Sunday, February 22, 2015

New Orleans, Mardi Gras 2015. Whew!

Mardi Gras-Bourbon Street, New Orleans Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras in New Orleans Lafayette Cemetery St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans Degas House, New Orleans Johnny's Po Boys, New Orleans Cajun Blackened Chicken Po Boy, New Orleans Alligator Sausage Po Boy, New Orleans Alligator Sausage Po Boy, Johnny's Po Boys Line at Cafe du Monde Beignets at Cafe du Monde Busy Workers at Cafe du Monde Tennessee Williams' House, New Orleans Bourbon Street-After Mardi Gras St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans William Faulkner House, New Orleans Oyster Po Boy in New Orleans Louisiana Hot Sauce on Po Boy Po Boys in New Orleans Shrimp in New Orleans Jumbalaya in New Orleans
There isn't much that makes me nervous. Venomous snakes in Marrakech? Blah! I pose with them and don't feel nervous at all. Being in the car when my rally-driver brother-in-law takes me and my wife out in the snow in his insanely fast Mitsu Evo... please, piece of cake! But New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday to be more precise, made me nervous. Seeing that many people crowding Bourbon Street and the ancient decks above it was, quite frankly, a very intense experience for this traveler. I am very happy I went, but I will not be in a hurry to go back.

Mardi Gras should be on everyone's Bucket List. It is so full of wild abandonment, that any red-blooded human being should glimpse it's secrets, just once. I didn't mean to go to Mardi Gras. I have been over in the States for a bit and finished what I was doing quicker than I thought and I suddenly had some time on my hands. What to do with it? Ah, let's drive to New Orleans. Perfect! And it just so happened that the only day we could go was Tuesday. Fat Tuesday, the last day of this, one of the most celebrated Carnivals in the world.

Being a foodie and thinking mostly with my stomach, I knew I was in for a treat. I have read and heard so many good things about the food in New Orleans. However, my excitement was quickly squashed when I noticed that the vast majority of good restaurants closed their doors on Fat Tuesday. Signs just read, "Closed on Tuesday. Will re-open on Wednesday." And walking around the streets of New Orleans I could see why. To me Mardi Gras is like every 15 year old's fantasy. You get to dress up in whatever outfit you want to wear, even if that outfit is no clothing at all, and you get to do basically whatever you want to do and nobody judges you. The closest thing I can relate it to is when my mom used to go away on business trips and leave me alone. It was like Ferris Beuller's Day Off and Risky Business all rolled into one extremely fun weekend. The difference is, I was 15, the people around me during Mardi Gras seemed to span all age groups from twenty to eighty. It didn't matter, everyone was doing the same thing!

Once I realized that it would be virtually impossible to have a relaxed, calm, good meal in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I just loosened up and got into the spirit of things. We needed dinner and we couldn't wait. We picked a place on Royal Street called Royal House Oyster Bar. We were led upstairs and I actually really liked it. The dining room was exactly as I imagined it to be, old, crooked and with lots of windows and shutters. It was lovely. And the food was pretty decent too. The winning dish had to be my Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya. It was slightly dry, but very tasty. It had all those Cajun flavors I've had in so many restaurants outside of New Orleans.

After dinner we walked along Bourbon Street for a while, but the crowd was heaving and in the end was too much. The smell of stale beer and pot made us even more reluctant and we made a quick exit. Walking around the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday and trying to find a bar or restaurant that was tame was clearly a stupid idea and we shouldn't have had such high hopes. We did stumble onto the Ritz Carlton though and the bar and drinks there were top notch. It still had Mardi Gras revelers, but they were much more mild.

The next day we made it our mission to eat as much as we could. Our first stop, well, after William Faulkner's House and Tennessee Williams' House was Cafe du Monde. Even people who have no interest in going to Mardi Gras, or New Orleans know of Cafe du Monde. Their coffee is sold all over the world. However, there is one item that is even more popular than their coffee... Beignets. Those warm, triangular shaped doughnuts, that are coated in more powdered sugar than is wise, or healthy. We ordered three each and I shared a coffee with my wife. Both were good, but the Beignets were absolutely delicious!

We had a long drive back and knew we needed to be getting a move on, but we couldn't leave without eating at Johnny's Po-Boys. So, an hour after we had Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde we were standing in a long line outside Johnny's. The lines in New Orleans are staggering. Besides Cafe du Monde, which I'm pretty sure we accidentally cut the line, we waited in line at every single place we ate at. And we didn't eat in some places because the line was just too long, the Acme Oyster House was one such restaurant.

Johnny's Po-Boys serves typical Cajun "Fast Food" Grub. We had two Po-Boys, Alligator Sausage and Cajun Blackened Chicken. Both were very tasty, however, the Shrimp Gumbo that accompanied the Alligator Sausage Po-Boy was, quite simply, terrible. It tasted like swamp water. The Shrimp were pale and bland and the seasoning was poorly executed. A total waste of money.

We left New Orleans feeling a bit perplexed. We all loved it... and hated it. We couldn't help but think it was probably a really brilliant city 50 years ago. It has clearly done what so many other old cities do. It has become far too commercial. It's like Las Vegas and Disneyland but with some history. The only way I see myself going back is if Marty picks me up in the DeLorean and I can go back and see the real New Orleans. The New Orleans Faulkner writes about. That must have been quite a place!

To see my professional food photography please visit: Taylor Young Photography

Café Du Monde on Urbanspoon

Royal House Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Johnny's Po-Boys on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 19, 2014

Monty's Deli: Bliss Between Bread!

Monty's Deli Monty's Deli, London Salt Beef at Monty's Deli Reuben Sandwich Monty's Deli
There is only one thing that would make me walk around freezing Bermondsey Market in London... the thought of biting into juicy, tender meat stuck between two thin slices of bread. And what better place than Monty's Deli?

I first heard of Monty's Deli while watching Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food on BBC 2. When I watched the show with my wife she literally grabbed my arm, fingernails digging into my flesh, and said, "sweetie, you have to take me there!" Fast forward a year and I've finally fulfilled my promise to her. And it did not disappoint.

Having lived in Manhattan for a couple of years I have eaten my share of deli sandwiches. I was a regular at Katz's Deli and I have even learned the ancient art of dislocating my jaw in order to receive the delicious deli sandwich squarely and wholly into my mouth.

Monty's Deli doesn't mess around. Their meats are so good, so juicy, so tender and so flavorful that there is really no comparison to anything else I've had in London. Each giant mouthful takes me back to the Lower East Side and suddenly I can hear New Yorkers yelling their orders across the restaurant and the smell of meat cooking so slowly, it almost goes back in time.

My Reuben with Salt Beef, Toasted Rye, Melted Cheese, Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut, served with Coleslaw and a crunchy Pickle was as nice as any sandwich I have ever tasted. At a crisp £7.50 it wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had either.

Well done chaps!

To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Monty's Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2014

Duke of Cumberland Arms, West Sussex: Picture Perfect!

The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Henley, West Sussex The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Menu Inside The Duke of Cumberland Arms Pub Mussels Mussel Fish and Chips Burger Lovely Scenery Beautiful Views Outside Fireplace Panoramic Views
We are so fortunate to have a plethora of excellent pubs in the South of England. It seems like every time I read an article on the food scene in the country, there's another pub that is touted, "must-try", "the best in the country", "as idyllic as it gets". This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Why? Well, have you ever visited a shop early in the morning and there are a million parking spaces? Normally there aren't any and you dive into the first space you find. But when the parking lot is empty you take ages and finally pick the one that looks like it's been preordained by God as the space for you that morning. Usually it's no closer, or better than the space you normally get and it took you half an hour to decide. It's the same thing with the pub scene here in the UK.

If it were up to me I would visit the same few pubs week in and week out. I live in one of the best pub areas in the world and for me, The Bottle House, The Griffin Inn, The Coach and Horses and The Cat Inn are as good as it gets when it comes to English pubs. But, my wife and I like to get out of the area every once in a while and travel to pubs that are further afield.

The Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley, West Sussex is one of those pubs.

Now, I have been accused of being far too hard on restaurants in the past and I'm actually going to be a bit harsh about the food in a minute. So let me start with something positive. The drive to the Duke of Cumberland Arms and the scenery that surrounds it are among the best I have ever seen. It's like a mini-Lake District, right in the heart of West Sussex. Just minutes from the South Downs Way, this is truly a stunning place to visit. I felt like I was in The Hobbit, it's so pretty.

On to the negative. Ouch, this hurts me. I'm sorry to say, that I was disappointed with the food. Granted, I only had three items on the menu, but only one of the three was good. Actually, it was brilliant. The Mussels, served with Crusty Bread was the best example of this dish I think I've ever tasted. But the Fish and Chips and my wife's Burger were very poor quality, indeed. My wife's Burger was bursting with meat, but not in a nice way. It was seasoned too much and it was more than well done, it was cremated. It was supposed to be medium. The meat sat between two dense pieces of... what seemed like pine or maybe cedar wood. I'm joking of course, but it was a dense, horrible bun. As you can see from the photos above, the Burger just doesn't look right.

My Fish and Chips was slightly better. I enjoyed the Pea Puree. The Fish itself was glorious. However, the batter was dripping with grease that inevitably fell onto my Chunky Chips and made them soggy. It was one of the only times I haven't finished my Chips. They were soft and nearly flavorless. The Tartare Sauce was lovely though and I kept dipping my Chips into it in order to impart some flavor into them, but it just didn't work.

In the end, my wife left all of her bun and 1/4 of her meat from her Burger. I left quite a bit of my Fish, nearly all the Batter and a handful of Chips. £13.95 for her Burger and £14.95 for my Fish and Chips, plus £4.50 for Sparkling Water and I didn't feel like it was the best value meal I've ever had. £7.95 for a half portion of Mussels did help to ease the pain though as they are worth much more.

Having said all that, I will definitely be going back. I can be honest and I know that Fish and Chips and Burgers are not the best way to tell if a pub is good or not. It should be two of the simplest dishes to make, but so often chefs get these two easy dishes wrong. If you want to see how delicious these dishes can be, check out The Crown at Bray. Then you'll understand why I love them so.

Having won The Good Food Guide's Pub of the Year in 2012 I'm sure there are better items to be had on their menu. And I'll be trying them in the summer when I'm sure those views are nothing short of marvelous.

To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography

Duke of Cumberland Arms on Urbanspoon