18 May 2011

Heaven is spelled N.O.L.A. Part 2

We rolled out of bed and got ready and made the short walk down Magazine to Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar for a morning beverage. This was a very funky little joint that immediately reminded me of Silly’s in Portland. There was a hefty wait for a table, so I inquired if we could simply order our drinks to-go from the bar.

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They had no problem with that so after a quick glance over the menu we both chose the apricot green iced tea. They brought out our drinks in a matter of moments along with some sweeteners and a few lemon wedges. After sweetening up our drinks, we headed back out onto the street and walked north up towards the FQ.

Apparently I forgot to take a picture of it... Oh well, you'll see it again soon. The tea was very good, although a touch lacking in the apricot department. This is one of those drinks that has the “essence” of fruit more than the actual flavor. Light, and refreshing it went down easy as we meandered up to the FQ on this gorgeously sunny day.

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We poked our heads into a few shops along Canal Street and tried on some Mardi Gras masks and picked up a souvenir or two. We got to Mr. B’s about 15 minutes early so we decided to walk a few more blocks up to Leah’s Pralines for a few gifts for friends and co-workers.

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Their case of chocolate covered goodies looked quite fantastic, but alas we weren't able to purchase any due to melting (your face.) We chose a large variety including traditional, creamy, chocolate, peanut butter, and rum. I’ve tried a few since we got back and I wasn’t all that impressed mostly due to the fact that they were quite grainy. My favorite was the peanut butter, but I haven’t tried the rum or chocolate yet.

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We made it back to Mr. B’s just as they were beginning seating and I was able to snap that sweet shot of Colonel Sanders out front. I informed the hostess that I had reservations (which were completely unnecessary, although during our meal the place did fill up rather quickly.)

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We were shown to yet another corner table, right in front of the bar. I immediately fell in love with this place. While I felt August could’ve been in any city, the setting at Mr. B’s just oozed New Orleans.

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It was dressy and lively without feeling stuffy or touristy in the slightest. Undoubtedly genuine, this is a balance that only the greatest restaurants of the city have truly mastered.

As I quickly realized, Mr. B’s is a restaurant where one can get truly sloppy, both due to the nature of the BBQ Shrimp and because of the ridiculously low drink prices during their weekday lunch. I made it a personal mission to sample as many as I could. The Mrs. went for her usual Bloody Mary ($1.50) and I opted for the intriguing Blood Orange Margarita ($3).

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The service was great and this had to be the fastest water service I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. You take one sip and there they were topping you off. More than one voice memo had me stopping in mid-sentence as I thanked them for refilling my glass. I guess after sweating through that many brutal New Orleans Summers, they’ve learned the proper hydration is important.

While my beverage was good, I loved their BM. It finished very smooth and was perfectly balanced and not over peppered. The green olives really added a nice aroma while sipping the drink. A couple shakes of Crystal, and I couldn’t believe how good it was for only $1.50. Most places that have drink specials like that give you V8 with a dash of pepper and a stalk of celery. As I said, my margarita was good, but nothing about it really screamed blood orange (aside from the slice garnishing the glass.) It just tasted like your basic every day margarita. And to think I could’ve had two BMs for the same price. Bah!

I knew exactly what I was going to order, but looked at the menu anyway just to humor myself. I went with the Gumbo YaYa (A rich country style gumbo made with chicken and andouille sausage) and the BBQ Shrimp (A Mr. B’s signature dish! Gulf shrimp barbequed New Orleans style, served in the shells with a peppery butter sauce, and French bread for dipping). My wife was hellbent on ordering outside of her usual box so she chose the Duck Springrolls (Two house-made Springrolls filled with duck confit, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese; served with sweet ginger-garlic dipping sauce) and the Warm Yellofin Tuna Salad (Pan seared medallions of yellowfin tuna served a top angel hair pasta with tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers and creamy wasabi dressing.)

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While the complimentary French bread was pretty good, the crust was a tad tough. I was sad to find that the butter was quite salty, ice cold and any attempts to actually smear it onto the bread proved futile. Unspreadable. Yes, I just made that word up exclusively for you, don’t you feel special?

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So what did I think about my first bowl of genuine New Orleans gumbo? It was good, but it was easily trumped by the fantastic Duck Springrolls. I liked how they served the gumbo in a small tin cup and then dumped it into the bowl tableside. It was rich but not quite as thick or dark as I expected.

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I assumed the andouille would be my favorite part, but I really enjoyed the tender shreds of chicken and the great popping texture of the popcorn rice. The spice took a few moments to show up to the party, but by mid-meal the back of my throat was pleasantly tingly.

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Now the springrolls on the other hand, that was a dish that I would heartily recommend not overlooking. The duck was tender and smoky, and the shreds were surprisingly long and thick. The gaminess of the goat cheese paired amazingly well with the duck. The wrapper was perfectly crisp and not soggy. The heavy dose of ginger in the dipping sauce made a world of difference, elevating the sticky-sweet and thick sauce into just the right balance of sweet and savory. A squeeze of lemon over the rolls also helped balance the sweetness from the sauce and my blood orange margarita with the salted rim paired wonderfully with this dish. I had to give her a hand, she found the dark horse of the trip. Fear not, put all of your money on those spring rolls and you’ll go home a very wealthy glutton.

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After draining my margarita I opted to try the Champagne Spritzer ($6) which was pleasantly reminiscent of the L'indecis I had at Le Pain Beni in Quebec City (alright, maybe not quite that good.)

Luckily, I was able to even the odds when our entrees hit the table. These BBQ Shrimp are one of the few dishes I’ve come across in my culinary travels that is simply impossible to overhype.

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Without hesitation I can say that Mr. B’s BBQ Shrimp is one of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had, and having lived my entire life mere minutes from the Chesapeake Bay, that says quite a lot. I think some of this can be attributed to the current trends in my palette. I’ve been hugely into shrimp, lemon, and black pepper lately and this dish highlights every one of those flavors to an almost unprecedented level.

The sauce was surprisingly creamy and rich without being heavy. It had a great oceanic flavor to it without being fishy. It was spicy from the copious amounts of black pepper, but the genius stroke was the sprinkling of whole black peppercorns on the dish which provided the intoxicating aroma of fresh pepper. A now it's time for another edition of What Did Mr. Micro Say on His Voice Memo:

"Nothing I read on the internet prepared me for this broth. It is ridiculous. I want to live in the broth, I want to bathe in the broth, I want to make babies in the broth. Sauce broth. Sauce broth."

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The shrimp were just slightly overcooked and the shells were on the soft side and a pain in the ass to peel, but considering how many plates they must turn out during the lunch rush I didn't dock them many points. The size variance on the plate was almost laughable. I had three average size shrimp and three enormous shrimp. I found that very strange, almost as if they have “filler” shrimp and “presentation” shrimp. Bury the three small ones in the sauce and place the three big ones on top. A conspiracy? Perhaps…

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Nikki's tuna was cooked perfectly, although it was soft all the way through. I was hoping the sear would've created some sort of outer crust to provide some texture. I loved the strong presence of wasabi in the dressing and the pasta wasn't overcooked. That's about all I remember in my sauce induced inebriation.

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As I slopped away at my shrimp, I was sopping up the sauce with the complimenary bread. Please, learn from my ignorance, the bread that comes with the BBQ Shrimp is infinitely better than the table bread. The crust had a great chew to it, and the crumb was similar to fluffy raw cotton in texture. You put a slice of that bread into the sauce and it disintegrates (in the best possible way) into a gushy little ball of joy. We both agreed that while the shrimp were great, the bread with the sauce is really what made the dish. If they sold just the sauce with dipping bread as an appetizer for around $10 it would be the best thing on the menu.

Don't for a second think you won't need every square inch of clean linen in a five foot radius, this is probably one of the messiest dishes I've ever eaten. See?

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You should've seen all of the smears on the screen on my iphone from taking notes. It had a mean case of skid marks.

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All done, right? Shit, you must be new around these parts. Usually dessert isn’t even a consideration for us at lunchtime, but New Orleans is famous for their bread pudding. Plus, famed New Orleans restaurant critic Tom Fitzmorris deemed it his favorite bread pudding in the city. While we weren’t quite blown away by it, it was still pretty damn tasty.

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My complaints were few: I wish the pudding itself was a consistent temperature all the way through. There were both hot and cold spots. I would’ve preferred a warm pudding topped with a cold sauce, therefore enabling me to control my hot-cold ratio. My second complaint was that there were three raisins inside. Three. Why bother putting any in there at all? They surely didn’t add anything, and this is coming from a guy who really likes raisins in his bread pudding.

On the positive side it had a light crust and a beautiful custardy inside which instantly soaked up the sauce. The sauce was light and not too thick, although I don’t quite recall there being any actual whiskey flavor. The dish was gobbled up in about 30 seconds, so obviously my complaints didn’t stop us from heartily gobbling up every last crumb.

Stuffed and a tad giddy from our cheap cocktails we happily paid our check, and made our grand exit. I hate the term "can't-miss" because it's overused to the point that it's practically meaningless, but I really must say that if you're ever planning on visiting New Orleans make it a priority to get to Mr. B's. And ask for extra bread (with your BBQ shrimp!) I felt like I was on cloud nine as I knew we had a great day ahead of us, which consequently began right across the street at the Hotel Monteleone.

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I’d read a New Orleans cocktail guide that recommended we go to the Carousel Bar attached to the hotel lobby and find Marvin and ask him to make us a Pisco Sour. Well I’ll be damned if the first guy I saw behind the bar was none other than Marvin himself.

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That's him on the right. Aside from a few patrons we had the bar mostly to ourselves so we grabbed two seats and Marvin quickly greeted us and asked us what we were drinking.

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After telling him I’d heard he made a mean Pisco Sour (a drink I’d never even heard of, much less tasted) he immediately warmed up to us. We got to hear all about his passion for bartending and how he flew down to South America to learn about the Peruvian brandy straight from the source. He said the drink was simply comprised of pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, and an egg white. He vigorously shakes the ingredients and serves the beverage neat. The egg white naturally separates, creating a lovely foam crown and it is topped with a few hearty shakes of Angostura bitters.

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In terms of taste it’s very comparable to a margarita, although lighter and, to me, far superior. Pleasing to the eye, and to the palette… And it gets you crunk. What more could you ask for?

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Along with our beverages we were given a huge bowl of housemade bar snacks that tasted like Chex Mix on crack. Even though we’d just finished lunch, I found myself dipping my hand into the bowl. Crunchy, spicy, and salty, it was a perfect accompaniment to our Pisco Sours.

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I guess I should also mention that this bar does indeed rotate like a carousel. The bar is perfectly round and there is no opening, meaning the bartenders have to leap over the bar to enter/exit. I couldn’t help but chuckle during Marvin’s intriguing stories as he had to stop mid-sentence to let the taps stroll by (the interior of the bar is stationary.) While I could’ve easily whiled away the rest of the afternoon here, it was high time for us to hail a cab to our next destination. We thanked Marvin for an amazing experience, and tipped accordingly. His service at the Carousel Bar is truly representative of both Southern hospitality and New Orleans charm.

We hoofed it down Royal Street and hung a left on Canal, waving for a cab all the while. We finally found one just before reaching Decatur. We told him we needed to get to the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Seventh by 2pm. He assured us he’d do the best he could. Along the way we found out that our cabbie was a retired New Orleans firefighter who always drove a cab on the side to help put his kids through college. He had some amazing stories about when Katrina hit and I was sad to see that when we called for a cab later, it wasn’t his. He got us to New Orleans Lager & Ale (NOLA) Brewing about 7 minutes after 2, but luckily the tour hadn’t started yet. It was time to drink some beers.

Mr. B's Bistro on Urbanspoon

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theminx said...

I'm sure you tried other gumbo in NO, but if you have a hankering for a taste of the real thing back up North, head to Cajun Kate's in Boothwyn, PA. My favorite is the smoked duck, but the cochon de lait (pork) is also delicious...as are the po'boys and the deep fried mac and cheese.


Mr. Micro said...

Thanks for the tip! I'll check them out sometime.

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