NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

NOLA_shrimp_po_boy_1967_600

No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

3 teeth

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The Ultimate Oysters Rockefeller

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Nola – New Orleans, LA

Normally I prefer my oysters like my Eddie Murphy, Raw. In fact, “prefer” is putting it mildly. Truth be told I tend to find something inherently very cheap about cooked oyster dishes such as this. Like something you’d expect to find at bas mitzvahs and weddings and other heavily catered events. Done with the sole purpose of covering up the flavor of the mollusk. Assumingly due to one of two reasons:

  1. To hide the fact that it’s not fresh enough to be served raw.
  2. To make it more palatable for an audience who doesn’t truly like oysters.

Well, at least that’s what I used to think, until Emeril showed me the light- along with some bacon. And about a dozen other ingredients. But somehow it was all done in a way so as not to drown the mollusk in a sea of over-preparation. Instead, he still somehow managed to pull the flavor of the oyster through this onslaught of other palate pleasers, rising up like a seventh wave of the attack. I say seventh as a nod to “Dream of the Blue Turtles,” because apparently the seventh wave is love according to Sting, and who am I to argue with Sting, because I truly did love every last complex morsel on the half shell.

J. Gumbo’s

61 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 206-8501 •  jgumbos.com

jambalaya

Finally! Good, quick Cajun in the city. It’s one of my favorite cuisines and it kills me that there’s such a drought of places to get it. I assume it must not be as marketable to the Northern palate, but if we can have Ethiopian restaurants up in this bitch, I think we can do Cajun. Can I get an amen?

So, having fully tipped my hand, you can imagine that I liked it. And while it isn’t flawless, it is WAY better than Indikitch a few steps down the block, which seems to be doing business like gangbusters. But, if you like spicy, and you don’t need to have Indian per se, do like Johnnie Walker and keep walking.

I tried several different dishes, because they let you sample, and the Drunken Chicken won the Battle Royale. Granted the Jambalaya was pretty good as well, but me likey the spicy and it’s a little light on the heat. As was the Etouffée, which was the biggest disappointment of the three. Way too mild to carry the name, which means “choke” as in so hot it causes you to. It also happens to be one of my favorite dishes, so perhaps I’m a bit more critical than most. That said, their hot sauce is pretty impressive, so next time I might just order the Etouffée and get all Emeril on its ass and “kick it up a notch.”

On the value side of things, the portions are generous and come with cornbread, dessert and a drink. The cornbread is passable, but the drink options are unfortunately just the usual suspects courtesy of Coke and Pepsi.

But the biggest miss was the peach cobbler for dessert. Shoulda gone with Dave’s Cookies. The cobbler is soggy and made with canned peaches. Fortunately it’s also made with lots of butter and sugar, so the taste is okay, but consistency is a big uneasy.

Service is friendly and décor is pretty standard with the minor exception of the art on the walls. But none of that matters because what’s truly important is that we got ourselves some bona fide Cajun my friends. I guarantee.

3 teeth

Commander’s Palace

1403 Washington Ave. New Orleans, LA 70130(504) 899-8221commanderspalace.com

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I know this place is the paragon of Cajun cuisine, having birthed both Paul Prudhomme (K. Paul’s) and Emeril Lagasse, icons unto themselves, but that does very little for the meal sitting in front of me in the here and now. And I hate to say it, but there, the here and now sucked up and down.

The moment we set foot inside, our tourist trap meter was pegged. From the clientele to the decor there is absolutely nothing desirable about the inside of this place, including the food. It was the worst meal we had in New Orleans by a wide margin.

With so many phenomenal restaurants in the French Quarter, please don’t waste your time going here. It is the quintessential  emperor, or should I say commander, having no clothes.

2 teeth

NOLA

534 Saint Louis St. New Orleans, LA 70130 • (504) 522-6652 emerilsrestaurants.com/nola-restaurant

 SOS+NOLA

BAM! That was the sound of my skepticism exploding. I mean Emeril Lagasse was obviously a talented chef once upon a time, but now that he’s become as over-exposed as Paris Hilton, the likelihood of him actually having any real influence on what goes on in the kitchen’s of his restaurants seems about as likely as the United States selling Louisiana back to the French for the same 4 cents per acre.

Speaking of great deals, I don’t think I’ve ever had meal this great for so little. I would’ve gladly paid double for the exact same meal. In fact, it was so inexpensive, I felt guilty only leaving 20% as a tip, especially when the service was as  exceptional as it was, so for the first time ever I tipped 35%. Not bragging, well, at least not about me. It’s more a commentary on the excellence of our server. Southern hospitality at its finest.

But not to be outdone by the service, the chef made New Orleans proud, dropping Ultimates like they were going out of style. The best oysters (Rockefeller) I’ve ever had in my life, loaded with bacon and about 15 other ingredients. Followed by the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life- bananas foster bread pudding with drunken monkey ice cream. The ice cream alone is Ultimate within an Ultimate. Other dishes were also very good like the cedar plank salmon, but compared to the previous mentions it was a mere mortal.

Now if it’s one thing New Orleans is definitely not short on, it’s great restaurants, but do yourself a solid and put this one toward the top of your list. It’s WAY better than K. Paul’s and blows the Commander’s Palace out of the oil polluted water. A class act top to bottom and I meal I will never forget.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Bread Pudding

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Perhaps it’s one of the more polarizing desserts out there. Some people just absolutely LOVE bread pudding, while others wouldn’t even give it a second glance. Now I’m sure you can guess which end of the spectrum I fall. So let’s just dive right in:

The Dutch – Soho, New York City

I’m not sure I need to say anything other than “Mexican Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding.” This things is so damn good I almost wanted to puke it back up so I could eat it again. What? Too far? Anyhoo. The spicy-sweet combination is a thing of beauty, balanced with ample doses of creamy and gooey. Just perfection.

Hundred Acres – Soho, New York City

Beyond the décor, the only other stand out at this place is the bread pudding. And WOW does it stand, tall and proud. Soaked to the bone in sweet caramel goodness, this thing is like a thick, moist bread pudding steak.

La Petite – Breckenridge, CO

This is your basic bread pudding. No creative spin. Just pure awesomeness. As pure as the driven snow outside the restaurant. With the most kickass crème anglaise you’ve ever laid your taste buds on.

Nola – New Orleans, LA

If sex were a dessert it’d be this. Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Drunken Monkey Ice Cream (which would also make my Ultimates list for Ice Cream). This thing was so damn good I could swear I saw God, and I’m an atheist, so that’s saying a lot.