When my dear friend, My Nguyen, emailed her best gal pals a series of “Sex and the City” gifs woven amidst an invitation to the city of jazz and beignets for her 30th, I began saving up my appetite for the fateful weekend in January.
But first a little background on how we met:
After graduating college, I landed an internship at a local publication, Hampton Roads Magazine, now known as Coastal Virginia Magazine. From working on editorial and digital media together to attending events, we became close friends fast bonding over coffee, restaurant week and our similar taste in music, remaining gal pals even after her move to Bethesda.
Fast forward nearly 7 years later, and I joined her and her best gals, who traveled from New York and D.C., for the most delectable girls weekend. Even though most of us were just meeting for the first time, the charm (and chow) of New Orleans quickly broke the ice.
Arriving, wine and the brie-est of bries
Once everyone arrived, we were off to Bacchanal for wine and snacks. A small and intimate wine cave, the shop was wall-to-wall with wine organized by regions in the U.S., Europe and the southern hemisphere, with an entire wall dedicated to champagne, sparkling wine, rosé and white wine accompanied by a fridge filled with fine cheese and charcuterie—this was clearly my kind of place. With a chilled bottle of a delicious French white wine of which I can’t recall its name, we then exited out to their courtyard, where there are buckets and ice to keep it chilled at our table. Multicolored string lights illuminated the scene while a stage was at the back of the area, where I imagined intimate jam sessions must go down. Since we arrived at the tail end of some live jazz, the six of us sat back and indulged in a cheese and meat plate (bless that brie and its oh-so-creamy perfection!), while I shamelessly devoured a bowl of mussels in this wonderfully lemon-butter sauce with grilled bread.
fried chicken, beignets and jazz
Saturday morning, we kicked off the day with a quick stop at St. Roch Market (get the grits from Fete au Fete; they’re extra savory, not creamy) on the way to our two-hour cemetery tour. With a strong coffee in his hand, our guide schooled us on the history of his city and a fascinating tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest operating cemetery in the country.
We then scooted over to Willie Mae’s, a NOLA gem known for some of the city’s best fried chicken. Even with the over-hour wait in the rain, mind you, we found ourselves fingers greasy, tastebuds on fire from the chicken infused with hot sauce, and in pure fried chicken bliss. Of course we also ordered our fair share of fried okra, fries, mac and cheese, brussels sprouts and cornbread muffins before the sweet finale: an order of bread pudding for the table—‘twas the most pudding-esque of bread puddings I’d ever palated.
After a couple hours of rest time, we dressed up to make our 6 p.m. reservation for Sylvain, a former carriage house in the French Quarter built circa late 1700s. Dim and cozy, I ordered a sazerac, took one look at the menu and knew the braised beef cheeks were for me. Sumptuously savory, tender slivers of beef rested atop a buttery, creamy cloud of potato purée garnished with mint sprigs and fried shallots.
With our appetites met, we were ready for some live music and indulgent imbibing along Frenchmen Street, where the locals corral. Jazz bands, trumpets and horns galore, this lively pocket of New Orleans did not disappoint. We of course stopped along the more touristy, though surely a must-do, Bourbon Street where the pavement already glistened with strings of beads, the city commemorating the upcoming Mardi Gras. Later in the evening, we took a beignet break at the renowned Café Du Monde. With eight locations now in the city, we went to the original coffee stand located on Decatur Street in the New Orleans French Market. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the stand’s outdoor tent panels were folded up welcoming a sweet, near 60-degree, evening breeze. I admit, when we sat at the tables covered in mounds of powdered sugar, I thought, sheesh the previous diners really left a mess. All judgement was aside once we ordered six beignets for the table. It was nearly impossible not to scatter the powdered sugar everywhere with each bite. Freshly fried, powdered, then served, the beignets lived up to the hype.
my’s birthday, a jazz brunch and the original muffuletta
Since we didn’t get to bed until after 2 a.m., we took our time the following morning before a fancy jazz brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. The all-you-can-eat buffet served the breakfast usuals among Creole classics, like jambalaya and gumbo, as well as king cake and other confections. Serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by the jazz trio, My wore her dollars pinned on her shirt with pride; it’s a New Orleans birthday tradition after all. Stuffed and satisfied, we gallivanted around the French Quarter visiting shops and such, toted more beignets to go and ordered a muffuletta from Central Grocery & Deli for later, as one does, before heading back to our Airbnb.
Rested up and two episodes into the new Netflix series, “You,” we got gussied up for My’s birthday dinner at Cavan, a mansion built in 1883 adorned with pink velvet chairs and booths, a spiral staircase, grandiose chandeliers and a lovely bar, of course. After all the beignets and fried foods from the weekend, I went a smidgen lighter on my meal with a wedge salad and added fried crawfish, per our waiter’s suggestion, as well as their duck prosciutto toast with brûléed whipped ricotta. The table shared corn fritters with a Tabasco honey butter, and with one bite, my tastebuds were singing. We ended the evening sharing a butterscotch pudding before heading back to the apartment in a dazed, blissful food coma—the only way one should end a visit to New Orleans.
'Twas a food marathon of a weekend, and I feel honored to have been able to spend it with one of the sweetest gals I know. Cheers to My and her 30th year!
(Side note: My loves planning trips from finding our stylish Airbnb to researching things to do and places to nosh, which I wholly appreciate as a gal who likes to plan trips around food. Needless to say, I accredit all of these good finds to her passion for both travel and food.)