|Galatoire's Imre Szalai|
Her name was Debi Trichel and she was headed to New Orleans for an annual meeting of friends, but mostly for the illustrious famed cuisine. "Think of the crawfish," she said to calm my pretakeoff jitters.
A few days later, sitting in
Sultry green light, reflecting from the park's Spanish moss, came through the windows as I dug into my Pontchatoula strawberry panna cotta, an Italian custard paired up with Louisiana strawberries and a balsamic reduction. My only regret was not having ordered my dining partner's house-baked creamy cheesecake lollipops -- complete with wooden stems -- as well. There's no room for culinary classicism in a city where food is king. Whether beignets (a French take on doughnuts) and cafe au lait (coffee with chicory) from
Steeped in HistoryPart of New Orleans' epicurean equality comes from long-standing traditions that blend unlikely continents and people. Martin, for instance, has a 25-year history working for the
Creole-Cajun FusionCreole food, explains Martin, comes from a blend of French and African influences and evolved when local Creoles started cooking for wealthy French settlers, who desired more butter and cream. When the Cajun people came down from Canada, they brought the trinity of celery, pepper and onions -- the base of New Orleans gumbos, soups and sauces. Creole and Cajun tastes have blended over the years, and today chefs like Martin experiment with what he terms contemporary Creole, which is lighter than traditional Creole. If you want heavy creams and butters, the older classical restaurants do those well, says Martin. "
Weathering the StormRalph's continued to uphold its slogan "For locals, by locals," throughout the hardship of the past two years. With very little wind or water damage, the restaurant opened two weeks after Katrina and served as inspiration as well as a meeting place for local customers and other restaurateurs. Galatoire's was also lucky to have retained 80% of its staff, which Landry attributes to the excellent working atmosphere. But "Katrina was the biggest catastrophe in U.S. history," says Martin, and although the restaurant industry is coming back, it's not as fast as expected. Ralph's is doing a lot of weddings and parties, but a big part of its clientele is just not there anymore. The
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