Jamila’s Cafe

Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with a friend and we were deciding on where to go. We couldn’t decide on what to eat but we could agree we didn’t want Mexican, typical diner food, or Chinese.  I googled restaurants in the area where we were driving, and a place called Jamila’s Café popped up. It was listed as Tunisian cuisine. It was right around the corner, so we headed over.  

The place is a small, quaint building in the middle of a residential section. You could drive right past it if you were looking. It took us a few minutes to find the front door because it’s not too obvious. The doorway opens up into a long hallway that end up in a small back room. Well, THAT’s not the restaurant. We did pass another doorway in the hallway that had windows and curtains but we didn’t see a hostess stand and the doorway opened in front of a table so we didn’t think that was the right door. So we walked back outside and around the side, looking for another entrance. All we found was a backdoor to the kitchen so we wandered back to the hallway side door and went in. Upon entering, a man greeted us right away and seated us. Whew!

The place was wafting with aromas that set my stomach to rumbling. It is a small, intimate restaurant, with minimal decorations but had a “welcome home” appeal. There were white clouds painted on a blue ceiling and lace curtains in the windows. And if you are so inclined, they have belly dancers on Saturdays, though I am not sure where exactly they dance because the tables are so close set together. It’s worth another trip back just to see how this is accomplished. Within a few minutes of being inside, it was obvious this was a place where regulars frequented often enough that the waiter knew them by name and chatted about family and events. The waiter later turned out to be the husband of the chef, and both of them were the proud owners of this establishment. Throughout the evening I watched him personally escort every patron out the door and outside, wishing them a good night and making plans to see them again, or wishing them success on a future endeavor.

His name is Monsef and the joke in the family is he is the busboy. I will let you have the pleasure of telling you that story himself. His wife is Jamila and they have two boys. The boys were 4 and 5 when they decided to start this adventure together. He delighted us with the full story but, again, I do not want to take away from hearing it personally. I feel I wouldn’t do it justice by trying to repeat it here. I will tell you that when his wife exited the kitchen to personally visit every table, I initially thought it was his daughter.

We ordered Mechoui en Brochettes, which is grilled marinated lamb skewers, and Couscous Royal which is served with lamb, merguez (homemade seasoned lamb sausage), chicken and vegetables au jus. The flavor of the marinated lamb skewers was simply delightful. I cannot say enough good things about it. The Couscous Royal reminded me of a flavorful stew. We kept swapping out food between the two dishes because we couldn’t get enough of the meals. At one point, we ran out of the bread and Monsef apologetically asked us if we could wait just a few moments until fresh warm bread exited the oven before he brought it to us. He didn’t want to serve cold bread. When you put it so eloquently, how can I decline?

The evening was getting late and we were late for another engagement so we (reluctantly) declined dessert. But I will be back Jamilla’s, mark my words! If the dessert is anything like dinner, I know I won’t be disappointed. After dinner, and before we left, Monsef asked us if he could perform a traditional post meal hand wash with us. He poured a small amount of fragrant water/cleanser on our hands, which cleanses away the meal. It was a nice finishing touch to the meal.

Just before we left, a party of three people arrived. This was shortly before closing. Monsef was just as pleasant, warm and inviting and I could tell these patrons would receive the full royal treatment without any hint of the approaching closing hour. Monsef insisted on walking us outside as we exited. Once outside, we stood outside chatting for a moment more. As he was talking, he broke off two small twigs of fresh rosemary growing under the restaurant sign and sent us away with our parting gift. This is a man who loves his job, and it shows. The food alone will make you want to come back, but if that’s not enough, the small, friendly personal touches will have you coming back for more.

Maypop is a Maybe

My son is down visiting for the summer, waiting to go back to school. I wish I could say he took a job simply because he is a good son and knows couch potatoness in the house isn’t allowed. I’d also like to take full credit for his desire to be a productive member of society but the fact is, he has a passion for cooking. A passion that is obvious just listening to him speak about food. So while he is whittling away his time here in NOLA, he is putting his time to good use and found a job working in the kitchen of Maypop Restaurant.

Being the great and supportive foodie mother that I am, I just had to drop by unannounced one night and try the place out for myself. I brought a friend along to keep my bias in check and help sample the flavors. We didn’t go all out, ordering everything off the menu but instead sampled/shared a few different items.

First off, I want to give kudos to the wall map decoration. I truly don’t know what style you would call the design, but it is similar to 3d illusion. Imagine triangular wedges all grouped together with two of the sides representing two different maps. When you view from one side, you see one map and when you view from the other side, it is a different map. It is better viewing from a distance because you get the whole picture when your eyes blur the individual wedges together to make one picture. Am I making sense here? I hope so. Better yet, go view for yourself!

Everyone on the staff was pleasant and the atmosphere was friendly and inviting. There was a gentleman standing near the bar who could have been either a bodyguard for some important VIP or a bouncer to kick out the unruly. He was keenly aware of everything happening within the restaurant, without making you feel like you were being watched and I’ll wager nothing gets past him. I could view the kitchen from where I happened to have been seated (strictly a happy coincidence, I assure you). From my vantage point, the kitchen staff worked efficiently and cheerfully.

We ordered the bread service, which is simply four pieces of annatto sesame rolls served in a small cast iron type dish with coconut butter and shellfish pepper jam as an accoutrement. I am a huge fan of delicious bread but I have to be honest, this just didn’t do it for me. The bread was too hard. I think it was left in the oven a little too long so instead of crusty bread with a soft interior, it was closer to a rock hard crust with a dense thick interior. The coconut butter didn’t have even a hint of coconut in it and didn’t taste any different from regular butter, except maybe creamier. The shellfish pepper jam was an interesting combination of flavors though. If you have been following me, you’ll know I don’t do spicy. However, this was flavorful but I was sure happy I was eating it with bread! Whew!

The second item was a Roasted Bone Marrow and Louisiana Crawfish in smoked paprika curry. I was hesitant to try this because I have never had bone marrow and it just sounds like something Hannibal Lector would dine on BUT you only live once so why not try something new? There was a warm, roti bread served with the dish and I am a huge fan of roti. I am almost completely won over to bone marrow by this dish. The hesitancy isn’t due to taste at all but the texture for me of the marrow. It is gelatinous in nature once cooked. I tried eating it straight off bone and the jelly texture didn’t do it for me, but after I scraped it out and mixed it with all the wonderful flavors of the curry sauce, I was a fan.

Next we tried Black Cardamom Glazed Beef Belly with cheesy curried potato stuffed roti (again with the roti, I know! But I like what I like). The flavors in this dish were delicious and the stuffed roti was a knock out of the park. A real winner to me!

For dessert we tried the Mousse Rouge and Dark Chocolate Cremeux. I had to send the chocolate dessert back but the Mousse was delicious. Full of flavor without the heaviness an overpowering sugary dessert would have. The mousse is housed in a circular tower of white chocolate. The red and green strawberries are floating in a summery marinade of interesting herb-infused flavors. The greek yogurt sherbet, which sounds like an ice cream imposter, was a splendid accompaniment to the mousse. A perfect way to end a meal.

I ordered an Espresso Martini to go with the dessert but the waiter only heard the word espresso and brought a cup of that instead. It took me a few minutes to gain his attention again but once he learned his mistake, he quickly corrected the order.

Overall, there are many great qualities of Maypop and still many items on the menu left to explore. I didn’t leave the restaurant feeling “wow, I can’t wait to go there again!” Though I am not totally sold on the place, I believe it deserves a second go ’round, and not just because my son is working there!

Strolling through NOLA

When people think of New Orleans, usually, the first few things they think about is Mardi Gras, Beads, Bourbon Street and women’s bared breasts. I’ll admit, it’s what I used to think too. The few times I visited before moving down here gave me an insight to a beautiful city, whose inhabitants were fiercely proud, loyal and full of life. Since moving New Orleans, my initial reaction to this beautiful city hasn’t changed. Quite the contrary, it’s been enhanced by the sights and sounds I have experienced in my short time of being here. 

New Orleans isn’t just about delicious food, beautiful artwork, naked breasts and endless parties. There is so much history here! When you stroll down parts of the city, it feels like you time warped to a different bygone era. There are Victorian houses with porch swings and tassled lampshades in the windows. Trees so large and majestically lumbersome, overhanging the sidewalks and looming out over the streets. I have seen street lamps taken over by Honeysuckle vines, becoming fragrant giants towering over their domain. Fronts of buildings covered head to toe in Ivy. Lawns recreated to become picturesque zen gardens. As you stroll down the sidewalks, if you look carefully around you, you’ll see intermittent memorials in the form of perhaps a plaque, a statue, or a bell, seamlessly blending into the surroundings. A gentle reminder of loves and lives lost but not forgotten. There are beautiful balconies, adorning historic buildings, handcrafted to reflect the personality of the crafter. 

Have I told you I love this city? I passed by a storefront that sold crowns… CROWNS. What King or Queen of your household doesn’t need a crown! And just outside a different storefront I saw a large regal lamp. Anywhere else it would have looked out of place but here in this city, anything goes. So many different artists set up outside Jackson Square. Each week you can view it’s someone new and something different. I don’t have the space or the money to purchase everything I like but if I did, I’d be broke already. 

I am still unsure if New Orleans will be my forever home, but I’ve lived here nearly a year now and it hasn’t lost it’s appeal yet. There is still so much more that needs to be explored. You are welcome to stay with me on this journey and feel free to let me know your favorite places to visit. 

Delachaise (the night continues)

After Trey and I left Nolé, we strolled down St Charles looking for our next food adventure. We stumbled across Delachaise Wine Bar. It looks like an eclectic little place, which can either swing very good or very bad, in my experience. But what is life, if we don’t take a few chances now and then? Boring is what it would be! 

From the outside it looks like an old streetcar that has been unceremoniously dropped on St Charles Street. But the owners have made the best of the location (and you know what they say, location is everything), added a little sunroom looking area, outdoor seating, a large stocked bar and viola, a bar is born! 

The alcohol selection is impressive. If I were a connoisseur of fine wines, liquors and such, I would have a field day in there. But I am not as much of a drinker and I am a foodie. Speaking of which, we has a few small appetizers this go ’round. Trey ordered the frog legs and flank steak bruschetta and I ordered the cuban pulled pork. I have never dined on frog legs before so it was a first for me.

I’ll be honest…. they didn’t taste bad, but were a little greasy for my taste. Since I don’t have a memory to compare to, I can’t tell you if frog legs are normally greasy or if it was the duck fat they used to cook them in… either way, I wasn’t a huge fan. But please try for yourself. Perhaps my palate is still developing. I also leave room for the possibility that my mind is playing tricks on me too. The mind is a powerful tool, and when I was a little girl I saw a cartoon that depicted frogs wheeling themselves out of a restaurant kitchen in wheelchairs (because their legs have been cut off) and haven’t been able to bring myself to eat from legs ever since. I thought I was mature enough to work past it but the image of little frogs in wheelchairs hasn’t left my mind yet, so maybe that’s the real reason this meal wasn’t as appealing as it should have been. And for those of you who love frog legs, I’ll bet dollars to donuts you will enjoy these!

The cuban pork was very delicious and it comes with yucca fries, which are my favorite. The flank steak bruschetta was not what I was expecting. I was expecting the steak to be cut up into small pieces and maybe mixed with tomatoes and such and spread over the top of the bread. But instead it was a slice of the steak on top of a slice of bread and topped with cheese. It didn’t taste bad, per se, but it’s like when you are craving a Barqs Root Beer and get Dr. Pepper instead. The ambience and atmosphere is worth a second trip back. So Delachaise, you aren’t my favorite but there are perks that make a second trip necessary. 

Nolé in NOLA

We are a foodie family. It all started with my dad (more on him another time) and I continued the trend with my children. The love of food has blossomed with my son so much that he is now a culinary student. So when he came to visit me here, of course we HAD to go out to eat at different places. A week before he came down, I had lunch at a place called Nolé. I had read about it on a blog called LetDatGirlEat and she made it sound so delicious that I wanted to go try for myself. Well, she wasn’t lying! The food was delicious. And the waitress, Shaile, was so gregarious that even if the food was less than stellar, I would have returned just to have her as my waitress again! We struck up a conversation and I told her about my son visiting and looking for a job in between semesters. Turns out her fiancé is also a chef, who happened to graduate from the same school my son is attending. She told me she would talk to her fiancé and get a list of places for him to apply to for work. She also said to bring him by when he came in town and she would have the list ready. 

Needless to say, we went to Nolé for lunch. I enjoy listening to him critique food mostly because I because it validates that my palate is every bit as stellar as his own. LOL Shaile was there and true to her word, she had a list of places. I was not expecting this because I truly thought she was just being kind and would forget me as soon as I left. She was just as gregarious as the first time and offered many suggestions and insight into NOLA, things to do, and Jazz week which was upon us. She is an almanac of ideas and stories. If you haven’t made her acquaintance, I suggest you go and ask for her. You won’t regret it. Note** I say this with all honesty. I am not being paid to say nice things about her, we are not related and she is not getting any kickbacks from her referrals. I know someone out there is naysaying me but she is sincerely genuine. It’s rare to find these days. 

The restaurant offers small plates and entrees. The small plates are shareable, akin to tapas dishes. Two of the small plates I ordered this time, were what I had previously eaten on my first visit so I waited until now to discuss. No need to repeat myself! We ate Blue Crab street corn which is a tasty dish but isn’t what you would imagine when you hear the name. It is small pieces of corn on the cob, standing upright in a shallow, chunky puddle of cream sauce flavored with shredded blue crab. The corn itself is covered with a sauce and spices and roasted to bring out the flavors. We also ate Duck confrit empanadas. I am picky about my empanadas because it is easy to make the crust thick and hard but these were filled just perfectly with the duck and the crust was flaky. Both visits wielded delicious delicacies that didn’t disappoint. 

The first time I went I was interested in the Latin Nachos, but Shaile warned me they were stacked high and quite a lot of food for one so I held off until my son was with me. I must say, she was right. The Latin Nachos were tall and overflowing with layers upon layers of flavor. We were impressed that there were very few naked nachos, and they were hidden deep. We also ordered Pecan encrusted carnitas tacos. The flavoring was inspirational, causing my son to almost lick his fingers! Instead, he used a small piece of the shell to wipe the last remnants of sauce off the plate (don’t judge us here). We didn’t have dessert during this visit because we were saving the opportunity for later. But I will mention that on my first visit I ordered the olive oil chocolate cake and it did not disappoint. It was so filling and decadent, I had to take half of it home to finish another day. 

I like that the restaurant hands out printed recipe cards with the check. It’s a nice personal touch. 

There were just two things that were a little annoying…. in one of the stalls in the women’s bathroom, the toilet paper roll is mounted so low that I had to bend so far over while sitting just to reach it.  If I didn’t have good balance I would have toppled over. It might be okay for people shorter than five feet tall, but if you are like me and taller than 5’8”, you have been warned of the difficulty. The other annoying little factor is if you sit on the patio, the chairs are metal and small. The backs are attached narrowly at the side and anyone who is larger than size 4 or who has hips will not fit comfortably. Otherwise, Nolé, we will meet again!

Mardi Gras (belated)

Sorry for being absent from the blog. Life gave me some hiccups and I had to adjust fire and continue on. But I’m back! Maybe not better than ever but at least no worse for the wear. I want to spend a few minutes catching you up on a few things I did before the disappearing act.

Mardi Gras was the BIG EVENT! WOW! Because had never been, I had all sorts of preconceived notions of what it was. I thought it was just one day of endless parades. I envisioned half naked women baring breasts all day long for the hordes of adoring fans standing on balconies above them. I pictured drunks peeing on the street corner, unable to find a public bathroom. I imagined all sorts of debauchery in the streets, amateur directors creating new Girls Gone Wild videos, and little old ladies whacking the backs of kneecaps to steal beads from unsuspecting tourists falling to the ground. Side note* my mother and her partner used to go to Mardi Gras every year and come back with brown paper bags filled with beads. She was five foot nothing and weighed 88 lbs soaking wet with rocks in her pocket. She had no boobs to speak of so I always used to tease her and say “I don’t want to know how you got all these beads but don’t let me catch you on an episode of Moms Gone Wild!” And I wouldn’t have put it past her to whack a few kneecaps with her cane to help boost her loot!

In fact, it is a month log celebration with parades scheduled almost daily. Bakeries jockeying for title of best King Cake award. Celebrations, parties, and grand Balls. It’s akin to adult sororities aka societies throwing the party of all parties. Each parade has its own theme and each theme is associated with a society. Each society throws their own Ball. This happens all month long.

On actual Mardi Gras day, there are parades that run one after the other, and it is an all-day affair. My friend Alex came to visit and we were invited to go to the parade with a co-worker and her family. I was so ill prepared for how momentous the day was going to be and how much work and preparation went in to making it successful.

For starters, Alex and I bought a king cake and alcohol to contribute to the festivities. I worked the night before so when I got off work at 0730, Alex picked me up from work and we went straight to my friend’s house. She and her two cousins were there getting ready. I changed clothes and we packed up the car with chairs, food and drinks. We drove to the area where her other family members had set up camp. It took several miles of driving, a few detours and some well-placed words before we found a suitable parking spot close enough to our intended destination. Luckily, there was enough hands and arms to carry everything we packed, not to mention we were in relatively good shape so the encumbered walk was manageable. Note to self, next year I am buying an all-terrain wagon to load up supplies and help navigate the streets and sidewalks. (I mentioned in an earlier blog posting about the trees taking over in some sidewalks)

We arrive to our destination around 0900 and unload. Alex and I get introduced to everyone there and that is when it becomes evident the amount of effort and preplanning and downright dedication it takes to pull this off! The space we were inhabiting was like a campsite; complete with chairs, tables, grills, awnings for shade and a rented port-a-potty in someone’s driveway two blocks away. And food. Did I mention food? They had staked their claim to this little plot of land the night before, started cooking and then slept there, outside under the stars, to prevent anyone else from taking it over. Continued cooking the next day and I swear the food did not stop coming until the last parade train rolled past. All day long family members and friends kept streaming in and out. Bringing more food and alcohol and celebrating the day. Kids and adults of all ages were collecting beads and dancing. Music played, laughter rang out and the parade kept coming.

Believe it or not, I managed to stay awake until around 1630 (4:30pm). I felt my body starting to shut down so I decided to walk to the car and sleep. I was leaving Alex in good company and figured everyone can wake me up when the get back to the car. When I reached the car, there was a speaker blaring out loud music literally across the street but at that point, I had been up 22 straight hours and I couldn’t function anymore. I hopped in the car and passed out cold until they woke me up about two hours later. The day was a success. I walked away with a haul of beads and toys that would have made my mother proud. Alex was sufficiently drunk, looking like a Dominican Mr T. We drove everyone home and limped back to my apartment and promptly fell asleep again. I think it took us all the next day to recover but it was well worth it.

Alex and I came up with and after action report on where to improve for next year. We have a game plan and will not be unprepared again. Mardi Gras is coming! 

Note* These are but a few of the pics I took. Way too many to post!

High Hat Cafe

Recently, I had a friend visiting from out of town, so I took him to the High Hat Cafe. It is a restaurant I have been wanting to try but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I had heard good things about it so I couldn’t wait to experience this landmark restaurant. 

From the outside it was pretty non-descript. It looks like a restaurant that opened in a strip mall and is still hanging on in there over the years. The inside definitely shows it’s been a staple of the community for some time now; old pictures hanging on the wall, old fashioned tables and chairs and it hasn’t had a makeover in some time. It was hard to tell the difference between the staff and customers because everyone was dressed for a casual evening stroll and some looked like they rolled right out of bed. That’s not to say it was a turnoff for me… honestly, some of the best food I’ve eaten were in hole-in-the wall places. I wish I could say this was one of those times. 

We both tried the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo Ya-Ya. Now before you go asking me what a gumbo ya-ya is, I had to look it up myself, ‘cause apparently it’s a thing down here. It depends on who you talk to and where you google the answer, but it could be from a book with the same name about Louisiana folklore, written by Lyle Saxon. It’s also rumored to have been spoken by chef Paul Prudhomme when he tried some good gumbo and replied it tastes so good it makes you say yaya. Others say it means “everybody talks at once”. Though that doesn’t sound food related, it could be if you imagine the cacophony of sounds when many people are talking, competing for your attention, is akin to the many flavors in gumbo competing for your taste buds.  Now this particular gumbo was not thick enough for my taste, for starters. Maybe it’s just my preference, but I prefer my gumbo to be more stew consistency and less soupy. I also wasn’t particular to the many pieces of floating fat that were starting to congeal as the gumbo cooled. When you live in the city that boasts gumbo on near about every street corner, gas station and eatery, you have got to step your game up!

We both decided to order the side dish plate, which boasts 3 side dishes and cornbread. This way we could sample many different flavors. Together we tried the pimento mac n cheese, field greens, green beans with apple smoke wood bacon, creamy grits, sweet potato salad, and hushpuppies. The Mac n cheese was very peppery, but tasty, if you could get past the overwhelming flavor of black pepper. The field greens were to die for. A definite 5-star rating in both our books. The green beans were tasty but there were more fat particles than bacon bits, so it made the dish too greasy, and that just turns my taste buds off. The creamy grits were delicious. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the sweet potato salad. Didn’t really know what it was to be honest but if you imagine potato salad, and substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes, viola, sweet potato salad. Original concept. I give it props for originality. If you like potato salad, this might be right up your alley. The hush puppies were tasty but too greasy. My fingers were definitely more touchably soft after eating a few of those. The cornbread was horrible. We both spit it out on the first bite. 

Overall, the High Hat was decent but not memorable. It is a great family restaurant you can bring the kids too when they are young and learning table manners; the “starter restaurant” if you will. It is a place to get a decent meal for a good price. 

green beans, field greens, grits, cornbread, and hushpuppies
sweet potato salad