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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Big Oil be damned! Seafood lovers crowd New Orleans for Gulf oysters, shrimp, fish

A whole Red Snapper -- grilled over hickory wood and smothered with vegetables and shrimp -- can feed two at the Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street in New Orleans' French Quarter.
Nothing equals a Gulf Oyster. On Monday afternoon, I enjoyed a half-dozen at the bar in Borgne, a restaurant serving coastal Louisiana cuisine, at my hotel, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.


NEW ORLEANS -- They say that oil and water don't mix.

That's especially true in the Gulf of Mexico touching southeastern Louisiana, where oil and gas producers have tried their best to destroy one of the nation's richest fishing grounds.

In the past 70-plus years, industry helped wipe out more than 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands, imperiling the fisheries, according to a 2015 film, "By the River of Babylon: An Elegy for South Louisiana." 

The powerful documentary was screened last Saturday during the French Quarter Festival, a 4-day celebration of Louisiana's rich musical heritage with performances on up to two dozen outdoor and indoor stages -- all free.

The documentary didn't stop me and my wife from enjoying breakfast omelets stuffed with vegetables, shrimp and crawfish tails, and other wonderful seafood meals.

The Gulf, which touches five states, supplies an astonishing variety of oysters, shrimp and wild-caught fish to New Orleans restaurants and markets.

Oysters, shrimp, crawfish

We had our best meal on the eve of the festival at Ralph Brennan's Red Fish Grill, a casual seafood restaurant in the French Quarter.

We were drawn to the restaurant's hickory wood-fired wild fish and jumbo shrimp, which are served with vegetables and a choice of specialty sauces, and topped with crawfish tails, fried oysters or Gulf shrimp for a supplement.

The menu offers both familiar and unfamiliar fish, including Black Drum, Speckled Trout, Cobia, Redfish, Mangrove Snapper and Pompano.

My wife chose a whole Gulf Red Snapper with sauteed Gulf shrimp and a Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette, a large fish that could have fed both of us ($35.50).

I ordered a Black Drum fillet topped with fried oysters and served with a Satsuma Ponzu Sauce ($36.50).

Turkey necks, too

At Borgne, in the Hyatt Regency hotel, I had my first (and best) Gulf Oysters of the trip (6 for $9), and my wife was delighted to find falling-off-the-bone Turkey Necks prepared in a crab boil ($8).

We liked the oysters and turkey necks so much we ordered them again last Monday afternoon just before we were picked up by the airport shuttle for the flight home to New Jersey.

At our Borgne dinner, we also split a Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese ($12), and a whole Flounder with Shrimp and Crab Stuffing ($32).

Borgne (pronounced BORN) is named for the lake where Chefs John Besh and Brian Landry grew up fishing.

We also ate in the Hyatt Regency's 8 Block Kitchen & Bar, Namese Vietnamese Cafe, the Half Shell, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, Betsy's Pancake House, Li'l Dizzy's Cafe; and at the French Quarter Festival, where food and drink stands were operated by top New Orleans bars and restaurants (see photos below).  

Wood-grilled Black Drum fillet with fried Gulf Oysters at the Red Fish Grill, below.

At the Red Fish Grill and other New Orleans restaurants, bread is served in a paper bag.
An appetizer of Turkey Necks at Borgne, with dressings for my raw Gulf Oysters.
The kitchen at Borgne split our Whole Flounder lengthwise and served the creamy Shrimp and Crab Stuffing outside.
Borgne's Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Spiced Walnut Granola and Dandelion Vinaigrette.
Dining-room columns covered with oyster shells are part of the seafood motif in the dining room of Borgne.
A gallon jar of Tabasco Sauce and a board offering oysters from Louisiana and Alabama near the entrance to Borgne.
Also in the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, 8 Block Kitchen & Bar offers a groaning-board breakfast buffet for $17.95 or $22.95 with a made-to-order omelet and other hot food. My plate included an egg-white omelet with shrimp and crawfish tails, breakfast potatoes, smoked and cured salmon, pickled okra and olives.
Before the omelet, I started breakfast with a bowl of granola, premium berries and non-fat Greek Yogurt, Green Juice (celery, kale, apple and lime) and Peach-Infused Water. That big breakfast allowed me to skip lunch, of course.
Charcuterie and sumptuous cheeses at the Hyatt Regency's breakfast buffet.
At Namese Vietnamese Cafe, our friend ordered Garlic Shrimp topped with extra-cost Crab Rice, covered in both a delicious sauce and picked crab meat ($18).
I chose lighter fare, including a small plate of Five-Spice Tofu ($8), above, and a Papaya Salad with Shrimp ($10), below, asking the kitchen to hold the pork belly.
My wife ordered ground pork-and-vegetable Egg Rolls with Lettuce Wrap ($7), and a bowl of Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, with thin-sliced brisket she cooked in the anise-scented broth ($12).
At the Half Shell Oyster Bar & Grill in New Orleans, I ordered Blackened Redfish with potato salad and asparagus ($24.94), but sadly, the fish was overcooked.
My wife fared better by ordering a small Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp ($12.94).
She also liked the Crab Cakes made in the restaurant ($9.95).
I enjoyed another half-dozen Gulf Oysters at the Half Shell ($6.99). Note: The next day, the restaurant moved to a bigger space and is expected to reopen in two to three weeks. 
On Saturday night, we went to the 105-year-old Parkway Bakery & Tavern for Poor Boys, including this Large Catfish Sandwich (about 12 inches long), with added Creole Mustard and sliced jalapeno peppers from a condiment bar ($10.90), washed down with a bottle of Abita Amber, a local beer. I had my heart set on an Oyster Poor Boy, but they are only served on Mondays and Wednesdays.
On Monday morning, we visited another institution, Betsy's Pancake House, for our last breakfast in New Orleans. I ordered 2 Eggs and Fried Catfish ($9.50), above.
My wife ordered her usual, Banana Nut Pancakes ($6.75), above, and our friend ordered the Breakfast Special, 2 Eggs, Grits and Bacon ($5.50). Other Monday specials included Smoked Alligator on a Bun, below.

Betsy's is popular with police officers, firefighters, lawyers, judges and city officials.
Gulf Tuna Loins and Gulf Swordfish Loins and Steaks at Rouses Supermarket on Baronne Street in New Orleans, above and below.
During the French Quarter Festival, Rouses set up a stand near the stage at the Old U.S. Mint and boiled hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of Louisiana Crawfish. A takeout container with crawfish and all the fixings was $10.
We made sure to have Sunday brunch at Li'l Dizzy's Cafe on Esplanade Street in New Orleans, where I ordered a house special and true comfort food, Shrimp Grillade ($9.99), also known as Shrimp and Grits.
Our friend ordered the Sunday Brunch Buffet ($17.99), and loaded one plate with a Turkey Wing, Grits and Cornbread Stuffing.
The buffet included Gumbo with meat and seafood.
Li'l Dizzy's Cafe usually is packed on Sundays, and only a loyal customer like our friend can land a table there.