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An Easy Weekend, part 2
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jducoeur

Starting with the weak bits again: okay, what's the big deal about Pralines?  I've tried them from two places now -- one of the more common brands, and a stand in a farmer's market -- and our reaction is a resounding "shrug".  It's basically undercooked pecan brittle, far as I can tell, usually with too little pecan flavor and too much sugar to be interesting, with all the complexity of milk chocolate.  I sincerely don't get why every block in the French Quarter is apparently required by law to have at least one Praline shop, all of them in desperate competition.

On the other hand, we did stop for snack at Cafe du Monde yesterday -- 9 for food, 2 for atmosphere, but the place does live up to its billing.  Having to fight our way through to find a table was less than thrilling, but -- well, I've rarely seen such a simple menu.  They sell coffee (excellent) and beignets (also excellent), and that's pretty much it.  Points for sticking to what they have perfected, though, with a coffee/chicory combination that is delicious.  And never let it be said that they don't give you enough powdered sugar for your beignets -- after doing my damnedest to repeatedly dredge them in the mounds of sugar, I think there was still half a cup left.  I think the only way to use all the sugar they give you is to pick up the plate and simply pour it into your mouth.  I'm glad to have gone, and would love to have the food again, but I honestly don't know if it's worth the table-hunt.

Brunch today was Commander's Palace.  We declared that this was our fourth Dinnerversary (really, are you surprised that we celebrate the first time we went out for a fancy dinner together?), and it was well up to the expected standards.  Everything was quite good, but the standout dish was her Spring Lamb Hash with Lamb Belly.  The Hash was out of this world -- meaty, spicy, complex and flavorful -- and the Lamb Belly, like my Pork Belly last night, was meatier and less fatty than the interpretations I tend to get at home. We each got the right dessert: she took the opportunity to try a *real* Strawberry Shortcake by people who know what they are doing, with all the elements just right and not over-sweetened, while I had a Pecan Pie that I liked more than I would have expected -- less sweet filling than usual, but livened by crunchy roasted pecans (maybe with some spices?) providing more than enough flavor to make up for the reduced sweetness.

Service was as remarkable as you'd expect from a place of this caliber, livened by having my Esquire-brother Argyle (the second Silverwing Philosopher-Laurel), who moved from the East down to New Orleans about eight years ago, and who is now Floor Captain at Commander's Palace, waiting on us.  We got a good deal of schmoozing in amongst him needing to run around, along with lessons about things like the history and construction of a proper Sazerac cocktail.

Great stuff, and well-recommended.  Not cheap -- we paid about $150 pre-tip (including a good deal of booze) -- but a great splurge if you're looking for something elegant that still has powerful, punchy flavors...

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Perhaps the pralines you got weren't very good? They're basically a sugar/brown sugar fudge w/pecans...hmmm, maybe I should make some at some point.

I haven't been to NOLA since 2000, but when I did go to Cafe du Monde, I found that a good use for All That Powdered Sugar was sweetening my iced coffee. I normally can't drink coffee without violent gastrointestinal issues, but maybe it was the chicory, or the beignets, or just being on vacation...oh, and if you ever get the chance to go there w/a bunch of black-clad goths, DO IT--watching everyone getting covered with the powdered sugar is well worth it. ;-)

Kes and I noticed that all the small birds hanging out near the Cafe du Monde were VERY HYPER!

Pralines are, so far as I can tell, way more about attempting to be interesting regional food than they are about actually attempting to be good food. Not the only example, even, since coffee with chicory became a New Orleans thing less because it's any good and more owing to the Union blockade during the civil war...

My first though about your brunch (other than the fact that now I want to go back to Commander's Palace too.) is, "Wow, I wonder how much one makes as a floor captain at Commander's Palace?" This was shortly overridden by, "Wow, I wonder how well one eats all the freakin' time, as a floor captain at Commander's Palace?"

My first reaction to that is "Well, you should try *my* pralines!" but I don't actually understand what the big deal is either and I've actually been making them-- though given how hard I had to look to find a recipe that isn't pure corn syrup, it's possible that the catering-to-the-tourists takes the easy way out and does it that way, which will make it tasteless in the same way the standard pecan pie is tasteless. Properly it should be done with several varieties of brown sugar and raw cane sugar, dissolved in... well, I think butter is the standard but I make a vegan version.

I have never found any commercially produced pralines worth it. My mothers and Aunt's on the other hand...

I remember my mother's comment looking at the commercial ones in NO - "where are the pecans in this thing"


Also, I've found that getting the beignets to go and sitting along the river is a better option.

You didn't mention a muffaletta for Central Grocery - preferably with a bag of Zapp's potato chips. Its truly a NO experience. But definitely get it from Central Grocery on Decatur Street. The olive dressing it the best in the city IMO.

Following up, after our last day there:

Also, I've found that getting the beignets to go and sitting along the river is a better option.

Tried that on Monday (because, hey, more beignets!), and discovered a snag in that theory: while the crowding for a table is bad, the line for take-out is *insane*. After waiting for five minutes, we saw a table open up and snagged it. Far as we could tell, we were nearly done with our leisurely coffee before we would have gotten to the front -- the line appeared to be about 1/2 hour, even on a weekday.

You didn't mention a muffaletta for Central Grocery

Decided to try for that on Monday, but failed -- sadly, Central Grocery was closed. But you'd gotten me in the mood for muffaletta, so we went back to the place in the French Market where I got one on Friday. (Antonio's? Something like that.) Can't compare it to Central Grocery, but definitely yummy -- muffalettas are very much up my alley.

(And thanks for the pointer to Zapp's -- got a bag of their Voodoo chips for the plane ride home, and they were excellent.)

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