New Orleans Day 1: Hanging in The Garden of Eatin’with a Few MoPhos

I have heard mixed things about New Orleans.  Some have told me they love the party atmosphere while others say the city was a mess before Katrina and is even worse after. I landed with “New Orleans is Sinking” playing over and over in my head.  The flight from Detroit was decent and was made more exciting by a half dozen drunkish but well-behaved  guys who were on the way to a bachelor party.

My goals for the day were simple. First, I wanted to get accustomed to the weather which  characterized by constant humidity, warm nights and random thunderstorms.  Second, I wanted to explore the city a little and hit up a few DDDs along the way. Third, I was looking forward to ending by going to the James Beard nominated Mo-Pho for dinner.

Once I hit the hotel, I began my trek toward the lowering garden district which is characterized by small shops and some of the hottest restaurants in NOLA.  Among these eateries lie 4 triple Ds. My first stop was Joey K’s, an American restaurant with a cajun/creole flare and daily specials ranging from oven roasted turkey to ham hocks with lima beans. I was surprised how busy it was given the time of day.   I sat at the bar and was greeted by a friendly waitress who promptly served me a frozen goblet of Abita.  Afterwards, I chatted with the waiter and, given I had just landed, decided to go authentic with the eggplant napoleon appetizer ( I was drawn to the crawfish cream sauce) and rice and beans with smoked sausage. He chuckled a bit and suggested I stick with a side of the rice and beans since the appetizer was “big”. It was a good call.  The eggplant was huge and ridiculously delicious.  It was served piping hot and the sauce was the star.  The rice and beans were bona fide belly friendly and I was quite happy I didn’t opt for the full portion.

In the end, Joey K’s has a fun vibe, good service and great food whether you are looking for comfort food or authentic southern cooking.

Food-4.5 Guyz

Service- 4.5 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guys

Total- 13/15

My second stop was Mahony’s Po’boy which was located just a little down the road in the Garden district.  It wasn’t nearly as busy as Joey K’s but it was a bit later.  Once again, I was greeted by a friendly waitress who recommended a Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager which was the perfect pairing for the heat and humidity.  The Po’Boy is a New Orleans staple which legend says was named after the fact that striking workers were named poor boys and that restaurateurs Benny and Clovis (great names) Martin coined the term for that reason.  The peacemaker is a particular po’boy which at one time contained shrimp and oysters but has evolved (at least in the case of Mahony’s) as a sandwich with one or the other.  After a chat with the waitress, I opted for the fried oyster version.  I realized I’m not really a fan. I love raw oysters and frying them is a disservice, especially when served between a toasted baguette, especially when the condiments are skimpy and the cheese isn’t melted.

mahonys sandwich
The Peacemaker $14.95

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 3 Guyz

Total- 10.5 Guyz

My third stop in the Garden district was the Creole creamery,a rather unorthodox DDD in the fact that all they serve is ice cream.  From reading the reviews, I was told to expect bold and unique flavours.  Deep down I was hoping for something really cool like rice and beans but that said, there was still some interesting choices.  Even better was the fact they offered a 4 scoop sampler for $4.50 which allowed for a little diversity.  I decided on cream cheese, hibiscus cranberry, thai basil coconut and magnolia flower. When I have ice cream I hope the custard base balanced enough to give great mouth feel but not so overwhelming that it masks the unique flavour of each offering.  CC passed the test.  Each scoop was distinct and recognizable.  The magnolia flower was the best of the bunch; it was subtle but very present. The environment was very American ice cream parlor but the service was quite laissez-fare.

creole creamery ice cream
Croele Cream Cheese, Hibiscus Cranberry, Thai Basil Coconut and Magnolia Flower Sampler  $4.50

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5 Guyz

Total- 10.5/15 Guyz

I was hoping that a 15 km walk through the garden of eatin’ would burn some of the food I ate and get me ready for my nightcap at MoPho. Lead by James Beard and food and wine “best new chef” Michael Gulotta, MoPho is best described as Southeast Asia by way of New Orleans. I was excited to see how exactly the two would be fused.

The location is a bit of a hike out of our New Orleans core and the space itself is very stripmally. That said, the interior is a trendy interpretation of a Thai joint and they have a great and nicely cheesy patio out back which we braved along with the normal early summer humidity of Louisiana.

For the most part, the menu was straight forward Thai and Vietnamese with a little Southeast America in the form of Cedar Key clams and P and J oysters.  Other hints of New Orleans included Creole cream cheese (similar to the aforementioned ice cream) roti and  annatto (a condiment commonly used in Latin food sometimes in the Philippines) beignets. They also offer a nice array of local pints which strengthened the local flare just a bit.  

We ordered an array of dishes including the Som Tan salad, mimita brisket, clams, paella, the pork belly bowl, wings, brussel sprouts and the lamb curry. In general, the flavours were very South Asian and one would need to use their imagination a little to fully appreciate any huge gulf coast influence.  That said, the food had good, aggressive flavours and a nice amount of spice. If you are a fan of a delicate pho, “the standard” was a bit heavy compared to most I have had.  The roti and the beignets were delicious.  The brussel were the comfort foodie food and the wings were a decent representation of this seemingly southeast staple.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a Southeast meets Southeast experience but that said, it was still a tasty experience in Thai/Vietnamese fare.  In general, Day 1 was a good day. Traditional food started the day and some Asian fusion ended it.  It was clear I needed a few more days of stuffing my face before I could reach a verdict on the state of the dining scene in a city that the Tragically Hip have assured me has been sinking for almost 30 years.

MoPho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Reds Midtown Tavern

Another addition to the Yonge and Gerrard hotspot is Reds Midtown Tavern; the younger sister of Reds Wine Tavern in the financial district. The decor and set-up is similar.  It has a classy interior, boasting a fresh decor and a large bar as the centrepiece.  There is less emphasis on wine and more on cocktails and craft beer.  The first time I went to Red’s other location, it was shortly after the re-opening when Ryan Gallagher was still at the helm. The menu was heavy on fresh fish and seafood but this concept seems to be on the backburner now in favour of more traditional fare. You can still get a pan-roasted salmon and a cioppino, but the focus now seems to be on a generic mix of favourites such as pan-roasted salmon, steak frites and lamb shank as well as a daily curry hand-crafted by the chef.

For the first little while I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day”.  There was a  repetitive nature of the evening as per the Bill Murray classic.  There was a bit of confusion around the service strategy.  As soon as I was seated some crispy potato flatbread arrived.  Wrong table.  Then a couple of beer came by.  Wrong table.  Finally, a runner carrying a vat of mussels walked toward me.  I just pointed to the adjacent table and said “It’s for them”. In fact, I thought I felt Punxsutawney Phil rub up against my leg once or twice.  There has been a surge of bubbly waitresses in Toronto as of late and this was no exception.  She arrived happy and informed me without breaking a smile that  they were out of the double dip and that “Sri Lankan beef” was the curry of the night. Come to think of it, she did remind me a bit of Andie MacDowell. I put in a drink order and she skipped away.  Sure enough, not two minutes later, I think I felt Phil again as another waiter arrived and told me they were out of double dip and the curry was Sri Lankan beef.

The cocktail list leans toward traditional with many priced at $10 or less. I asked for a highland old fashioned which came with scotch instead of one of the other traditional whiskies.  An orange slice lined the bottom of the glass, held down by a large ice cube.  It was well balanced, tasty and wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had to drink one over and over again.

Highland Old-Fashioned $10
Highland Old-Fashioned $10

The second cocktail I tried was another classic; the Negroni.  To me, a good Negroni should taste like cough medicine…and not the crappy generic stuff either. I mean extra-strength, cherry flavoured Benylin DM.  Red’s hit the mark with a decent $9 offering, made with gin and enough Campari to give it the taste and colour of a real good expectorant.

Negroni $9
Negroni $9

I’m a sucker for a good New England clam chowder, so I started with a cup of their North Atlantic Seafood  for $6.  There are a thousand interpretations on this classic dish. I quite enjoyed the flavour although it was thin for a chowder, there was more fish than clams and it was a bit on the sweet side.

North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6
North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6

Intrigued by the earlier attempt to give me some crispy flatbread, I decided to give it a try.  It was an interesting spin on a traditional flatbread, topped with an array of popular flavours like argula, balsamic and whole cloves of roasted garlic. I loved the crunchiness of the “bread”.  It was like a huge crouton underneath a standard Mediterranean salad. I was more than content with one or two small pieces and definitely would recommend as something you share.

Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75
Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75

I decided to venture into Asia and ordered the Thai slaw and the Sri Lankan beef curry, going against my cardinal rule of eating out…”if you’re not in a Thai restuarant don’t order Thai”.  Now I can add “if you’re not in a Sri Lankan restaurant, don’t order Sri Lankan”.  Neither dish was bad but just lacked that punch of  intense South Asian flavours, especially the slaw which was rather boring.  At $18.95, I’m convinced I could get a better curry somewhere else for half the price.

Thai Slaw $5.95
Thai Slaw $5.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95

The roast chicken was a safer choice. It had all the fundamentals of a good roast chicken..crispy skin, moist meat and a flavourful au jus.  What lacked were the sides.  There was literally one fingerling potato (cut in half), a few pieces of asparagus and a few mushrooms.  For $18.70, I’ll let you decide.

Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70
Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70

My Take

Red’s midtown is a great place to grab a drink after work or meet a buddy for a few apps. It’s fun but also loud and chaotic. They have decent shareables, trendy yet traditional cocktails and a good beer list. I have to say it’s less appealing as a dinner destination given the generic nature of the main courses I sampled. In other words, it’s like a Moxie’s or an Earl’s or a Joey’s. Good atmosphere with average, overpriced food.

I’m reminded of a famous line from groundhog day in a conversation between Bill Murray’s character Phil and MacDowell’s Rita:

Phil: Something is… different.

Rita: Good or bad?

Phil: Anything different is good.

It’s not about whether Red’s is good or bad….it’s just not different.
Reds Midtown Tavern on Urbanspoon