Monday, August 21, 2006

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.


At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Endymion said...

"I feel so sorry for the poor displaced black people of New Orleans" - hold on one second while I order oysters en brochette and turtle soup for my infant sons at Galatoires - "really, it's a shame that children are eating their own feces for breakfast" - one sec, yes sir, I would like a flute of champagne and my wife will have a glass of Opus One.

Fucking idiot.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger codell said...

I thought about just deleting this comment, since it's clearly the product of a halfwit. But I decided to respond instead.

New Orleans is, for me, about both the highs and the lows. When I lived there, I ate red beans a couple times a week -- not just because they were delicious, but because I, like many others, couldn't afford much more. I also ate oysters, which are cheaper in New Orleans than almost anywhere else in the country, and boiled crawfish from the corner store. And a couple times a year, we would splurge on a nice meal at Galatoire's or another fancy place. For me, New Orleans was, and remains, special because it has such strengths at both ends of the spectrum. I never went to a Mardi Gras ball, but I cheer when Rex goes past because I like the idea of a king-for-a-day. I may have lived in a little shotgun, but it was just as attractive and architecturally distinctive as the mansions on St. Charles. Same with the shotguns and creole cottages in the Bywater, or in the Marigny, or anywhere else in town.

But now I live in Houston, and I get to visit New Orleans only once or twice a year. According to Endymion, apparently, I shouldn't. Or maybe I shouldn't eat at Galatoire's when I'm there. That will certainly help. Yep, nothing speeds along economic recovery like tourists staying away, or else eating all their meals at Rally's while they're in town (not, mind you, that there's anything wrong with that. Rally's serves a fine burger).

Or perhaps Endymion would feel better if I'd just commented on the food, and ignored the obvious trauma that the city is still going through? Again, that would certainly help. Why comment on a catastrophe that much of the country has already forgotten about? Why mention it to Houstonians -- people with a natural affinity for New Orleans and the geographical proximity to visit and help get the city back on its feet?

I didn't lose my home or my job or my car in the hurricane. (Though I had friends who did.) But I lived in New Orleans for years, and I love the city and its people (and its oysters en brochette, you asshole). I'm going to keep going back, and I'm pretty sure I'll keep going to restaurants when I'm in town (offensive as that may be). Last I checked, that's what the city was asking people to do.

So I'm sorry if my post offended you, Endymion, though I think you're the idiot if you're offended by it.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger codell said...

...and for those readers who, like Endymion, don't have much information about the current economic woes of classic New Orleans restaurants, check out Ian McNulty's piece in the Gambit Online:

"Summer is always the low point of New Orleans' tourist season, and this year is shaping up to be especially painful for restaurants that have relied on visitors for a major part of their business."

McNulty's an excellent food writer, by the way, and easily the equal of the Picayune's staff. If you're heading to NOLA, be sure to check out the Gambit's food section for sound advice on local restaurants, including those off the tourist path. (Note: Ignore this, Endymion. You don't believe in restaurants.)

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous streetcarnamedcondescension said...

"I feel morally superior to those who are actually trying to contribute to the economy of New Orleans" hold on a second while I post on someone else's blog about how I truly empathize with people by making inflammatory remarks about said people, "I mean you think encouraging people to contribute to the one remaining New Orleans industry that can employ people, might actually provide jobs for the people whose 'children are eating their own feces', come on" one sec, I need to post something about our government being morally equivalent to the Nazi regime. People like you make me sick.

Fucking cretin.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger codell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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