Guest blogger Kami Rice contributed this post, the first in a series of reports from New Orleans that will run on Bites.
I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when I climbed aboard the Creole to Soul junket here in the Big Easy, a place where words like Creole and Cajun are commonplace in kitchens and elsewhere. I'm Southern born and raised, but my family stock hails from the Midwest, land of casseroles and meat-and-potatoes (not to be confused with meat-and-threes, of course). My family ate Midwestern growing up. Not Creole. The burning question: Would my palate be pleased?
But if tonight was any precursor to what will follow, all fear is gone. Our little band of journalists gathered at Rambla, the restaurant connected to our very nice International House Hotel digs, for what was supposed to be just a get-the-details meal. We weren't really on the note-taking, photo-shooting, taste-testing job yet. But then out rolled dish after dish of delectableness. Granted, this particular delectableness isn't technically of the Creole variety but is produce from a contemporary French and Spanish family tree--apropos given this city's colonial history.
Sous chef Kristen Olsen greeted us during a pause in the arrival of new dishes to our tall-chaired square table and noted that "a lot of our food is technically very easy. Sourcing the food is the main thing." Chef Scott Maki, at the helm for two-thirds of the restaurant's nine months, was away for the night.
My favorites among our evening fare: Medjool dates wrapped in house-made smoked bacon and stuffed with Valdeon blue cheese and Marcona almonds. Patatas bravas (crisp spiced potatoes)--crisp in all the right places--were a sturdy vehicle for smoked paprika and salt and aioli. Gambas ajillo (garlic shrimp) were seasoned cold with salt, smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil and garlic, then roasted and finished with a bright accent of lemon and parsley.
Topped off with a stroll through the French Quarter, a snack of beignets, a ferry ride across the Mississippi and a brief tutorial about levees, we were off to auspicious start in our quest for the Soul of Creole.