Oysters, Pistols and Tipsy Walking in New Orleans

October is a very big month for me, both personally and professionally, and we celebrated some seriously huge milestones this past month. In fact, we were so busy celebrating them, that I didn’t even have time to write about them! So just consider this the first in a three-part series. Or something.

First up was the birthday of my manpanion-for-life, XFE. We don’t usually travel for XFE’s birthday, what with Porktober® and all that being right around the corner. BUT, we decided to jump on some low fares and cash in some Starwood points for a quick weekend trip.

So, we went to New Orleans and acted like we were about 15 years younger than either of us are. We stayed up late, drank too much, ate too much, talked to random strangers, bought expensive artwork.

It's entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.
It’s entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.

Yeah, a little souvenir for my new office and to commemorate my first year of self-employment.

We saw this subtle little work of art while walking by the Hall Barnett Gallery on Chartres Street. They’re an LED reproduction of a neon piece called “Guns.” Supposedly, there were only three produced—one owned by the gallery owner, Holly, another owned by a couple in New York and then us.

They were absolutely unnecessary, but we just couldn’t walk away from them. I mean…neon guns? Hello? And they change colors! There’s even a remote control. We negotiated them down a teeny bit, but the final number still made me need a stiff drink afterwards.

(Update: They were damaged during shipping, so now we’re waiting for a new set. Or is it pair? Fingers crossed. Or is it guns crossed?)

Boo. Hiss.
Boo. Hiss.

Luckily, we were staying right across the street from the gallery at the W French Quarter. This is the infamous hotel where I cracked my head open five years ago. Actually, almost five years to the day. I know this because that super helpful Memories feature on Facebook popped up with that FrankenPoe picture right before we left.

Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.
Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.

Besides slippery dangerous showers, the W French Quarter is also home to SoBou, which is a Brennan’s establishment and therefore means: 25 cent martinis at lunch. (Note: if you ever do go this option—and you absolutely should—do not get one of the Kool-Aid colored/flavored pre-mixed martinis like a Cosmo. Get a classic, dirty martini).

I will say, we had a few issues with the W Hotel this time out. We were using points, cash and upgrades to cover our three-night stay, and they basically wanted us to move rooms each night. There was much finagling until they finally upgraded us to a carriage house studio type room that had definitely seen better days and had a non-working hot tub surrounded by cigarette butts on the patio.

W New Orleans Collage

The concierge also dropped the ball on the champagne I had ordered, despite the fact that I had filled out all the paperwork and called twice to order it and confirm that it would be in our room. There’s a whole litany of other annoyances (including XFE’s pet peeve: old, snagged towels with threads hanging everywhere), but, at least no one ended up in the emergency room, so that’s a half-hearted win. Sorry, W French Quarter.

We fared better in the eating category. On our first day we did a very scientific comparison/survey of two famous oyster places: Felix and Acme. We ate approximately four dozen oysters between the two places—raw, grilled and Bienville. XFE joked that we should have been pooping pearls after all that. Final consensus: Acme won by a shell sliver and honestly, it was their boo fries that had us coming back again the two days later (French fries covered with roast beef gravy and cheese).

Let's see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.
Let’s see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.

When we returned to Acme, we were not alone. We dragged along a couple of new friends we met during what was perhaps our very favorite tourist activity ever: the Drink and Learn Tour. We’ve been on a lot of tours in a lot of places, but this particular tour was hands down the best tour we’ve ever been on (and….didn’t take any pictures of. What can I say? I was too busy enjoying it).

The owner/tour guide, Elizabeth Pearce is a drink historian, fantastic historian, and an all-around hoot. You meet up (at a bar, naturally) and you receive a small, crossbody cooler containing four color-coded drinks. Then you take a short walk, stop, take a sip of your drink, and learn about the colorful history of New Orleans through adult beverages. Everything from how and why rum punch represents the early melting-pot days of the Crescent City to how praline liquor helped female slaves buy their freedom. It was so entertaining and we both learned a ton.

Then we went and got oysters and beer because that’s what you do in New Orleans. Or at least, that’s what we do there.*

(*We did a bunch of other galivanting and tomfoolery, but this is a family blog, so better left unsaid.)

New Orleans Collage

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Totally Random Search Terms – October Edition

Way back in the day, when thePoeLog was just a tiny little sentence fetus and Google played nicely with WordPress, we had a semi-regular feature called “Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog.”

This was inspired by a feature on WordPress that rounded up terms used in search engines like Yahoo, Google and Bing, that somehow led people to your blog.

It was mostly something I highlighted on Twitter, say, for example, when someone found the blog by searching for “rats on treadmills,” I would tweet out a silly little welcome for all those Pied Pipers in training out there who had accidentally stumbled upon my blog.

But then WordPress and Google got in a fight or something. I don’t know. I’m still waiting for the Taylor Swift song to clear up the details of that particular little spat. But the point is, the Totally Random Search Terms from Google have been mostly replaced by just “Unknown Search Terms.”

EXCEPT, the terms that are used on non-Google search engines. Those are still available for mirth and amusement. While not as plentiful, they’re still pretty funny.

So, without further ado, here is a Q&A using a small sampling of Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog in October.

Could glass covered wetsuit repels sharks? – I have, apparently, written quite a bit about sharks, thereby making me a leading authority on all things shark-fear related. And while this post here ponders the merits of some possible shark-repellant/shark-attracting wetsuits, I do not see anything about glass-covered options.

But, if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that nothing would repel a hungry shark, and in fact, a wetsuit covered in glass might actually result in the diver accidentally cutting themselves, sending spurts of blood bobbing through the water and actually attracting sharks who want to make a little snack out of you. I wouldn’t risk it. (For more aggressive underwater animal avoidance tips, check out this post.)

Shark bite swimsuit, of course.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Why does the ravine committee tell me what I can and can’t build in my backyard? – Ah yes, the dreaded ravine committee. These low-level, volunteer bureaucrats exist to make designer Hilary Farr’s life hell on HGTV’s “Love It or List It.” I wrote about the incredibly formulaic show (and Canada’s Ravine Preservation system here).

As for why they wield such control, I suspect it’s because they are empowered by their neighbors and fellow homeowners to do so. We have a similar group of busy bodies here in the historic district we live in near Washington D.C. It’s kinda like “Mean Girls” – they exist because the rest of the school let them exist.

Busy body cat
“I notice that you’re building a gazebo awfully close to the ravine. You can’t do that without a permit.”

The (semi) good news is that these types of boards are always looking for volunteers to join them in their efforts to stop growth and progress in the name of saving a tree. Go ahead, fight the power from the inside. Join them. Go to their meetings. Be the dissident voice on every single vote. This one in Toronto is looking for volunteers and the term length is FOUR YEARS! Think of all the ways you can be annoying over the course of four years.

What goes with oysters? – Not to be confused with the other oyster-related search term, “porn models eat oysters,” although I do wonder if these two terms were in any way related. According to this post right here, Croatian pasta cake goes with oysters. But I would also argue that fresh oysters are pretty damn perfect on their own and really need no further accompaniment than a squeeze of lemon and a flute of very cold champagne.

Oyster humor.
Oyster humor.

Who is Alex from Million Dollar Listing? – This one is a bit interesting and led to a very intriguing online revelation, once I started digging into it a bit. I believe this question refers to Alex, who was actually a home buyer and client of Ryan Serhant on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” a few seasons back. He was the “difficult” client with a pet wallaby, which I wrote about here. Supposedly, Alex was a young finance millionaire looking for a $4 million, wallaby-friendly home.

Alex from Million Dollar Listing and his wallaby

But today, while digging around on the Internet, who do I find working at Nest Seekers, aka Ryan Serhant’s real estate firm? Why, our wallaby-loving client Alexander Saks. Only now, he’s working at Nest Seekers as an agent! Isn’t that interesting/suspicious? So, what gives here, Bravo? Are you guys using other telegenic real estate agents as “clients?” Or was Ryan such a great real estate inspiration that Alex just left behind his career in finance to jump into the competitive world of New York real estate? And will we be seeing young Alex on the upcoming season of “Million Dollar Listing New York?”

Bravo disappeared off of channel 62. Where did it go? – I don’t know, but in my house, that would be a major tragedy on the scale of the still lost episode of season 1 of “Below Deck” (which was also another search term query last month: “what happened to episode 3 of below deck?”) As you can see from that example, and the one above, sometimes Bravo plays fast and loose with the facts. That could very well include what channel they are currently inhabiting in your area.

My advice to you is take a good long look at yourself and try to figure out what you personally did to piss off Andy Cohen. And then you better fix it quick, because “Real Housewives of Atlanta” just started Sunday night and it is going to be one hell of a juicy season. You better find your Bravo fast.

Bravo Andy will not tolerate it.

Croatia: What Goes With Oysters? Pasta Cake of Course.

Meandering around medieval cities, popping into photography museums, and lying on pebble-y beaches is all well and good. But what I really like to do on vacation is drink wine during normal business hours while my fellow cubicle dwellers are in over-air-conditioned purgatory.

So, we went to the Peljesac peninsula for a day.

One of the surprising things about Croatia is how fantastic their wines are. But honestly, it shouldn’t be, considering how similar Croatia is to Italy, and well, we all know how Italian wines have turned out.  (It’s also apparently quite good in the northern part of Croatia — Istria — according to this knowledgeable lady who was also JUST there.)

Other than some traffic in and around Dubrovnik, the drive up the peninsula was lovely. Lots of slate colored rocks pushing up into mountains and dotted with greenery and grape vines. Oh, and ocean views pretty much everywhere you looked.

Croatian countryside

There’s only one main road going up the 40 mile peninsula, but the drive takes about 2 hours due to the terrain. We ended up going about three-fourths of the way up the peninsula, stopping at a tiny little picturesque cove of Trstenik where we watched the goats beat up against the small docks and just viewed the sleepy little town from across the cove.

Trstenik cove, Croatia

After that peaceful little time out, which involved me waiting patiently while my Ansel Adams boyfriend XFE took numerous pictures with his fancy new camera, it was time to backtrack and hit some wineries.  (Literally, the town was so still and quiet I thought it’d had been taken over by alien-ghost-zombies. I stayed close to the car, ready to leave XFE to the apocalypse, if it came down to it. Sorry, i’m not sorry. I totally would. I have a cat to raise.)

I had done a ton of research and identified about a dozen wineries that we might be able to visit, but like so much of the Peljesac peninsula, things were a bit sleepy on the informational front, meaning that many of the wineries did not have websites and those that did, did not have hours of operation. They’re very much along the lines of, “just stop by and flag someone down and they’ll give you some wine.”

Our first stop was a disappointing bust. We tried to stop at Grgich. Grgich is quite famous. Apparently the wine maker, Miljenko (Mike) Grgich came to the United States as a young man and met a very rich person who set him up with his own winery. That’s not at all what it says in his bio for his Napa Valley winery, but that’s what our waiter at lunch told us. When he found out we were from Washington D.C., he ran and got a bottle of Grgich Chardonnay and told us it was the White House white wine.

That would be the only Grgich wine we would see that day. The Grgich winery, which was in a very simple stucco building, was closed on the weekends. Which, to me, makes absolutely no sense. What winery isn’t opened on a Saturday? Isn’t that a busy day for visitors?

Vinarija Matusko in Potomje worked out a bit better, in that, at least it was open. We had a very nice young lady take us through the various wines, of which there were plenty, including Dingac, Posip (not to be confused with Prosip, which was a sweet wine),  and Plavac Mali. The Dingac was, not surprisingly considering the rocky terrain, far too mineral-ly for my taste, but we did like the Plavac Mali and ended up buying a bottle.

Vinarija Matusko in Potomje

The wine wench (?is that appropriate?) told us a bit about the peninsula, which apparently is as subdued as we suspected. To be frank, she said it was quite boring. And you need a car. She also taught me how to say “dog” (there was a large wine dog watching us with big bloodshot eyes nearby) in Croatian and “cheers.”

After tasting some wines, we went down the road a short bit to Vinarija Milos. This time, there were quite a few other people there for tastings, including an American family with about 4 kids. Because you know what I love to see at a winery, besides pregnant women? Loads of children.

 Vinarija Milos winery in Croatia

It was also a very homegrown operation, with the wine maker on hand pouring and his wife hand washing wine glasses just on the other side of the tasting bar. I don’t know if it was the scent of dish-washing detergent or the children, but I just wasn’t into Milos’ wines. What can I say? You win some, you lose some. I’m sure the wine was fine, but we just weren’t feeling it. Plus, it was time to go to lunch.

We were ridiculously excited about lunch. The Peljesac peninsula is known for two things: wine and oysters. Very special oysters that you can’t get anywhere else.

Right where the peninsula meets the mainland is Ston and Mali Ston.  Ston’s natural lake-like bay has been the site of mussels and oyster farms since Roman times. We even saw fishermen selling oysters by the road. The area is also known for it’s salt flats, but I wasn’t interested in salt so much, unless it was sprinkled on some oysters.

We had lunch reservations at Bota Sare in Mali Ston, an 800-year-old stone building that had been used for salt storage in ye olden tymes.

Oyster boat for Bota Sare in Mali Ston
Our restaurants boat.

The oysters are a variety called Ostrea Edulis and only 2 million are produced each year, solely for domestic consumption. The oysters are smaller than others we’ve had, and the shells are very fat. The meat was rich and firm and wonderful.

We ended up ordering about 4.5 dozen oysters — raw, grilled and fried. They. Were. Amazing.

Ostrea Edulis oysters in Ston, Croatia

Ostrea Edulis oysters in Ston, Croatia

I’m also pretty sure that our fellow diners were quite impressed at how many oysters we put away, but since we knew we couldn’t get these anywhere else (and they were delicious), we gorged.

Ostrea Edulis oysters in Ston, Croatia

However, I still found room to take home some dessert. I overheard our waiter explaining Ston cake to another table and was intrigued. A cake made with leftover pasta? How’s that? Yes. Yes, I want some.

Pasta cake at Bota Sare, Ston, Croatia

It was weird, and cinnamon-ey, and lemon-y and just…..odd. It wasn’t pretty, really. It was very odd looking. And the texture was….interesting.

Just like the Peljesac peninsula — totally distinct but in a good way.

Food Porn: No Such Thing as Bad Wine in Paris

One of the things I was most looking forward to on our Paris trip was eating. Let me rephrase that slightly, one of the things I most look forward to anytime I take a trip is eating.

But in Paris, this was especially the case. It’s just such a foodie town. And this trip was my do-over.

The last time I was in Paris was when I was a poor college student, so my diet consisted mainly of baguettes with butter, cheese bought at the grocery store, and pastries. I’m even ashamed to admit there might have been a Le Big Mac in the lineup at some point. Not the most varied or sophisticated fare.

Plus, I was fresh out of the trailer parks of West Texas and totally ignorant. Basically, I didn’t know where to go or what to eat. And remember, (since I’m old as dirt) this was pre-Chowhound-TripAdvisor-Yelp days. No guidance what’s-so-ever.

XFE was last in Paris as a high school student, so who knows what he even ate. Actually, I do know, because on day three of our trip, we spent an inordinate amount of time tracking down steamed mussels, which he remembered fondly from his high school adventure abroad.

This time, we both put a lot of thought and research into what we would be eating. Our efforts were a bit thwarted by the fact that we only booked our trip a week before getting there, so reservations were a bit difficult to come by. But we got off the plane with stomachs rumbling and raring to go.

After dumping our stuff at Le Meridien Etoile, we headed over to grab lunch at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St. Louis, an absolutely charming neighborhood close to Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter.

Auberge de la Reine Blanche

It’s an adorable tiny French restaurant, with exposed wooden beams, tiny wooden tables with cane and thrush chairs, a large round wooden bar that reached to the ceiling, and walls covered with dollhouse furniture. Very odd, but somehow, also quaint.

The onion soup was AMAZING as was my main course of some kind of fish, very simply prepared with wonderful fresh herbs. XFE started with (and luckily shared) the most incredible oysters served with a light mignonette sauce. They were large and meaty and salty and just awesome. XFE’s steak with Roquefort sauce was also very, very good if a bit rare for my taste. The house Bordeaux was excellent. It was all very good and very affordable. The service was, well, very French, but no biggie.

lunch at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St. Louis

What goes with oysters?

Later that night, we ate at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” in the Luxembourg neighborhood. This was a place I had called on my own for a reservation. They’re not open on Saturday or Sunday (I was informed), and they were fully booked for that Friday. However, our concierge at Le Meridien Etoile was able to get us a reservation at 7:30. We showed up a few minutes early and were chased away. Apparently, 7:30 MEANS 7:30. No drinking at the bar while waiting for your reservation. We slunked away to a bar on the corner and had 2 euro Bordeaux standing at the bar.

At our appointed time, we dared to enter Chez Dumonet again. We were taken immediately to our seats at the back of the narrow restaurant, near the kitchen. I never mind sitting near a kitchen and this one was no exception. I was transfixed as the staff cooked and foil wrapped a huge haunch of meat for a customer who showed up later in the evening to pick it up and take it away.

Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

The whole ambiance of the place was typical old Parisian bistro, nothing fancy, just pure efficiency and great food. I honestly don’t remember much about the décor, but the atmosphere was just perfect.

We started with champagne and an amuse bouche of some cream soup with a drizzle of truffle oil. The bread and butter were, of course, excellent. And then there was the smoked salmon appetizer. Yu. Um. Melted on the tongue.

Dinner at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

I had the duck confit which was probably the best I’ve ever had. The skin was so crispy and the potatoes were perfect and garlicky. XFE ordered the chateaubriand, which we both thought, for some reason, would be wrapped in pastry, but we were, of course, wrong. I’m afraid we had our Wellington mixed up with our chateaubriand. What can I say? It had been a long travel day. So, for a second time that day, XFE had steak, this time with béarnaise sauce. He didn’t seem to mind.

Duck confit at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

Steak at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

We finished with a shared Grand Marnier soufflé, which was a work of art. Eggy, boozy, and perfectly browned, it towered over the ramekin, but miraculously, it held its shape even when we sunk our spoons into it. Pretty amazing stuff. A woman at a nearby table even applauded when it came out (since we were among the first diners, our dessert was one of the first out of the kitchen.) They also brought us two tiny, thimble-sized glasses of Grand Marnier to accompany the souffle, a very nice touch, I thought. The service, the food, everything was just perfect.

Souffle at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris

Not a bad way to end the first day in Paris.

Souffle at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” Paris