Finding Anne Rice in New Orleans
A TASTE OF LIFE - Heny Sison (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2015 - 12:00am

After taking Cajun and Creole cooking at the International Culinary Education (ICE) in New York, I was charmed by its food. Since my daughter and I had been wanting to travel together for a few days on an adventure away from New York, our best bet was New Orleans, since we had on our lists Machu Picchu, London or Ireland, which would have required more expensive planning.

I told her to search for the cheapest tickets that she could find. Lo and behold she found a round-trip ticket from NY to Louisiana for less than $200. So off we went to NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana)

I am glad we chose New Orleans. The hotel we stayed at is located in the French Quarter where the action is: restaurants and cafes, music, and shopping centers. It is, after all, the cultural heartbeat that New Orleans is known for.

On our first day, I was already charmed.  New Orleans has long been regarded as a major shopping destination. Our hotel  was located along Royal Street, which for nearly two centuries ruled as an antiquing center with dozens of shops and a wide array of offerings ranging from rare French furnishings to Southern estate jewelry. It has witnessed a surge in contemporary art galleries, and has created a mix of old and new coming together as a unique subculture.

Along the French Quarter the streets are lined with chic boutiques, especially on infamous Magazine Street, also known as “the street of dreams.”

One of my weaknesses is shopping for anything rare and extraordinary related to my interests, which are cooking and baking. On Royal Street an assuming store caught my attention: MS Rau Antiques, a third-generation family business. As I entered the place, I beamed with delight for I saw a sterling-silver roasting cart and service for 24, flatware and more. I was lucky to have the president of the company, Mr. Bill Rau, personally tour me. The store is unassuming because it looks small but as you go inside, there’s a lot more to see. Priceless collections like paintings of well-known artists Renoir, Monet and more hang on the walls. It a feast for the eyes, like entering a small MoMA in New Orleans.

Located on Chartres Street, Lucullus is another favorite of mine. It is a shop specializing in culinary antiques from the 17th and 18th centuries. Every object in the store complements the grand pursuit of gastronomy. The manager boasts about having an international clientele because of the unique emphasis on antiques, art and objects with a culinary connection. The store was once featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine and Martha comes to buy things from their place.

A wide array of copper pots  and pans are also on display. All I can say is, I was bewitched by the store and I am sure any gourmand would say the same thing.

On our second day, we decided to join a Historic New Orleans Tour. Our tour guide said that no visit to Crescent City is complete without a stop at Café Du Monde, which has been in operation since 1862. They are known for beignets, the unofficial donut of New Orleans. Their beignets are served with café au lait, a coffee made with ground chicory root. Louisiana has two distinct coffee preferences: dark roast and coffee with chicory. Our tour guide said that there is some controversy as to why New Orleans adds chicory to its coffee. He said that it is a common practice in Europe to add roasted chicory to stretch the expensive coffee. The taste of chicory and coffee makes a wonderful blend, and a wonderful café au lait, which is a traditional breakfast drink of New Orleanians drunk from a large cup.

We also visited other Café Beignet, which also serves beignets and coffee drinks. While you are seated and enjoying your cup of coffee you can hear the traditional jazz performances on Bourbon Street.

We also dropped by Croissant D’ Or Patisserie, known, of course, for their croissants and fresh fruit Danishes. It is a favorite breakfast place frequented by locals as well as tourists.

Before another tour of the Garden District, my daughter and I  decided to eat lunch at the Court of Two Sisters. They said that no French Quarter visit would be complete without a meal at this romantic restaurant, which features a daily jazz brunch and buffet lineup of Creole and Cajun food.

After lunch, off we went to see the Garden District. The Garden District is New Orleans’ second most well known neighborhood, about a mile from the French Quarter. But it is worlds apart. Known as the city’s “American sector,” it has stately homes surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens. Some Hollywood stars have homes here, such as Sandra Bullock and Nicolas Cage. Famous author Anne Rice once lived in the area.

We were lucky to be able to personally meet and chat with Anne Rice, as the meeting place for our tour was across the place where Rice was doing a book signing for her latest book. So my daughter and I were torn as to whether we would join the tour or just stay and line up for her book signing so we could see her in person. Our tour guide said not to worry, because for sure when we got back from the tour she would still be there because there was a long line of people waiting for their books to be signed. Lo and behold, she was still there when we got back. So I bought  a book  and had her autograph it. It was really a day full of surprises for both of us.

Part of our tour was a visit to the historic aboveground cemetery, Lafayette No. 1, which became one of the settings for Rice’s novel. Just walking distance away is the Commanders’ Palace restaurant. This turquoise-colored palace is a shrine for food worshippers, where they serve food based on the Creole principle of serving in a courtly atmosphere.

Our last meal was dinner at Felix‘s restaurant and Oyster Bar. Felix’s has an extensive menu that offers no-frills seafood, including oysters on the half shell and chargrilled, lobsters and NOLA classics like po-boys served on locally baked French bread, Creole jambalaya and dark seafood gumbo.

I am glad we chose to visit New Orleans, where food and dining is a natural experience. The memories and all the fascinating things we were able to witness made us feel and think like locals, and every second was worth it.









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