NOLA - One Year Later
Just a quick note about my visit to New Orleans this past weekend. There's no question that the city is still suffering from the after-effects of the worst catastrophe in its history. Too many empty buildings, too few people on the streets (even for August, traditionally the city's quietest month), and, frankly, too few black New Orleanians. New Orleans has for centuries been a showplace of African-American culture: music, literature, and (especially) cuisine. We have to hope that the city and the state and/or federal governments figure out how to restore, and improve, the city's housing, employment, and educational infrastructure in time to lure back a sizeable proportion of those who've left.
Anyway, the food: We were there too briefly to do any kind of a widespread survey, but the results are encouraging. Napolelon House still serves its delicious muffalettas, rich with olive salad and garnished with excellent olives and pickles (and a kick-ass sazerac cocktail). Plum Street Snoballs is still the king: I had my usual lime/plum combo, and The Wife took a chance on something call "Orchid Cream" flavor, which turned out to be delicious. Finally, Galatoire's still packs them in, with the usual admixture of tourists, lawyers, pols, anniversary parties and local gentry. Hank -- all of two years old -- downed several oysters en brochette, and liked the oysters Rockefeller so much that he literally licked the oyster shell clean. His big brother ate a bowl of turtle soup and pronounced it, "the best soup [he] ever had in his life." (For the record, his dad thought it was much better than the last time he'd had the soup at Galatoire's; nearly a rival to Commander's Palace's own Platonic version.)
I can't tell you how important it is that you go to New Orleans now and eat to your heart's content. It's important economically: now, more than ever, the city is dependent on tourist dollars. Every restaurant you visit will be encouraged to hire more cooks and waiters, which in turn will help inspire people to move back. Every club is paying attention to see whether people will come in to listen to music and buy drinks, or whether they should hang it up. It's important politically: you probably don't have a better way to show that you, at least, haven't abandoned New Orleans. And it's important to preserve the most accomplished and distinctive regional cuisine in America.
Follow up: There's an excellent piece in the New York Times food section today about the struggle to rebuild New Orleans' restaurant scene in the wake of the hurricane. It's hard to imagine being a small-business owner and having to deal with so many problems at once: a greatly-diminished workforce, diminished customer base, supply interruptions, negative publicity. Thank God so many are doing it anyway.