Saba: Saving the Best for Last in New Orleans

I’m frequently asked my opinion on where to eat in the Bay Area. When friends travel to places that I’ve traveled, they tend to ask me for recommendations on where to eat as well. I’m happy to give advice. I recently returned from New Orleans and I have a new favorite spot that I’m excited to share. They don’t serve gumbo, jambalaya, or fried chicken.

Saba is a new Israeli restaurant from Chef Alon Shaya. I ate at his restaurant Shaya on my previous trip to New Orleans in 2016 and loved it. Since then, Chef Shaya has disassociated himself from the restaurant and opened Saba this past May. Saba is located on Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans.  

I was in New Orleans for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC). While IFBC had evening food events, I decided to wait until the conference ended to have my last dinner in New Orleans at Saba. I didn’t have a reservation, so I arrived early in hopes of grabbing a seat at the bar. When eating alone, I find the bar is a great place to be situated.  

I shared the bar with a local named Frenchie. He lives in the neighborhood and I could tell right away that he was a regular as he seemed to know all the staff. After I placed my food order, my bartender Kyle introduced me to a Croatian white wine to complement my food. I found it light and crisp with some floral notes. 

I decided to forego the small plates and get an order of hummus and pita bread. There were five selections of hummus to choose from – tahini, blue crab, charred poblano, Brussels sprouts, and lamb. Kyle convinced me to get the blue crab hummus which comes with wood roasted corn, lemon butter, and mint and I was so glad he did. I spread the warm wood fired pita bread into what I thought was the perfect alchemy of flavors. It was love at first bite.  

I also got the grilled octopus which was prepared with shawarma spices and tomatoes. The octopus had a very nice char which enhanced the flavor.  

Frenchie was kind enough to offer me some of the grape leaves with lamb, rice, and zhoug labneh. I thought Saba’s version of dolma was excellent and one of the best I’ve ever had.  Unfortunately, I didn’t snap a pic.

I saved room for coffee and dessert. I was intrigued by the halvah latte so I went ahead and ordered it. I found the combination of halvah and coffee are harmonious together and the halvah acts as the perfect natural sweetener. This creative beverage has me wanting to make my own halvah syrup.  My dessert was called glakotbourko. The semolina and feta custard is baked in phyllo dough and topped with rose flavored melon. It was delicious.  
So when someone asks me where they should eat while they are in New Orleans, I will tell them that without a doubt they must go to Saba.


Cochon in NOLA: Worthy of a Repeat

I arrived in New Orleans on Thursday to attend the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC). The last time I attended this conference was three years ago when it was held in Seattle. This is my fourth trip to New Orleans and I had a few new spots to try, but the one restaurant that I was putting on repeat was Cochon. Cochon is a Cajun restaurant with a focus on fresh and local ingredients.

During a break in the IFBC, I took a leisurely lunch and headed over to Cochon. Technically, I was on vacation, so I started with a glass of rosé at the bar.  This was a 2016 Izadi Rioja Rosé from Spain. It had floral and fruit notes that I found refreshing for the humidity in New Orleans. 

I totally forgot about the homemade buns that Cochon serves, but as soon as they were placed in front of me, the sight evoked a pleasant memory. As I pulled apart the fresh soft buns, steam was released. I spread some butter on the bun, which melted quickly and they disappeared almost as quickly. Eating these really made me appreciate fresh homemade bread and how much better it is than store bought.

I ordered the chicken and andouille gumbo. As I consumed each spoonful, I was reminded that I was indeed in New Orleans. I welcomed the intense smokey flavor which I found comforting.
When I was looking at the side dishes, the twice baked stuffed potato was calling my name. The potato was reassembled with a mixture of spices, green onions, and cheese. The cracked black pepper gave it a good kick.  
I normally don’t have dessert at lunch, but again I was on vacation. I ordered the raspberry mint sorbet which was served with a cute Cochon mascot shaped cookie. I never have thought of raspberry and mint as a flavor match, but it worked and served well as a palette cleanser to end my meal. 
I was happy I made another visit to Cochon and can continue to recommend it as a place to dine when visiting New Orleans.

New Orleans: Gulf Coast Oysters

I just returned from a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. I spent a previous trip to New Orleans discovering all the great places for beignets. Not intentionally, this trip seemed to have been focused on oysters. Not shrimp or crawfish, but oysters. Louisiana produces approximately a third of the country’s oysters.

With so many restaurants on my lists and only 72 hours, I had to figure out how to make the most of it. My visit to Drago’s Seafood Restaurant was straight to the bar to have their famous charbroiled oysters.

These oysters are cooked in a mixture of butter, garlic, pepper, and oregano. After being charbroiled, they are topped with Parmesan and Romano cheese as well as chopped parsley. I liked the smokiness and the flavor, but it was a bit too rich for me. However, it was nice to have rolls to soak up the delicious juices.

As starters at Kenton’s and Peche Seafood, I enjoyed some of the raw variety. These oysters on the half shell were harvested from “Area 3”.

The oysters at Kenton’s came with a wedge of lemon and a mignonette sauce. They were medium sized, meaty, and low in salinity.

Although the oysters at Peche came from the same harvest area, I enjoyed the experience here better. The oyster shucker at Peche didn’t allow the oysters to lose its natural juices and they came out much cleaner. Peche also served the oysters with lemon and a mignonette sauce, but had an added “cocktail sauce for oysters.” Our waiter provided saltine crackers to compliment the oysters. It is common for oysters to be scooped out and eaten on top of the cracker.

My favorite oysters I ate were from Cochon. They were offering wood fired oysters cooked with chili, garlic, and butter. The creaminess and the heat made these oysters sing.

After this trip, I have a new fondness for Gulf Coast oysters!

New Orleans: In Search of the Best Beignets

What is a beignet? Beignets are deep fried dough covered with powered sugar. They are soft pillows of yumminess. You can’t visit New Orleans without stopping at Cafe du Monde for beignets and a cafe au lait. This is where everyone goes and it is a fun experience. Although the lines can be long, they tend to move quickly. Service and orders come just as quick. In no time, your beignets and coffee are at your table. My ritual is taking a bite of the beignet and then alternating each bite with a dunk into my coffee. The beignets at Cafe du Monde are warm and doughy as I remembered from my last trip to NOLA which was Pre-Katrina. I must have asked for some beignets with my powdered sugar. I leave my plate, my pants, and the ground in a white mess.
I took the St. Charles Streetcar to get to the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. Unlike Cafe du Monde, this place is quiet and relaxing. The beignets are made to order and came out piping hot. It had plenty of powdered sugar, but they do leave tables with sugar dispensers in case you didn’t think you had enough. The beignets were light and crispy. My cafe au lait was delicious as well.
My friend and I took a cab to Morning Call, a 24 hour coffee shop that also specializes in beignets. I guess there is more than one Morning Call and our cab driver took us out of New Orleans to a town called Metairie for these delectable treats.
The beignets were very similar to the ones at New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co., light and crispy. Here you powder your own beignets. It was late night so I was happy to have a decaf cafe au lait. With the cab fare, let’s just say these were the priciest beignets ever.
I thought that was the last of the beignets on this trip, but it wasn’t. Before you leave town, you can get some beignets at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. West Beignet was our last beignet stop. The cashier is the same woman who makes the beignets and she seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. These beignets tasted pretty good, but the inconsistent shape made them less attractive. Although we were at the airport, these beignets were surprisingly inexpensive. If you must have a final fix of beignets before you leave town, it’s worth a try.
The search is over, my favorite place to get beignets is from the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. I am rating this on everything from the beignet, the cafe au lait, the environment, as well as the transportation to get there.

New Orleans: Part I

I’ve been in New Orleans now for about 24 hours. I’ve accomplished a lot in this amount of time. I have had two dinners, met up with a friend that I haven’t seen in about 12 years, ate beignets and enjoyed a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, went to Jazz Fest, soaked in a hot tub and had a mini swimming lesson.

This blog post will focus on my two dinners. My friend and I arrived late last night so we were at the mercy of a restaurant near our hotel and one serving dinner past midnight. Yelp introduced us to Root. Rumor has it they will open a second restaurant called Square Root. That’s cute! We sat at the bar, had cocktails and shared a couple of plates. Two of the three plates were something to write about. We had the Louisiana Pickled Shrimp described as shrimp stuffed deviled eggs with a truffled egg yolk mousse. The deviled eggs were delicious.
Our second dish was smoked cornmeal encrusted Louisiana oysters. I tend to eat mostly raw oysters back home and found these deep fried oysters amazing.
Our third dish was “sweet tea” country fried chicken wings. I was disappointed by this. The chicken itself was juicy and cooked well, but the crust and skin was way too salty and was spiced with too much paprika. My photo didn’t come out, but I’m not recommending it anyways.

Roots also makes their own charcuterie and sausages and probably worth trying. I would definitely come back to Roots and try their house made meats.

Tonight’s dinner was at Atchafalaya. To sum it up, they had great cocktails, half our dishes were excellent, dessert was the bomb, and service was horrible. I’ll only write about the good stuff.

I had to try a sazerac, New Orleans version of an old fashioned. I enjoyed it. My friend ordered a Pimms Cup. This British drink is a mix of Pimms No. 1, fresh lemon, ginger ale, and cucumber. It was quite refreshing.
The free-form crab ravioli was impressive. The long piece of pasta was stuffed with crab, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, mascarpone, and citrus buerre blanc and folded in half. I could have eaten much more of this.
The other dish we liked were the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels. Although the mussels were brought in from the West Coast, they were fresh and tasty.
Now for dessert. I am not a big fan of red velvet cake, but I was willing to give it a try since it’s widely considered a Southern dessert. The slice of red velvet was not like other red velvet cakes I have consumed. This version was really light, moist, and not too sweet. It was definitely the best red velvet cake I have ever had.

I mentioned the bad service at Atchafalaya. Although they have some great food, I probably won’t go back because of the service. With two and a half more days left in New Orleans, I am confident I will find plenty of other places to eat in New Orleans and write about next week.