High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bunnies! Bunnies! It Must Be Bunnies!: The Big Easy, Days 3.2 & 4.1

So I was a giant tease and left all y'all on the very threshold of Brigtsen's. I'm going to be even more cruel and back up to the threshold of the Marriott Residence Inn.

AMB and KJ had joined us at what would soon cease to be our suite (their ultimate solution to our intarweb problems was to have us move to a different room). We called for a cab and piled in, preparing to let the wackiness wash over us.

I knew immediately that the driver was taking a different route to Riverbend than M and I had taken. Although there was no reason to necessarily worry immediately (after all, we were leaving from the Warehouse District, not the Quarter), I had a Bad Feeling. It seemed to take longer than I remembered, too, which moved us from Bad to Worse Feeling territory. When the driver began asking M (who, of course, was having trouble hearing and understanding the driver, as is his way with everyone up to and including me), I thought we were officially fucked. However, all the worry was for naught (unless it was a pleasing offering to the malevolent gods, which is quite possible): We arrived right on time.

We noticed that Dante's Kitchen, where M and I had enjoyed a pre-Brigtsen's drink (we were afraid we'd get lost and left lots and lots of time before the reservation), was not open. Subsequent information indicates that this is a case of the reduced hours to which so many are finding themselves subject because of the staffing shortages. That's a bummer, but I'm glad it isn't a case of them not having reopened at all.

Brigtsen's describes its location as a "Victorian cottage." We climbed the stairs of the porch (and stepped over the cat sleeping on the mat, who looked at us surlily, as if to say "I am SLEEPING and trying to think of nothing but MURDER here" ), fairly salivating by this point. Inside, the space is long and relatively narrow. A hallway runs the length of the left-hand side of the building. The host stand is at the front, just inside the entrance, and the bathroom is at the rear. On your way to the latter, you can see the bar and a bit of the kitchen.

When we were there on our honeymoon, the hallway was packed with walk-ins and those who'd arrived early for reservations. This time, the dining rooms hadn't yet filled up by the time of our 7:30 reservation. We were at a six-top in one of the front dining rooms. I think there are 3.1 dining rooms total (the room in which we were seated has a kind of annex with just a few tables that is at the very front of the house). The rooms aren't large. In ours, the six-top dominated, and there were probably 3 tables for two and possibly one or two set for four? (Please bear in mind that this was almost three weeks and a lot of alcohol ago.) My memory is that the center dining room is a bit larger, probably housing 10 tables, and another smaller room at the back.

The rooms are comfortable and homey, rather than sleek. The wallpaper has a dense, but not overbearing, pattern; there are china knicknacks on the walls and on the mantles of the fireplaces. The tables are close together, but there's not any feeling of crowding or loss of privacy, just enough closeness that diners could share conversation if they were so inclined.

I made a tactical error in being the first to order my drink. I went with the sazerac, thinking it would be useful as a point of comparison with Arnaud's. But that was before I knew that they had The Ultimate Sidecar as their drink special for the evening. AMB was the proud winner of that award, but was kind enough to share. Seriously that sidecar was DOPE.

Because we're morons, we forgot to take a copy of the menu (which changes daily) with us. I'll try to recreate all meals from memory. The gumbo of the day was alligator/duck. The meat and flavor were exquisite. It was a bit on the thin side for a Frank gumbo (he uses filé powder AND a dark roux), but still delicious. At least some of our party had the butternut shrimp bisque, which was quite to die for, as well. I don't know what the secret is of making something so creamy completely delicious but not at all heavy. Whatever secret it is, it's a dangerous one, and I salute it.

For my appetizer, I had delicious, delicious pan-fried rabbit with a creole mustard. It's not on the sample menu and when I search for more adjectives to describe, I keep coming up drool. It was so good, I didn't even miss the frog legs (much), and I'd held off on those at Arnaud's hoping that I'd get to have Frank's again. M, I believe, had the catfish, which is on the sample menu, and was also phenomenal (no doubt attributable to the fact that farm-raised catfish are DEAD to Frank, and not in an "in the pan" way). I'm going to go out on a limb and say that either AKS or J had the pate, but I did not sample it. I am tragically blanking on the appetizers of others, but there was a decidedly promiscuous approach to them at the table, so I'm thinking it's safe to say that they were all awesome.

For entrees, we had some doubling up. KJ and I were unable to resist the siren song of the tuna listed on the sample menu: a huge piece of incredibly fresh tuna done to a turn, with a smokey, creamy, tart sauce that matched it beautifully. I was very sad to see the last chunk of it go, but I knew I had to save room for dessert.

M and J decided to ride to hell by way of heaven on half a duck. Now, they were warned that they would, indeed, be receiving half a duck each. This did not stop the exclamations of "Crivens! That's HALF A DUCK" from being sent up from our table. If it were not terribly gauche, I might have asked for a meal consisting entirely of the delicious crispy duck skin. Bonus points for the cracklicious cornbread dressing, too.

AMB went for the seafood platter on my orders (I had that when last we were there, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. All the seafood I've eaten that wasn't that seafood platter meant nothing to me. I was thinking of it the whole time.) The funny thing is the staff is under orders to reassure you that the platter is actually comparable, in terms of sheer volume of food, to the rest of the entrees, even though it looks like you're eating your way to Atlantis. Of course, you're still eating your way to Atlantis, despite the tasting portions on the plate. The cornbread-y thingy on this platter was a particular stand out.

And AKS had the paneed rabbit for her entree. It's basically breaded lightly and flash pan-fried, which gives it a very light, but nicely crisp texture. And with rabbit, that's also a recipe for juicy, succulent perfection. I think she had spinach or other greens in a dill mustard to finish it, but I'm not positive. However, it was delicious enough to defeat most of her guilt over eating bunny, I believe.

Desserts are also somewhat hazy, but I'm not going to blame the alcohol this time. I'm going to blame the cake. The delicious, light, deceptively not filling, moist perfection of double-chocolate cakeness. The one down side to it is it made me feel like I was cheating on Susan Goss's Devil's Food Cake. I'm sorry. I love you both equally. We're just going to have to move to Utah.

M's fidelity was also called into question on the tres leches front. You see, Tecalitlan has the best comfort tres leches in the world, and Salpicón has the best upscale tres leches cake in the world. How, then, could Frank's tres leches place without turning us into dirty tres leches polygamists? By being entirely different, and still delicious. I love it when a plan comes together.

I believe that KJ had the pecan pie with caramel sauce. That, of course, has become "our" pecan pie, but apparently we now need to shake someone down for the caramel sauce recipe. The adorable, darling AKS got the sorbets, I think, and I seem to recall one particularly awesome one, but I'm damned if I recall the flavor. And I think we skipped the creme brulee altogether (although it's possible that J had it, and I was just too busy singing "Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!" to my cake), because we're rebels.

If into every dinner a little rain must fall, our rain was the banana bread pudding, ordered by AMB. Now, of course, banana bread pudding sounds to me like a dual mistake right on the face of it. But were I going to try it anywhere, it would be at Brigtsen's. Unfortunately, it looked as if we weren't going to get to try it at all when it didn't arrive with the rest of our desserts or even shortly thereafter. When we gently reminded our server, she was extremely apologetic and comped the dessert. And after all the sturm and drang, it was pronounced good, but not great by those not repulsed by banana-flavored things.

After dessert and excellent coffee, we rolled back to our hotels along a route much more familiar to M and me. Although my dearest wish was to then sink into a bed and hibernate until my meal was used up entirely, we had to move our things to the third floor and to what turned out to be a much more sensibly arranged suite for four people.

On the morn, I'd fully intended to get up for a paper at around 9:30ish, but my body stubbornly refused such a proposition. By the time I rolled out of bed a little after 10 and got dressed, J had long since departed for the sessions. I decided that I'd get some grading done and, miraculously, did. (And yet, I'm still playing catch up on that front.) In the early afternoon, we put in a call to AMB and KJ and arranged to meet up with them at Jackson Square for lunch, where I had an awesome jambalaya omelette at the River's Edge Cafe.

I will expound more on the rest of Day 4 later, but now I must adjourn to attend M's graduation at Old Town.

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