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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a NYC based food and travel website that views various dining scenes and destinations through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated thirty-something.

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Entries in Travel (40)

Tuesday
Jan312017

This just in from Emirates (Airlines)!

Photo credit: Emirates

Flying to/from Dubai on Emirates?  Awesome!  Not seated in Business or First Class?  Me neither.  Don't fret, because I have some super exciting, just-in news: If you're an airport lounge junkie (like myself) and an Emirates Skywards Blue member (you literally just sign up online - no purchase necessary), now you can pay $100 to access Emirates INSANE lounges at Dubai International Airport regardless of your class of travel!

This just in from the Emirates website

If you’re an Emirates Skywards Blue member, you can now pay US$100 to access Emirates lounges at Dubai International airport regardless of your class of travel, and so can your family and friends who are traveling on the same Emirates flight with you, for an additional charge.If you’re a Silver or Gold member who already enjoys complimentary lounge access, you can invite guests traveling on the same flight with you to join you for an additional charge,* even if they’re traveling in Economy Class. And to make your journey extra special, you can purchase an upgrade to the First Class Lounge in Dubai.

Photo credit: Emirates

Now, I don't know about you, but that just may be the best news I've heard since booking my flight to the UAE!

...

Until we eat - and fly - again, 

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jan252017

From Tokyo to Naoshima, a first timer's guide to Japan

It wasn't until Jean mentioned visiting that Japan was on my travel radar.  However, within days of her bringing up a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, we found ourselves booking flights.  Initially, we scored a great deal/sale on Air China for round trip tickets (via Beijing) to Tokyo for $800/person.  All seemed well with the world until four months later (in June) when we received an email from the airline informing us that our outbound flights had changed.  Instead of landing in Beijing at 4:40PM with an hour to spare before our flight to Tokyo, we would now land in Beijing at 6:40PM, almost an hour after our flight to Tokyo would have departed.  Due to their error, we were able to get a full refund on our fully NON-refundable tickets.  Phew!  Ultimately, Jean and I found a similarly priced *non-stop* fare on American Airlines (via JAL).  *Bottom line: Time is money and, in most cases, you get what you pay for.  If at all possible, non-stop flights are your best option.*

Having enticed two more girlfriends to join, the four of us met in Tokyo and commenced our Japanese adventure.  

Our itinerary (November 2016):

11/18-11/21: Tokyo

11/21-11/22: Hakone

11/22-11/25: Kyoto

11/25-11/26: Naoshima

11/26-11/28: Tokyo

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If you're planning a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, have a look at some of my helpful tips and FYI's, in addition to my favorite experiences and restaurants, below.  Or, if you've already been, I'd love to hear what you think about my compilation!    

Japan is a gorgeous, clean, and incredibly efficient (The mass transit system, alone!) country with so much history, mystique, culture, and geographical diversity; I cannot believe that it wasn't on my radar prior to my visit!  I loved and cherished my experience so much, in fact, that I returned home with a new and invigorated outlook on life and travel.  

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Helpful travel tips & FYI's:

  • Depending on the carrier, Premium Economy seating is only a few hundred dollars more than Economy.  What you'll get is more legroom/space - a better cabin - and closer proximity to Upper Class.
  • Flying in or out of Tokyo?  Do yourself a favor: If at all possible, book a flight that departs/arrives via Haneda Airport.  It's much, much, much closer to the heart of the city.
  • DO NOT TAKE A TAXI TO/FROM THE TOKYO AIRPORTS!  Fares can be upwards of $350 if you're flying in/out of Narita.  Upon arrival, look for the Airport Limo kiosk and purchase a ticket for drop-off at/very near your hotel - it's about $30/person.
  • Upon arrival, pull local currency out of an ATM before you leave the airport (located in the baggage claim area).
  • About six weeks (a month is probably fine, too) prior to your departure, make sure to purchase the following:
    • Pocket WIFI: This was a LIFE SAVER to have when we were outside of our hotel room (which was literally 16 hours/day) or in smaller towns.
    • Japan Rail Pass: The transportation gateway/lifeline that will connect you from town to town via rail.  Save money by purchasing your ticket prior to your trip!
  • To navigate your way around the subway/bus/rail systems, make sure to download the HYPERDIA app to your smartphone.
  • Language barrier FYI: I would say that, for the most part, people don't speak English.  Like, at all.  
  • Always have some form of local currency on you; in our experience, the best and most reliable ATM's that will accept international debit cards were found at the airports or 7-Eleven/Circle K convenience stores.
  • Do not insert your chopsticks upright in to a bowl of rice (as a place holder between bites); it is considered bad luck and very rude.Photo credit: Just Hungry

My favorite sites & experiences:

  • Tokyo
    • The magestic gardens at tranquil, non-tourist trap/destination, Happo-En
    • Lunch at tempura shrine, Tenmasa 
    • Lunch at Jiro's son's restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro 
    • Playing with hedgehogs at Harry Hedghog Cafe 
    • Tsukiji Market: While my travel mates attended the 3AM tuna auction, I stayed in bed and met them for a sushi breakfast around 7AM.  Bottom line: The auction lasts for 15-minutes and, at that time in the morning, are you really going to remember seeing it, anyways?  Methinks not.   
    • The basement food hall at Mitsukoshi Department Store 
    • Spying spectacular Mt. Fuji just beyond my window on the bullet train
  • Hakone
    • Yama No Chaya Ryokan and everything that staying at this traditional Japanese "bed and breakfast" encompassed, from bathing in a private tub filled with naturally-sourced hot mineral water on our balcony, to the multi-course kaiseki dinner and traditional Japanese breakfast served in our room
    • Lunch in the clouds (literally at the top of a mountain) at Itoh Dining by Nobu, where we first experienced Kobe beef
  • Kyoto
    • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion)
    • Walking through thousands of vermilion-hued torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine 
    • Catching a glimpse of a *real* geisha being escorted to an evening appointment 
    • Arashiyama Moneky Park 
    • Fancy cocktails at the stunning Ritz Carlton, where I was introduced to Japanese whiskey
    • Spectacular Kyoto Station (if you're a transporation geek like me, it's a must see)
    • Riding the bullet train from Kyoto to Uno Port and back to Tokyo (ditto on the 'transporation geek' reference, above)

My favorite food experiences:

  • The sushi-counter experience was an education in and of itself; I actually preferred observing the symphonic precision at which pieces of fish were sliced and delicately molded over luke-warm rice to actually eating the sushi (I know I'm going to get railed for this one, but it's true!  I didn't find the sushi in Japan to be all that different from an authentic omakase joint in LA or NYC.  FYI, I hope you know that by "sushi," I'm not talking about the 'dynamite spider roll with eel sauce and avocado,' for god's sake).
  • Kobe beef can be found outside of its namesake city.  And it's fcuking delicious and worth every penny.   
  • KatsudonJapanese curry, and curry pan have forever changed my life.  For the better.   
  • Eating a private 14+ course kaiseki dinner together at our ryokan in Hakone 

My favorite restaurants in Japan:

Hotel experiences worth writing home about:

Observations:

  • There are French-style patisseries everywhere.  
  • There are barely any trash cans.  Anywhere.
  • Sushi at the Tsukiji Market was wildly overrated and I felt like a fool for having stood in line for something so mediocre.

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Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

*Huge shoutout to Adela, Patrick, and Liz for all of your amazing recommendations.  And to Jean, thank you for all of your incredible planning and logistical expertise!  You organized an unbelievable journey for us!*

Tuesday
Jan172017

A trip up, down, and back up the California coast

Prior to moving back to NYC to begin culinary school (February 2016), I wanted to leave California with a bang.  Mom and I decided to plan a girl's coastal road trip from Monterey to Pismo Beach, and back again.  Having completed my last day of work on January 15th, I had merely days to pack up my apartment and head south to San Diego, where I'd meet my folks.

On Tuesday, January 26th, Mom, Lucy (my pup) and I flew an Alaskan Airlines "puddle jumper" from San Diego to Monterey.  *Did you know? Alaskan/Horizon Airlines serves free regional beer and wine (from the Pacific Northwest) on some flights.  Once we arrived, we rented a car and drove to Carmel - a mere 10 minutes from the Monterey airport - and checked in to the Carmel Country Inn, a charming bed and breakfast where we would stay for the night.      

Mom and Lucy at the Carmel Country Inn

After unpacking a few essentials, we decided to walk to town and shop.  And, because Carmel is incredibly dog-friendly, Lucy was welcomed in to every store; not to mention restaurants with outdoor seating AND our hotel.

Among other baubles, Mom fell in love with this 5-carat sparkler.  Luckily, we were running late for our dinner reservation, so she couldn't pull the proverbial trigger...

Dinner at Il Tegamino (my favorite restaurant in Carmel):

Because of Carmel's proximity to the water, I ordered the fresh swordfish for my entree, while Mom went the "carb route" and chose the house-made lasagna.  

Dinner at Il Tegamino: Grilled swordfish  

Dinner at Il Tegamino: LasagnaAfter a fabulous meal, Mom and I walked back to our room and went to bed in anticipation of an early morning drive. 

We meandered our way from Carmel via the coast/Big Sur en route to Pismo Beach.  This incredibly scenic and breathtaking journey took approximately 3.5 hours (roughly 200 miles).  Upon arrival, we checked in to our hotel, the outstanding Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa, where our "room" featured a kitchen, dining area, living space, not one - but two - bedrooms, and a sizeable balcony overlooking the grounds and the marvelous Pacific.  Wow! 

Gorgeous Big Sur! 

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa: The facade

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa: What a view (from our balcony)!!!

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa: Cheers!

The next morning, we woke up late and decided to get spa treatments.  After all, we weren't leaving Pismo Beach until the following day.  Post our rejuvenating hour plus-long massages, we spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling the beach walk, sipping cocktails and noshing on fresh seafood, and admiring the gorgeous views of the Pacific.  

Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa: Enjoying the briny jewels of the Pacific!

Heading northbound up the coast, we drove to Cambria in anticipation of visiting the Hearst Castle.  (<--- If you click on the link, you will find a picture of the famous Neptune Pool with the following caption, "Visitors have a rare opportunity to see the white marble floor of the empty Neptune Pool while it undergoes restoration. The pool was initially drained because of leaks, but the action was also part of a larger water conservation effort at Hearst Castle during the current severe drought."  Sucks, right?  Right.  And that was the exact same dismal view that Mom and I saw.  Now I don't know about you, but isn't the only reason that people visit the damn Castle to see the Neptune Pool??)

Hearst Castle: The depressing, empty Neptune Pool 

Hearst Castle

So, while the outdoor pool was an atrocious disappointment, the indoor pool pretty much made up for our buzz kill...

Hearst Castle: Indoor pool 

With all of the land in which the Castle is comprised, there is a ranch and a winery bearing its name.  So, when our tour ended, Mom and I couldn't help but stop at the tasting room to sample some of Hearst's namesake wines.  We both fell in love with the 2014 Petite Sirah, and left with a few bottles to enjoy for the remainder of our trip!

After a short drive to Cambria (just 15 minutes from the Castle), Mom and I checked in to our home for the night, the quaint Blue Dolphin Inn.  

For dinner, we went to the Black Cat Bistro, where we enjoyed local wine from Paso Robles, handmade bread with rosemary butter, cheese-stuffed fried olives, and locally-caught seafood.

Black Cat Bistro: Handmade bread & rosemary butterBlack Cat Bistro: Cheese-stuffed fried olivesBlack Cat Bistro: Local fish

The next morning, we woke up early, grabbed coffee, and strolled along the vast beach path.  It was absolutely breathtaking!

Cambria: Mom standing on the beach path near a tree that had been hollowed for pedestriansCambria beach pathWe took to the road mid morning and headed back towards Carmel; only this time, via the highway, which made for a quicker journey (2.5 hours).  We arrived at our next "home" just in time for lunch, the grand Carmel Valley Ranch!  It was immediately clear why Conde Naste Traveler chose this as their #1 resort in Northern California!  

Famished from our journey, Mom, Lucy, and I were seated at a prime two-top at the resort's Valley Kitchen Restaurant overlooking the heated outdoor pool and sprawling grounds.  With bubbles in her hand and a glass of red in mine, Mom and I toasted to our amazing California adventure and to the fact that there was even a food menu for dogs!

Valley Kitchen

Valley Kitchen: A menu for your best friend :-)

Lunch began with house-made Kennebec (potato) chips and caramelized onion dip...  

Valley Kitchen: House-made potato chips & onion dipFor my entree, I chose the Monterey Bay Salmon Salad.  It was delightful!  

Valley Kitchen: Monterey Bay Salmon SaladAfter two glorious nights at the Ranch, Mom and I really didn't think it could get any better.  For our final night in the area, we headed to nearby Holman Ranch, where we - and few other folks in media - were treated to an afternoon and evening of wine tastings and pairings, a tour of the ranch and property (including an olive grove, organic vineyard, plus horse stables and boarding facilities), and elaborate meals and snacks.  

Although the guest rooms are not available to the public, per se, you can rent them for your party if you host an event on the property.  I can only imagine how fabulous and special it would be to get married at the Ranch and have all of your friends and family be able to stay onsite.  

 

Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch: Sitting area outside of our guest room

Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch: Dusk ...

Have you been thinking about making a trip up/down the California coast?  If you've already been, did you go to any of the towns or sites that visited?  I'd love to hear from you!

 

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle 

Wednesday
Oct212015

This self-professed travel snob went glamping...and LOVED it!

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." J. Muir

...

If there's one thing that my friends know about me, besides the obvious (like how much I love to eat/drink, tell jokes, travel and write), it's the fact that I would rather lick a dirty toilet seat than go camping.  Hell, I can barely bring myself to use a unisex bathroom at a bar!     

About a year ago, I received some intel on Ithaca by Firelight Camps, a "glamp" site located in upstate New York.  Not having a clue what "glamping" was or how it differed from, gasp, traditional "camping," I couldn't get on their website quickly enough.  Here's what I learned:

"For those not familiar, Glamping is a term derived from the two words 'glamorous camping.'  Glamping is also referred to as 'glam camping,' 'lux camping,' 'luxury camping' and many other similar phrases.  Regardless of the specific terminology, the idea is the same; glamping brings the world of luxury into nature in the most seamless way possible.  Glamping has origins in Africa and Thailand, but is relatively new to the U.S. and Europe.  Most people want the feeling of falling asleep under the stars and being in nature without having to sleep on rocks to do it.  Glamping allows for just that.  It lets guests to be one with nature, while still enjoying the luxury of a bed and pre-pitched tent."

The more I read about Ithaca by Firelight Camps and its owners, Emma and Bobby, the further I was intrigued.  Having fallen in love in undergrad, the young couple studied abroad together and learned more about the their respective trades: Business for him and hospitality for her.  During his time in the Peace Corps, Bobby taught micro enterprise and entrepreneurship courses to high school students and women in Nicaragua while Emma honed in on her love for cooking, rock climbing, and eco-friendly tourism.  The two brought their passions together and started their first hotel and café, La Buena Onda, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.  There, they partnered with local coffee cooperatives, a chocolate factory, artisan groups, and outdoor adventure guides to bring eco-tourism activities to their guests.  While they thoroughly enjoyed their time in Latin America, the couple returned to the states with the intention of creating a new hotel that would have an impact closer to home.  After receiving his MBA from the Johnson School of Management at Cornell, Bobby continued to travel overseas to learn more about the eco-tourism industry.  Meanwhile, Emma worked with ConTENTment Camping at the Bonaroo Music Festival (to launch a village of glamping tents for the festival goers) and started a food blog.  She even became a top finalist on the "Food Network Star!"  It was also at this time when the business plan for Firelight Camps was created...

"We thought the Finger Lakes would be the perfect place to launch Firelight Camps," said Emma.  In 2014, Wine Enthusiast voted New York State "Wine Region of the Year," with the Finger Lakes being a major contributor. "Our community is so supportive of young entrepreneurs, and there was a wealth of knowledge and resources here to help us build the camp. The Finger Lakes is one of the oldest and most vibrant food and farming regions in the country, and is quickly becoming known as an agritourism destination.  It's also home to an astonishing number of waterfalls and lakes, which is a huge attraction for outdoor lovers."

...

In the beginning of this past summer, I booked a single night's stay at Firelight Camps for the second week of October.  I would be in Manhattan the weekend prior for one of my dearest friend's weddings, so it only made sense to make my way upstate thereafter for some R&R.

On Tuesday morning, October 6th, I flew to Syracuse from NYC.  Upon arrival, I rented a car and made the 45-minute drive to Ithaca.  The scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking; aside from the region's inherent natural beauty, the potpourri of fall colors - in the form of leaves and produce - was everything that I could have hoped for and more.

Dedrick's Farm Market - Dryden, NYThe grounds of La TourelleWhen GPS announced that I had "arrived" at my destination (Firelight Camps), I was both perplexed and a bit relieved to pull up to a full-service hotel/spa and restaurant.  Where the heck was I?  As I made my way further down the drive, I saw a sign for the Camp and continued just beyond the hotel and restaurant, down a little hill, and on to a grassy clearing with a central "tent."

Welcome!I pulled my rental car off to the side of the gravel road and made my way in to the "lobby tent," where I received a warm greeting from the staff and a quick orientation, if you will.  

...I was particularly thrilled to learn that "Happy hour is from 5-6PM when we spark the evening campire and bar remains open until 11PM."  Woohoo! 

Upon making my way over to my tent, I noticed the al-fresco communal hangout area just off the lobby, complete with a fire pit, an assortment of seating options, and liberally strung twinkle-lights.  

Fun to be had by the campfire!The staff told me that I could park my car outside of my tent to unload my suitcases, but that I would then have to parking just up the short hill near the facilities.  Yep, that's right, folks, I said "facilities."  Would they be unisex?  Clean?  Small?  Would there be hot enough waterWould there be hot water at all?  I didn't bring my own towels; would I have to dry myself off with the shirt on my back?  Would there be previous bather's hair and other remnants left behind?  Oh, dear god!!!!!!!!  

Path leading up to my tentMy tent!Beyond the bed, there was a desk and a trunk filled with extra blankets/plus more storage space.My makeshift closet

My amazing back patio overlooking the Buttermilk TrailThis is hard to beat!!After getting settled and unpacking my essentials, I made sure to familiarize myself with the battery-powered lanterns-cum-phone chargers that were located in my tent.  Try walking to the facilities in the pitch dark (There's no electricity in the sleeping tents.) without one of those suckers

From there, I decided to go check out the facilities before stopping over at the lobby for happy hour.  And, I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised by how clean and ample the restrooms and showers were, in addition to being fully-stocked with shampoo/conditioner/soap!

Shower/restroom complexTowels - of multiple sizes - are provided!!Communal sinks5PM couldn't come quickly enough!  I made my way back to the lobby tent for happy hour and enjoyed wines from the local Finger Lakes region, "hard" apple cider (it just so happened to be Cider Week while I was there), and good company.  Amongst a handful of couples (including one with their adorable dogs in tow), there was a fun group of older women on a pseudo college reunion trip. 

Delicious local "hard cider"As the sun slowly set over the glampground, so did the temperatures.  While I was still in the lobby, I made sure to secure a propane heater for my tent to keep me warm overnight, as it was forecasted to dip in to the 40s!

Just after happy hour and a quick shower, I walked over to John Thomas Steakhouse (the restaurant located further up the property) where I enjoyed a fantastic lobster dinner.

Dinner at John Thomas SteakhouseForgoing dessert at the restaurant, I made my way back to camp in anticipation of enjoying a glass of red/nightcap and attempting to roast s'mores by the fire...

Firelight's own homemade s'mores kit!

With a full and happy belly - plus a solid buzz - I made my way back to my tent and prepared for bed: I turned on the propane tank, put on my socks, and crawled under the warm blanket.  Aside from the heater's buzz, the only thing I could hear beyond the mesh of my tent's windows were the leaves lightly dancing and the crickets chirping.  A few hours later, I awoke to the tranquil sound of a rain shower that aided me in to falling in the deepest, most comfortable sleep that I've experienced in...forever.  Wow.   

The following morning, I allowed myself to sleep in before packing up and heading to the continental breakfast in the lobby tent - something I haven't done in quite some time.  Ultimately, however, I was jonezing for a cup of coffee and some sustenance.

Coffee/tea stationAn assortment of local apple ciders Locally sourced bakery items, plus Emma's handmade granolaAlthough I would have loved to stay for another night (or two!), it was time for me to hit the road and explore the region and Ithaca proper, in addition to checking out Cornell's campus. 

With the 2015 glamping season closing at the end of October, I look forward to returning in the summer of 2016 so that I can enjoy more time in the area, plus the bounty of local recreational options (wineries, lakes, hiking trails)!  Plus, I'd love to bring some of my girlfriends; as snobby as some of them are, I am proof-positive that glamping is the prissy girl's - or guy's - answer to conquering the outdoors/nature.  In fact, I loved it.  Alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of it!  Go ahead and quote me on that...I urge you!

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Tuesday
Jun092015

Reviewed: The Sea View Inn, Carmel (CA)

Having only been to the South Beach (Miami) and NYC 'Festivals, Pebble Beach Food and Wine was Emily's and my first on the West Coast.  It only seemed fitting that we attend; after all, Emily now resides in San Francisco, and I'm in LA.

With hotel options being slim because of the popularity of the Festival, I felt incredibly fortunate that Emily was able to secure a room for us at the Sea View Inn, a bed and breakfast located in Carmel.  Have you ever stayed in a b+b (bed and breakfast)?  Technically, this would be my first time.  And, to be honest, I was a bit nervous; hell, you would be, too, if this is what you were envisioning: A rickety double bed appointed with an ugly floral comforter, powder blue carpeting throughout (dotted with questionable rust-colored stains), lace curtains with sun burns, cheesy knick-knacks laden with dust bunnies, and a dirty bathroom. 

..................Well, I'm proud to report that I could not have been more wrong about my b+b pre-conceptions.  Phew!

___

Situated on a quiet residential street, merely blocks from the ocean and the heart of town, stands Carmel's most charming b+b: The Sea View Inn.

The Sea View Inn: Carmel, CAHoused within a remodeled, turn-of-the-century home are eight beautifully-decorated guestrooms (six of which contain private modern bathrooms) appointed with all of the comforts of home...sans televisions.  Hello, ever heard of relaxing?  Don't worry, I hadn't either.  On the ground level, a spacious French-country inspired parlor/sitting room is centered around an active brick hearth that overlooks both a beautifully landscaped back garden and an expansive front porch beckoning New Orleans (or somewhere else very picturesque in the South).  

GuestroomCommon area (ground floor)Staying true to its b+b classification, breakfast is served every morning on the ground floor.  Specialties include organic yogurt and fruit, cereals, locally-sourced baked goods (from a French patisserie in town), soft-boiled eggs, orange juice, and some of the best coffee this side of Brooklyn.

Breakfast is served: Soft-boiled eggs, coffee cake, individual spinach quiche After a day spent boutique'ing or beaching, guests of-age are invited to enjoy a gratis glass of wine - ideally to be savored on the front porch or in the back garden - and unwind as the afternoon slowly turns to dusk.

If you have future plans to visit the area and want to experience gorgeous Carmel/Pebble Beach as a local (or as much of one as possible), then I highly recommend that you consider the Sea View Inn.  From the lovely accommodations, great location, and warm, hospitable staff - to the delicious breakfasts (that we legit looked forward to every morning) - our experience could not have been more positively unforgettable. 

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Apr092014

New Orleans in my words and pictures

Just like Hong Kong, Lyon, and Paris, I had an inkling that I would fall in love with New Orleans.  And that was before I had even stepped foot in the city!  Sometimes, as they say, you just know...

From the moment I landed at Louis Armstrong, I was captivated by the mid seventy-degree spring weather, the warm local hospitality, and the spattering of palm trees.  After all, it made for quite the welcome change from frigid NYC. 

Because of the St. Patrick’s Day parades that Saturday, I was bummed to have to cancel my 1PM brunch reservation at Commander’s Palace, as the concierge informed me that, due to street car-closings, getting to/from could be quite unpredictable for a new visitor to the city.  This deviation in plans actually led me to Luke, a John Besh restaurant, located much closer to the Hotel Monteleone (my residence for the week).  I mention this particular meal because of the friendly local folks that I met while dining solo at the bar.  From this early first impression, the residents of New Orleans seemed incredibly welcoming and genuinely enthusiastic to have me in their town. 

Luke: A welcome toast to myself, from myselfLuke: My first bowl of gumbo!Luke: "Eggs in a Jar" - jalapeno cheese grits, fried Gulf shrimp, pooached eggsPost-lunch, I must have meandered down every street in the charming French Quarter.  Although I knew about the city’s open-container “leniency,” I still did a double take every time I passed someone sucking down their ‘Bloody in a plastic cup while strolling down Royal Street.  When it was my turn to grab a cocktail, I was tickled to note a stack of plastic “to go” cups located at a table near The Carousel Bar’s exit.  That wouldn’t be the last display I observed during my trip, either...

Being a self-proclaimed Francophile, staying in the French Quarter transported me back to the cobblestone streets of Lyon and Paris.  On a daily – and nightly – basis.  Beyond this famed neighborhood, however, the French influence was also present in the names of streets, parishes, food items, and cocktails.  And, speaking of food, I made the following observations: 

  • It seemed like most seafood dishes were composed of local Gulf treasures, from fish to shellfish.
  • French bread is standard/default at nearly every restaurant's table. 
  • For tourists who wish to immerse themselves in local cuisine, it is not hard to go a full week without eating a raw vegetable or fruit. 
  • Everyone has their own rendition of gumbo. 
  • Turtle soup is a delicacy that can be found on most “high end” restaurant menus.   And, despite the fact that I adore sea turtles, I was informed that the meat used in the famous soup is from that of the "mean, snapping turtle" variety.  "Honey, these are the kinds of turtles that will gladly bite your finger off."  It was this tidbit of information that finally convinced me to order a bowl during my brunch at Restaurant Revolution.

Restaurant Revolution: I ate turtle soup...and loved it! Sorry PETA...There were only a handful of nights when I didn’t go to sleep to some sort of pulsing car bass or the music from a jazz instrument.  New Orleanians will find any excuse to party, even when celebrating the lives of the deceased.  In fact, on our walk to Dooky Chase’s, I was warmly taken aback by the large group of family and friends eating, toasting, dancing, and reminiscing over the life of a fellow father/brother/friend/husband (I know that is was a male because his picture was prominently displayed on a tripod). 

In terms of race and culture, I found New Orleans to be just as segregated as any other city in the US.  From observation, alone, it appeared as though most races/cultures stuck together, both socially and residentially.   However, where poor neighborhoods remained heavily ravaged by infamous natural disasters (with the exception of the houses built by Brad Pitt’s organization in the Lower Ninth Ward), wealthier areas were thriving.  The racial divide and disparity between rich and poor could not have been more blatant and, quite honestly, it made me very uncomfortable.  During any given day, there were moments where I felt like I was in Detroit.  Then, not more than a few miles later, I was transported to ritzy Charleston proper. 

Some interesting factoids I learned during my trip:

  • “Dixie” comes from the French word “dix,” which means “ten.” 
  • The meaning behind each quadrant of a FEMA markingPhoto found on Wikipedia

My favorite experiences during the trip were:

  • Shopping, strolling, people watching, and architecture-awing in the French Quarter
  • Street musicians/talent
  • Driving through vacant, hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods
  • Daily praline sampling
  • Southern Candy Makers  It's true.  They really do have the best pralines in Nawlins.  My favorite being the peanut butter variety.
  • Gazing at the Natchez river boat on the murky Mississippi
  • Southern breakfasts, in general, namely from the daily buffet at Criollo: Sausage gravy-drenched biscuits, grits, bacon, roasted potatoes, and scrambled eggs
  • The best damn airport grub I've EVER eaten - in the form of shrimp 'n grits - courtesy of Ye Olde College Inn

The Big Easy is an incredibly special and complicated place that is chock-full of beauty, tragedy, sweet and sour history, and a “gumbo” of cultures and races.  Having had the privilege of seeing New Orleans through the lense of many resident experts (thanks to my very well-connected Master's program at NYU), I can honestly say that this trip was positively life altering. 

I left a piece of my heart in New Orleans.

~~~

Laissez les bons temps rouler, y'all!

The Lunch Belle