Day 1 / Wednesday, May 2

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Our trip to New Orleans began on Wednesday, May 2 ... for me the day after an election. It wasn’t a big election, just our five small towns, but it was a 17-hour day nonetheless. So I was happy we had an afternoon flight. Our flight on Delta Airlines arrived in New Orleans around 7:30 p.m. ... after being tossed around by a storm somewhere over the Florida panhandle en route from Atlanta.

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We flew in from the south with a great view of the Mississippi River delta at dusk. It had just rained and the air was warm and humid, a welcome change from the cool temperatures at home.

We decided to take the Airport Shuttle into the city instead of a taxi. We were glad we did because our driver was a really personable guy (self-proclaimed as the best in New Orleans). He pointed out a lot of things and gave a lot of advice that we may not have heard from a cab driver. 

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One of the passengers on the shuttle was going to India House, a hostel in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, which was pretty badly flooded when the levees failed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This picture, showing the top of a fence barely above water, is from a gallery on their website (click the picture to see more). Our driver pointed out a lot of empty lots in the neighborhood where buildings once stood, and you could see a lot of houses and stores still boarded up. It was a sobering sight, and it was one we would see almost everywhere we went.

However, the driver pointed out a lot of revival as well, including restaurants we should visit and events we should take in, and his pride in his home town and all that its residents have accomplished was also something we would experience everywhere we went. The Wednesday at the Square concert was just ending at Lafayette Square as we went by, and we saw a lot of hotels as we meandered through the Central Business District, finally arriving at the J.W. Marriott on Canal Street with just enough time to check in, get to the room, change, and run out the door to get to our 9:30 dinner reservation at Emeril’s NOLA. The restaurant, located in the French Quarter, wasn’t too far a walk and we got there right on time.

IMG 0294IMG 0296NOLA is in an old three-story warehouse — everything in the French Quarter is old, so thats not surprising. It’s been redone with new wooden floors but the original brick and concrete walls help it retain the old character. The restaurant is fairly large but doesn’t feel that way at all. The entrance is open to all three levels, with an elevator in the middle of the room. The kitchen is open and visible on the first floor. Our table was on the second level, overlooking the entrance. The picture below shows the entrance as seen from our table, and then there’s a picture I captured from their website’s 360 view that shows our table ... except, of course, it was night.

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To start, I was introduced to a really good beer, Abita Amber, which is brewed in Abita Springs, Louisiana. Laurie had a Cucu Fresca – cucumber and gin with violet liqueur. A basket of fresh bread arrived and was quickly sampled. Turns out there is a bakery on the third floor. For appetizers, we had Emeril’s barbecued gulf shrimp with rosemary biscuit and fried green tomatoes with citrus poached shrimp, baby arugula and white remoulade sauce. For the entree, I had the grilled seasonal fish, in this case amberjack, with fingerling potatoes, sweet corn, portobello fries, grape tomatoes and a black truffle butter sauce (see below). Laurie had the New Orleans style crab cake with spicy corn relish and Crystal butter sauce (Crystal is a local hot sauce). Foodies can click here to see the full menu.

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For desert we split cinnamon bread budding, which came with crème fraiche (slightly soured cream) and dulce de leche sauce and was served with a scoop of house-made cinnamon ice cream sprinkled with toffee chips. Plus coffee.

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We went straight back to the hotel to get settled in and prepare for four really big days. After a while we figured out that the strange rumbling noise we were hearing was the sound of the streetcars turning from Canal Street onto St. Charles Avenue some 30 floors below. The view from our room was really nice, so to end the day I took a couple of pictures of the city at night. One is at the top of this day’s report, and the other, looking down on Canal Street, is below. We’re really looking forward to Jazz Fest tomorrow! 

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© Jeff Mangold 2012