Oh, New Orleans!
This is our first visit back since moving away last June. I have loved vicariously through friends’ photos, group texts, and stories about their experiences at the many festivals since then. Mardi Grad was especially hard to miss since it had been a cornerstone of my memories for the past three years. Finally, after so long, we made it back for Jazz Fest!
Our first day was spent deliciously leisurely on a warm 70-something degree Friday strolling the familiar streets of the French Quarter. I especially love Royal Street which is usuallyp blocked off for pedestrians, musicians, and street performers. Every few blocks you can hear lovely music being played as you walk back vintage shops and art galleries. We visited some of our favorite spots: The Hotel Monteleone for a quick drink at the rotating Carousel Bar, beignets and cold chocolate milk at Cafe Du Monde, red beans and rice and delicious juicy fried chicken at Fiorella’s. We enjoyed bubbles floating down in the sun from an apartment balcony (whoever bought that bubble machine knows what simple joys are), the gorgeous oil paintings of New Orleans streets, breathed in the garden-like scent of an antique lights shop, and purchased our first piece of art from a vendor near the St. Louis Cathedral. Meeting up with a friend from residency and his mom made our day even brighter and full of laughter.
After a quick snooze (since our flight was at 6am), we headed to a dinner with some more residency friends at Atchafalaya. My husband and I had been there about two years before, but since then the chef had changed and we both noticed a great improvement in the quality of the food. It was good before, but not enough for us to go back for dinner. This time around, every dish was delightful. The shared vegetable risotto was flavorful and creamy, and my crab ravioli was just scrumptious. My husband got the lamb meatballs with cous cous which was also delicious. We didn’t have room for dessert unfortunately!
The following day was dedicated to Jazz Fest. Of the seven total days spanning two weekends, we bought tickets for Saturday and had a great time. It was hot and sunny (like the last time I went), but there was a cooling breeze that made it’s way trough often, making it perfect festing weather. The highlights of our day were Bruce Springstein and the E Street Band, and Jon Batiste who absolutely killed it on the piano. We also enjoyed local food at the many vendors, my favorite go-to dish being the crawfish Monica. As I learned just this year from my friend, some of the food at Jazz Fest (including the crawfish Monica) is produced by restaurants that used to exist before Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, they were unable to reopen, but they still have vendors once a year only at Jazz Fest. That made the experience even more special for me. I also loved being able to eat some strawberry sorbet from Angelo Broccato’s which used to be a quick walk from where I used to live in Mid-City.
Speaking of Mid-City, we headed to a house party there after the Fest for a short time, filling up on the hostess’ delicious homemade hor d’oeuvres and cupcakes before getting dressed for a fancy dinner at the famous Commander’s Palace. If anyone visits, this is truly a must-do. The service is impeccable and the food is exquisite. I had the turtle soup with a drizzle of sherry (and I love how the soup is poured into the bowl at your place setting), the rare tuna which was so silky and melt-in-your-mouth, and the strawberry shortcake which I sadly could not finish despite my best efforts. My husband and our two friends all opted for the quail which never disappoints. The gumbo and bread pudding topped with whiskey liqueur were also obvious hits. Stuffed to the brim, we met up with friends for a quick after dinner drink and then headed to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before our flight home on Sunday.
Being back in NOLA reminded me of all the ways in which I love the city and the people. Being in the crowds at Jazz Fest left me with a permanent smile for the whole day. There is a common sensation of belonging and free-spirited fun in a way no other city has provided yet. Strangers dance next to you and strike up conversations, and point you in the direction of where they found whatever delicious meal they were holding in their hands. Being reunited with old friends from college and residency made the trip back even more memorable. Moreover, as my husband pointed out, it’s nice coming back as a tourist because we know exactly what we want to do and eat and how to get there. And visiting New Orleans is like being in a different country without physically having to leave the states. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but during festival a season, it is exactly the right feeling.