When it comes to food and travel, whenever possible I like to eat where the locals eat, tourist traps rarely have the best food. I have also come to believe that Alton Brown will never steer me wrong when it comes to food. Both of those rules turned out to be true on this my trip to New Orleans.
I didn’t have a big list of things to do in New Orleans because I was bringing my homework along with me (yeah, this girl knows how to par-tay), but I was not going to leave that city without tasting a beignet.
World famous fried dough, topped with powdered sugar, and served up with cafe au lait? Carbs on top of deep-fried carbs? Served with coffee? What’s not to love? That was definitely first on my list.
The first name in beignets, is Cafe du Monde. It’s world famous. Mention New Orleans, and people who have never set foot in Louisiana will tell you to go to Cafe du Monde. I was going to Cafe du Monde if it was the only thing I did in New Orleans.
Luckily it wasn’t the only thing I did in New Orleans.
My friend, Jen, did her homework before our trip, including watching The Best Think I Ever Ate: New Orleans. “We have to go to Cafe Beignet!” She insisted. “Alton said it was the best thing he ate in New Orleans.”
How lucky I am to travel with someone like Jen who can straighten me out on these things – I might have missed Cafe Beignet altogether.
Hidden away amongst antique shops and art galleries in the French Quarter, I might have stumbled across this little gem, but I might have also been saving up my caloric allowance for the beignets at a shop with more name recognition. How sad that would have been.
I would have missed this lovely french cafe, with it’s menu that goes well beyond pastries, jazz from the street musicians wafting in on the breeze, the cobblestone floors, and the charming little birds that flitted around as we ate.
I would have missed the subtle flavor and delicate texture of these little pillows of heaven.
I fully intended to get a shot of these as they were delivered – both times we visited – but it just didn’t happen. I dug in. Yum.
We hadn’t even finished the first beignet when we decided we needed to hit Cafe du Monde as well – same day – so we could do a little comparison. Also, so we could have more beignets and coffee (but lets just keep that between us, ok?)
We had to walk several blocks farther, through Jackson Square, to get to Cafe du Monde. Surely that was enough walking to burn off all those carbs… No?
Cafe du Monde was a completely different environment.
It was packed, there were street musicians as well, right next to the table seating, but the music that pulsed in was more aggressive and in your face (perhaps intended to keep customers from lingering too long?). Pigeons dive-bombed tables, and snacked fearlessly from tables in the middle of this crowded restaurant.
The food the server plopped down in front of us was a little different as well.
The beignets were hard, and flavorless.
But at least they had sugar. A lot of sugar.
Once we finished eating the beignets, there was a good 4 ounces of sugar still left on the plate. Thank goodness we decided to share that order.
I will say in Cafe du Monde’s favor, that I preferred their coffee.
But for beignets, (and other foods, we found out at later visits), and ambiance, I’d recommend Cafe Beignet over and over again.
Alton Brown was right. So was the Concierge. Thanks, Jen.
UPDATE: unfortunately, Sonrisa Modern Mex has closed.
Sonrisa Modern Mex is a relatively new addition to the University Village. The outdoor dining area is complimented by a sitting area with oversized chairs and an outdoor fireplace. We found the flickering of the interior fireplaces rather inviting as we were walking along outside in the cold. Inside the restaurant, we were immediately taken in by the lighting throughout the restaurant, and the tiling on the bar. The place looks lovely. The service was wonderful as well.
The food – the food aspires to mediocre. The Guacamole was wonderful, full of huge chunks of avacado and served with plantain chips along with the usual corn chips. The plantains were a nice addition to the chips, but they weren’t really anything special and I certainly wouldn’t want a whole order of them alone. The corn chips were fresh, but much to greasy.
Aaron ordered the Baked Chile Relleno (Roasted poblano pepper stuffed with ancho rubbed chicken, apricots, golden raisins, pepper jack cheese, cilantro and onions. With salsa verde and red enchilada sauce and achiote rice). It was underdone,the cheese hadn’t even begun to melt and the chile was still tough. But the flavors were nice so it wasn’t too bad.
I had the PicantePrimavera (Penne pasta sauteed with roasted shallots, roasted garlic, zucchini, asparagus and spicy salsa fresca. Finished with grated cotija cheese). This struck me as intriguing so I just had to try it. Each of the ingredients was wonderful on its own. The garlic was mellow the asparagus had a wonderful flavor and texture. But I found myself picking though the dish for specific items, a bite of asparagus, a bite of zucchini, several bites of garlic; each one delicious yet together they just didn’t work.
The desert menu was interesting; a couple items included habanero peppers in the description. I wasn’t feeling that brave, so we opted for the flan trio. The flan trio is described as being a chocolate, vanilla and berry brulee. What arrived was a dish with six compartments. Three ramekins each with a custard, one berry, one vanilla (the only brulee), and one chocolate. The remaining three compartments had whipped cream, one strawberry flavored with a strawberry on top, a tiny speck of plain vanilla, and chocolate flavored whipped cream with chocolate chips. I must admit, this is precisely what the menu said. But whipped cream with chocolate chips didn’t work for me. None of the whipped creams were very good or even interesting. The creme brulee was good. The strawberry “brulee” was bland and over sweet and the chocolate “brulee” (neither of these two had been touched with a flame) was terribly thick, like fudge. I’m not one to leave dessert on my plate, especially where there is chocolate involved, but I couldn’t eat this. I didn’t even bother to ask for a box to take it home.
So would I recommend this place? That’s an interesting question. Certainly not for dinner. However the bar is nice, the service is great, they have an extensive inventory of tequila and a talented bar tender. The guacamole is great. The happy hour menu boasts $5 appetizers, $4 house margaritas, and $3 draft beers. I say, if you want to meet friends for margaritas at happy hour, this might be just the spot.
Sonrisa Modern Mex
2614 NE 46th Street
Seattle, WA 98105
This morning we took a walk down Eastlake Avenue and stopped for lunch at Eastlake Bar and Grill. I’ve been wanting to check out this place for quite a while.
The deck sprawls around the exterior of the building, taking advantage of every inch of view; there is a rooftop lounge as well. We were the only souls willing to brave the weather to enjoy the deck, but I have no regrets. The service was spot on even though we were far from the less adventurous patrons opting to eat indoors.
Aaron selected the chicken club sandwich, I stole a bite and it was wonderful. My prime rib french dip retained a bit of pink in the meat, which was very juicy. It was topped with provalone and a horsradish sauce that could have used a little more bite, but very flavorful nonetheless. The ciabatta bread used for both sandwiches was light and flavorful, and the french fries were just out of the fat.
I’m looking forward to returning to check out the dinner service.
Eastlake Bar and Grill 2947 Eastlake Ave E Seattle, WA 98102
On the south end of Seattle’s U-District sits a little lakeside cabin that houses the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club. The cafe menu is short and simple: Mexican food made with fresh, healthy ingredients. Fresh house-made juices, such as the watermelon juice, taste like summer. Fish tacos are a house specialty with cabbage an avacado dressing, and your choice of bacalau, smoked salmon, mahi mahi, or catfish. I come back for the smoked salmon taco time after time and can’t get enough.
I’m not a fan of most of their salsas, I find them much too sweet. And the guacamole is merely a mash of onion and cilantro, what little avacado is in there lends no flavor. But the fish tacos have flavor enough on their own and any additional salsa would detract from this amazing balance of flavors.
Come for a day, come for an hour. Rent a kayak and explore Lake Union and Lake Washington, then follow up with drinks and dinner in the cafe. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy this beautiful city.
Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club http://www.aguaverde.com/default.asp 1303 NE Boat Street, Seattle, WA 98105 (206) 545-8570