And now…on with the show! (Did you miss Part One of the New Orleans adventure? Click here and catch up.)
As one would fully expect, on Saturday afternoon of a three-day weekend, the French Quarter and surrounding area were full of people. Not obscene numbers, but plenty going on. It seemed like a big weekend for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and we ran into plenty of drunk people at all hours of the day. But as we made our way to Cafe Du Monde for beignets, it wasn’t too bad. The sky was overcast and the humidity had dropped a little bit. It wasn’t the suffocating stickiness from earlier in the day, which made it easier to munch on hot fried dough!
Our sixth and final compatriot, Michael, had landed as we waited in line and I was looking forward to having our circle complete. We headed back to the hotel and relaxed before our first dinner of the trip. I had originally selected one well-regarded place, Coquette, but was worried the menu would be an issue for some of my friends. I switched gears and placed us at Lilette, which the restaurant described as “imaginative French and Italian-inspired cuisine.” I had been told it was a beautiful space, and indeed it was. Originally an apothecary, it had a lot of Old World touches in the finishes and woodwork and hardware, with plenty of charm and openness.
Our waiter was a little saucy and short at first, but he seemed to warm up to us and was helpful in guiding us through what ended up being a delicious meal.
We shared plenty of appetizers, like the crab above, and with the full group in place, it was a delightful evening. While it ended up that everyone on the trip – except for me – currently lived in Chicago, my sister and Ben had spent little to no time with most everyone else. I had been nervous at the get-go about bringing an unfamiliar group together on a trip, because….you never know! But our time earlier in the day helped Maggie and Ben acquaint themselves with Jason and Liz, and by the time Michael joined, everything was very comfortable. I couldn’t think of a better way to turn a major page on the calendar than to be surrounded by some of my most cherished people.
Friendship is such an unpredictable thing, as you never know when magic is going to happen. Michael I’ve only known for about three years, having met when we were placed on the same softball team together. We clicked immediately, and one year later, when we traveled together to Israel, we got to know each other much better. On that trip – a mere two years ago – we both met Jason for the first time, and again, we just clicked. I think we’d all say we feel like we’ve known each other forever, and that’s something I’m very fortunate to have found with them. (And now, with Michael married to the amazing Leslie, and Jason engaged to the wonderful Liz, there’s even more to enjoy.)
With the night still young, we decided to seek out some of the legendary New Orleans jazz scene. An Uber took us to Frenchman Street, an area densely packed with bars and clubs with live music. Ben, using Yelp as his guide, pointed us to a promising spot, where we settled in and waited for the 11 pm performer to begin. I wish I could tell you his name, or the name of the place we went, or even share a picture with you, but I have no documentation of this part of our trip! All I can say is that while bars and clubs aren’t my thing, this place wasn’t too crowded, we found a table to sit at, and it was nice to relax and listen to good music. It provided a nice end to our first complete day of the trip.
Sundays, of course, are now the exclusive domain of everyone’s favorite meal: brunch! However, with some time to kill in the morning before our reservation, I joined Ben on a walk to the National World War II museum. I like museums, although I tend to favor artwork over things like this. But it seemed worth checking out. Maggie hates museums and took a pass and so did the rest of the crew. Not only was Ben excited to see this place, he was actually forgoing brunch – and whatever else followed – to get the full museum experience!
I have to say, I was pretty impressed by the museum. The campus is set up with a series of buildings, with one large one housing the two primary exhibits – the Pacific front of the war and the European one. There were also some smaller exhibits spread throughout the place, and I tried to take in as much as I could before leaving for brunch. I realized, though, that there was definitely more time to be spent there and, if the schedule allowed, I was hoping to make it back there before the day was out.
Stuffed and satisfied, the five of us decided to walk off our enormous meal and head to Bourbon Street. I knew it was something I had to see if I was in New Orleans, and was glad it was not during Mardi Gras. What was unpleasant was the return of the sun, the heat and the humidity. We stopped into a bar that had a selection of the alcoholic slushies that everyone was pining for, and that seemed to hold off the heat for a little while.
Jason and Liz had to the head to the airport to return to Chicago, so we made our way back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes, and then Michael and Maggie refused my invitation to join me back at the museum, and instead went off to nap. I was looking forward to checking out the remainder of the museum. Before leaving the hotel, however, what I really should have done was grab an umbrella.
I’m glad I returned to the museum, because it was only walking through the exhibits – especially the one focusing on the Pacific front – that I realized how little I knew about the war. I knew the big stuff – Pearl Harbor, Normandy, the Nazis, dropping the bombs – but there were so many missing pieces that were completely foreign to me (pardon the pun). I got so much more out of the museum than I ever would have expected. The exhibits were combinations of photographs, artifacts, archival film footage and more current video interviews with veterans. It sometimes got a bit loud with the videos playing, but it didn’t impede my enjoyment.
As I wrapped up my learning and was planning to take the five minute walk back to the hotel, it began to rain. And not just rain, but pour. I needed to make it back to the main building before leaving, but had to cross an outdoor pathway to do so. I got soaked. I gathered near the entrance with many other people, assuming there’d be a break of some sort and I could hustle back to the hotel. But the rain kept falling and falling. I pulled up both Uber and Lyft on my phone and was not surprised to see that both of them had jacked up their fares due to demand. Was it really worth $12-15 for a half-mile trip to the hotel? I didn’t think so.
After about twenty minutes of waiting and debating, I finally decided to just suck it up. I turned left out the door and bolted down the block, stopping under the first suitable overhang I could find. Not that waiting there would dry me off any, but it seemed like it might be wise to not get drenched all at once and take it in shorter bursts. You can debate the (il)logic of that.
For the remainder of the journey, I alternated between getting soaked and huddling under awnings and balconies as I hopscotched my way back to the hotel. Luckily, two of the staff were waiting just inside the door with towels for umbrella-less people like me to dry off with. I did the best that I could, clomped upstairs, and shed the wet clothing in the bathroom. My only concern at this point was whether everything would dry in time for me to pack it all the next day.
Finally warm and dry, it was soon time to head out to our dinner. I was super excited to try Shaya, which in addition to featuring Middle Eastern food (which I love), from an Israeli chef (Alon Shaya) that I’d been following on Instagram, but a few weeks after I booked our dinner reservation last spring, it had been awarded the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in US. That only increased my anticipation.
It’s hard to capture in words how amazing the pita was, but they kept bringing it to us, because we gobbled it up like crazy. It wasfreshly made, piping hot from the oven and oh-so-soft. Did it ruin our appetites? Most certainly. Did I care? No. In the end, Maggie and I decided we would just share one entree (hers) and I would cancel mine. I probably didn’t even need to eat any of the entree. But I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
As we were enjoying our appetizers, in walked a tall, bald, bearded man – with two other people – who looked kind of familiar. I can’t remember who said it first, but someone remarked that it looked like Rob Reiner, the director and actor. Could it really be him, in New Orleans? Instagrams were analyzed, Twitter feeds were scrolled – no one could tell via social media if Rob Reiner was in town. So we asked the waitress. She checked at the host stand and, sure enough, the name was Reiner. While none of us went up to him to say anything, as much as I know I would have liked to, it was still a lot of fun to see him there. Ben, in the end, did tag him in a tweet and I’m not sure if I ever heard if Rob replied.
These two desserts were splendid. Like all good desserts, in my opinion, the flavors that complemented each other, a variety of textures, and a variety of temperatures. So yummy. I’m amazed I was able to squeeze any more food in but was glad I did. The desserts at Lilette the night before were fine, but nothing worth writing home about. I wondered if Shaya would be the same. Thankfully, it was not.
To round out our night, we had our Uber driver take us a “fun place” to have a drink. He ended up delivering up to The Tchoup Yard, a fun “bar” on a quiet stretch of Tchoupitoulas. I say bar in quotes because it really feels like you’re in someone’s backyard that happens to have a bar at one end. Huge grassy area full of picnic tables and chairs and umbrellas, plenty of people milling about, football games on the TV’s and cool drinks at the ready. The trees were lit up with little while lights, and there was a guy in the back corner working a smoker and a grill. While we didn’t eat any more, it was nice to sit out on the warm – but pleasant – night and have a nice cold drink to finish up the day. (Only downside – the bugs. We all got bitten up.)
Monday morning dawned and our glorious weekend of eating delicious food and sweating through our clothing was coming to an end. Michael headed out on an early flight, while Maggie, Ben and I had a little bit more time. In an appropriate bookend to my trip, my final meal in New Orleans was in the same place the first one was: Willa Jean. I guess I’d been extolling its virtues to such an extent that I convinced Maggie and Ben it was worth checking out themselves.
While not pictured, they made sure to order the cornbread, which was loved by all. I went for a croissant, which I wasn’t too pleased with. Ben’s fried chicken biscuit sandwich looked good, but having had the same thing for breakfast (brunch) the day before, I was happy to try a more local dish, the shrimp and grits.
Before too long, it was time to part ways. Maggie and Ben headed into an Uber for the airport, and I returned to pack and make the same journey. As I cleaned up my belongings (including yesterday’s soaked gear, thankfully dry, from the day before), I realized that maybe I could make up for that one missed meal at Cochon. After all, they were open for lunch and I could grab one of their meaty sandwiches to go and have it at the airport.
So, I got everything ready, walked downstairs to check out and…saw it was pouring. Again. There goes the two-block walk to Cochon. But it was fine. I’d eaten quite well, had a marvelous time with my friends, and couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up my celebration of entering my 40’s. With that mindset, I headed into a cab, off to the airport, and back to what passes for reality in Los Angeles.