In October 1994, I traveled to New Orleans for the first and only time. I had an editorial board meeting and dinner to host, so Mr. Tangerine and I made a company-subsidized vacation out of it.
It was Halloween that Monday when we were there, so we went to a dime store in search of quasi-costumes; we chose felt jester hats with bells. We still have the hats, though the bells are long gone; Ben actually pulled one out for dress-up this morning. Walking the tourist route through the French Quarter, fighting the congestion (both on the streets and in my sinuses—I had a nasty cold), we stopped at a to-go bar (a refreshing difference from Chicago with its ban on open containers of alcohol). On the bar TVs, we saw the Bears playing the Packers in a cold downpour back in Chicago, and we were delighted to be enjoying the Louisiana warmth and clear skies. (The Packers pounded the Bears, much to Mr. Tangerine’s delight.) Bourbon Street on Halloween was nuts—hordes of people, crazy costumes, partying and dancing in the street. I imagine it held but a fraction of the decadence of Mardi Gras.
We’d booked a table at NOLA, which I think was Emeril’s first restaurant there, but cancelled because I was feeling lousy and wouldn’t have been able to taste anything. This was before I ever heard his catchphrase “Pork fat rules!” (um, unless you don’t eat pork) and before Emeril became totally overexposed on the Food Channel, so it’s just as well, eh?
I met with my editorial board, a group of esteemed physicians, in a meeting room at the convention center. As we planned out the next year for our publication, we had a duck-breast salad for lunch. The convention center’s caterers made some surprisingly good food.
One of the physician editors was from Shreveport, so he was my go-to guy for picking a restaurant for the editorial board dinner. Most everyone was staying at the Hilton, so he’d suggested one place (I forget the name) that he described—and you must drawl this out—as being “hahhrrribly convenient,” but rather stodgy and beef Wellingtonny. When he learned that the budget would allow a nicer joint, he was delighted to recommend Commander’s Palace. So I took four doctors and their dates (three wives plus a beard) to Commander’s Palace. I had a delicious piece of pecan-crusted fish, just perfect. Everyone at the table but me had ordered the bread pudding soufflé for dessert; having never so much as tried bread pudding, I opted for a flourless chocolate cake. When the waiter brought out the soufflés for everyone else, he cracked each one open and spooned a vanilla cream sauce into the molten center. My cake? Far too dense. The doctor seated next to me was a sweetheart, though, and happily shared his soufflé with me. Best. Dessert. I’ve. Ever. Had. Ever ever ever. No bread pudding can compare.
Mr. Tangerine and I didn’t get to replace our NOLA reservations with anywhere fabulous (and he missed out on my Commander’s Palace dinner), and went out for a merely decent dinner at a forgettable place. Mr. Tangerine more than made up for missing NOLA, though, with biscuits and debris at Mother’s and a poboy at Uglesich’s. And we loved walking around town. The beignets—oh, the beignets—and chicory coffee at Café du Monde, the ground dusted with sugar. Voodoo shops. The beautiful, if a tad fussy, architecture. The quiet and the stink at 10:00 a.m. when the sidewalks got rinsed off after the night’s carousing had finally ended. The gallery with the blue-dog paintings. A long stroll by the river as the night cooled.
I hope we can take our son to New Orleans some day and share the city with him. But will it seem like the same city at all? I hope it will. And I hope it will again feel like home to the people of New Orleans.