, we set back out into the Quarter for some lunch. We ended up at ACME Oysterhouse.

In line outside.
The lighting is mostly neon.
 A and I split a dozen grilled oysters and an order of fried crawfish tails. I got a hush puppy side, she got jambalaya. Her jambalaya was my favorite of all the ones we sampled on the trip. Other A ordered the crayfish po-boy. The oysters arrived swimming in a plate-sized pool of butter and cheesy oil with plenty of the soft "French" bread to soak it up. Blech. But they were delicious.

Hush puppies, crawfish and jambalaya
Oysters in their greasy glory

I promised the grill chef I wouldn't take a headshot so the Feds couldn't find him. Seriously. He asked me not to.
After making a valiant attempt at finishing all the fried food, we dragged our stuffed selves deeper into the Quarter in the sweltering midday sun to pick up some more masks. Yes, we went mask shopping again. No, I don't have a mask problem. Other A wanted to get one for his wife. A and I were just... helping him out... by buying some with him...

This is when I discovered that New Orleans has some serious masks. I mean intense masks, not like your dollar store flimsy elastic band cheap-o masks that make you look like an owl on ecstasy. We're talking masks with feather trains three feet high in the air. THREE FEET. Not very practical, unless you are already very short. Unfortunately, all the really pretty ones were also maddeningly expensive. I fell in love with some of the handmade masks made out of leather and wrought metal which were, of course, over $100 apiece. If I was in the business of attending weekly masquerade parties, I would have invested. But it does make me wonder: what occasion precipitates wearing designer masks?

Gold masks. Actually made out of gold.
Crazy ornate masks
Painted leather masks
I could use it as a decoration, you say? No thanks. That's just creepy. I don't want masks hanging on my wall staring at me with their empty eye holes.

We made it back to the conference for a full afternoon of talks, then headed back out to the Quarter for dinner with the PI and Dr. B, one of our collaborators. The PI had gone out running in the morning as he does every day regardless of where we are and what the weather conditions are. He found a place that did crayfish and crab boils by the waterfront and was set on indulging in this regional delicacy. I can't remember the name of this place for the life of me, but it was next to this other outdoor eatery:

If you're ever looking for it, print this picture and go for a walk.

We ordered two platters of the crayfish and a crab each. Lacking the foresight to understand how much food this would be, we also each ordered an entree. I got the jambalaya again, thinking of it as research so I could reproduce an authentic version for John.

The sample boil. It was in front of the street, so I assume they never use it for cooking.  I could be wrong.
I ordered a beer, sampling arguably the other half of the New Orleans craft scene. It's tough for a beer to be bad with a seafood boil. This one hit the spot.

Abita Amber. It was this, Heineken or sweet tea.
Crayfish. Spicy.
Platter o' crabs
My jambalaya. Not the best I've had. Not a fan of the sauce.
...the carnage.
A's shrimp gumbo was the best I've ever tasted, which arguably doesn't say much. I barely made a dent in my jambalaya, allowing Other A and the PI to polish it off. Which they did. Easily. I am continually amazed at how much food my PI can put away. We swung by Cafe Du Monde on the walk back and Dr. B treated us to some beignets and coffee. That place is a swinging, powdery mess, even well after dark.

The next morning we packed and checked out, dragging our bags down to the conference for our final day. A and I hit the tea and fresh fruit pretty heavily for breakfast. We met up with one of Other A's friends and her family for lunch after making a quick stop at a gift shop to pick up pecan logs, pralines and Cajun seasoning. Never buy Cajun seasoning. When I got home later that night I realized I had purchased a $5 tube of salt, pepper and garlic. I ordered blackened swordfish with vegetables for lunch, but the fish steak was rubbery and the vegetables consisted of zucchini and summer squash overcooked in a butter bath. No need to share the pictures. We each bought a hat from Meyer The Hatter's before heading back for the final conference session. A picked out a retro putty-colored Kangol that I am now regretting not also getting in blue. When I go back, this is the first thing I will do.

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