Saturday, April 16, 2016

In New Orleans, you really have to go out of your way to find a bad meal

When I'm in New Orleans, Acme Oyster House, a dimly lit, crowded and noisy dive in the French Quarter, is the first place I head to for a half-dozen plump, freshly shucked oysters from the nearby Gulf of Mexico ($8.99). Acme's Web site lists customers who eat 15 dozen oysters in one sitting (15 Dozen Club), but gives the title to a tourist from Illinois who managed to down 44 dozen at one sitting. 

When you don't read the menu description carefully, a half-dozen of Acme's chargrilled oysters turn out to be a guilty pleasure ($11.99). The bread is for sopping up their bath of herb butter sauce and grated cheese.


NEW ORLEANS -- On my first visit in 1968, I discovered why this city's widely praised Creole and Cajun specialties taste so good.

Butter and cream are used liberally, and just about everything can be ordered fried. 

This month, I returned for my sixth visit, and tried to select my food carefully to agree with the heart- and brain-healthy diet I follow at home.

The good news for non-meat eaters is an abundance of fresh, wild-caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, rivers and bayous -- oysters, black drum fish, peppery crawfish tails and much more.

The bad news is that unless you order oysters on the half shell or grilled fish or go to one of the many Vietnamese restaurants, dishes usually come bathed in sauces that invariably contain butter or cream or both.

And those irresistible fried-oyster po-boy sandwiches are heavy on bread and unwanted carbs, though I allow myself one on every trip to what is certainly the tastiest city in the United States. 

The bottom line is you have to go out of your way to have a bad meal in New Orleans.

A glass of Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon is only $5 at Acme Oyster House.

Another great way to enjoy a freshly shucked Gulf oyster is Acme's Oyster Shooter. The oyster comes in a shot glass filled with vodka and hot sauce ($2.99). Our server said this Acme sells 5,000 to 10,000 oysters a day.

You'll usually find a line at Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville St., in New Orleans' French Quarter (1-504-522-5973). A second Acme Oyster House is in the suburb of Metairie, but the one I usually patronized at the airport, before boarding a plane for home, has closed. Web site: New Orleans Seafood since 1910.

At Galatoire's, a French Quarter temple to Creole cuisine, many dishes are made with hollandaise, bechamel or meuniere sauces containing heavy cream or butter. Gumbos are made with roux -- a mixture of flour and butter or other fat. We steered clear.

The Italian Salad with anchovies and pitted olives at Mandina's, an Italian-American restaurant on Canal Street, is enough for three, though the iceberg lettuce and the limp, canned asparagus were disappointing ($11.50).

A simply grilled fillet of Black Drum Fish with potatoes was delicious and filling ($19.95), but the canned string beans were awful.

My wife ordered the Meatballs & Spaghetti, and they were some of the biggest I've ever seen ($14.50). She took home leftovers.

Our friend couldn't finish the Grilled Shrimp Plate ($17.95)

Italian immigration to New Orleans began after slavery was abolished in the United States. Mandina's Restaurant has been open since 1932. Originally, the building was operated as a grocery store, starting in 1898, by Sebastian Mandina from Palermo.
A full glass of Chianti was $9.

Mandina's, at 3800 Canal St., is in the Mid-City section of New Orleans (504) 482-9179. Web site: Mandina's New Orleans

At Doson Noodle House, a family owned Vietnamese restaurant on North Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans, these rolls made with shrimp and translucent rice paper are called Spring Rolls ($5.95). Other Vietnamese restaurants call them Summer Rolls. The peanut dipping sauce was spiked with hot chili sauce.

A large bowl of Pho with Beef, made with a fragrant anise-scented broth, is served with bean sprouts and fresh basil for garnish ($10.95)

A special of Flat Noodles with Shrimp, Broccoli and Bok Choy ($15.95), and a second dish of Noodles with Chicken ($12.95) came with a small bowl of delicious soup, below.

The no-frills Doson Noodle House is at 135 North Carrollton Ave., also in Mid-City New Orleans (504) 309-7283. No Web site.
At the Acme Oyster House, 3000 Veterans Highway in Metairie, three employees shucking fresh Gulf oysters worked hard to keep up with orders at the height of the dinner hour last Sunday (504-309-4056).

Next to the shuckers, two other employees work behind glass, chargrilling fresh oysters on the half shell after adding the herb butter sauce and grated cheese, left.

We ordered a dozen Gulf oysters on the half  shell ($13.99), and I split them with our friend, a New Orleans native.

This time, I ordered a half-dozen chargrilled oysters without the herb butter sauce ($11.99).
My entree of Black Drum Fish, which is similar to Redfish, couldn't have been better, especially the crunchy cooked vegetables that came on the side ($15.99).

Acme's Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp ($10.99).

Acme's Crawfish Cake ($8.99).

My last meal in New Orleans last Monday morning was this Shrimp Omelet with Creole Sauce ($9.50) at Betsy's Pancake House, a popular spot for breakfast and lunch that appeared in "Treme, the HBO series about a diverse group of New Orleans residents in the months after Hurricane Katrina.

In New Orleans, Mondays is the traditional day for soupy Red Beans and Rice. I asked the waitress at Betsy's to hold the grits and toast that came with my omelet, and to bring me a small bowl for $2 more, but ended up picking ham and bacon out of it.

My wife ordered Banana Nut Pancakes, hold the whipped cream ($6.25).

Our friend ordered the Breakfast Special available weekdays until 10:30 a.m. for $5.50, above and below: Two Eggs Any Style, Bacon and Grits, Choice of Toast or Pancakes.

Betsy's Pancake House, 2425 Canal St. in the Mid-City section of New Orleans, is where lawyers, police officers, city employees and others, black or white, working class or wealthy, gather for breakfast and lunch (504-822-0213). Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Saturdays. No Web site.

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