Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Food Love Makes the World Go 'Round

My mind is again roaming towards those Drago's charbroiled oysters, a fixation that a dozen in one night at Taste of the Town wasn't able to cure. While at Tipitina's last night for the New Orleans Magazine Annual Jazz Awards (and with French Quarter Fest this weekend and Jazz Fest beginning in just two short weeks, the timing is nothing short of appropriate), Boy and I ended up sitting at a table near the stage with another young couple. Incidentally, they were tourists from Brooklyn--adding to an already fast-growing list of people from Brooklyn I like ... sign from God, maybe, that I should be one of them...?--here on their first trip to New Orleans to take part in the tastes and sounds of the Big Easy.

Tami and Eben were their names, and it was after an uncomfortable 20 minutes (for them -- I was happily chomping away on spinach dip and chicken wings) that they approached me with the question, "What IS this?"

This explained a lot. Their attempt to blend into the wall when they figured out that Tip's was hosting a private event was uncharacteristic of locals, who make themselves at home and say hello to everyone, regardless of whether they're party-crashers or invited party-goers. Ends up they were hiding after they saw us come in and me greet one of my favorite editors in town (and ironically, sorority sister), Morgan Packard, since (hilariously), as one of the only Asian/Caucasian couples they'd seen during the trip, they thought they'd been mistaken for me and Boy, and that this was why they were allowed entry. I laughed my ass off at this.

Anyway, we got to talking, and my personality being probably about 85% food-oriented, it seemed natural that conversation would turn to things that were edible and that I would whip out a some paper and my always handy gel roller and start jotting down my recommendations. They were excited to learn that I was a food writer, and being of the iPhone generation, checked out this blog and read my love letter to the Drago's oyster and became convinced that this was where they should be, oysters at the end of their season as Casamento's "Closed for the Summer" sign indicates.

After an embarrassingly short time of cajoling, I forgot for a minute that I was an old lady with a day job and early hours, and we were talked into accompanying the couple. Of course, though, we offered them a ride back downtown, as our car was parked across the street and their car was ... umm, in New York.

The Drago's downtown in the Hilton was quiet for Drago's, the dinner rush over and service winding down. Our new friends were at first vaguely skeptical due to the corporate look, feel, and sheer size of the place (they politely hid this as best they could), but after walking past one of the grillers pouring liquid butter over a still-massive heap of oysters, they started to get psyched.

A big bowl of gumbo was shared between T and E, and they assured me it was far better than the gumbo they'd already had here. I was satisfied by this assertion, since Drago's makes my top 5 list for gumbo, and it's good to know when I'm not off. Strawberry ale--made with local, in-season Ponchatoula reds--by Abita was ordered for the boys, which E agreed was far superior than the Dixie he'd been drinking in an attempt to be "local." The size of the oysters at the table next to ours was impressive, and I was happy that all eyes around the table widened with excitement as our two dozen were brought to plate. Crisp Leidenheimer bread, only slightly less moist than daytime French bread, was handy as usual in sopping up the rich herbed butter that pooled with oyster water along the bottom of the plates, and the flavor of the oysters was as delectable ... also as usual.

As the night drew to a close and I showed all of my world-weary 24 years, our guests turned into our hosts as they generously insisted on paying for all that was consumed. After multiple attempts to throw the musician and teacher at least a twenty-spot for our dozen, they paid the check amidst our grumblings, which was a touching and magnanimous gesture we appreciated greatly.

Good people, that couple, and if these are the types of tourists we attract into the city, maybe there's hope for Bourbon Street and its frat boys yet.

Hilton Riverside
2 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70140
(504) 584-3911

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