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"Ain't No City Like New Orleans"--New Orleans Journal Episode One

April in Paris? How about April in one of the most incredible cities in the world--a city rich with history, redolent with aromas of exotic cuisine, and resounding with jazz-- New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is a magical place, and it calls like the Sirens to all who have lived there or who dream of living there.

April in New Orleans means the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, the French Quarter Food and Music Festival, the annual Jazz Heritage  Festival which begins April 23, and, this year, the debut of the HBO series Treme’ set in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The show, which will run for ten weeks and has already been renewed for a second season, will air its third episode on Sunday, April 26. The writers,David Simon and Eric Overmyer, have aimed for verisimilitude in their portrayal of the Faubourg Treme and have used residents and local musicians whenever possible. The show’s staff of professional consultants includes journalist Lolis Eric Elie  (Faubourg Treme) and  Tom Piazza (Why New Orleans Matters) as well as chefs, entrepreneurs, and long time residents of New Orleans. New Orleans is not just coming back, it is back!  (photo of Sally, Pete, and me at Jackson Square taken by Randy)

During the second week of April, Randy and I had the pleasure of spending a long, luxurious weekend at the River House, an 1850s Creole-style plantation home in the Faubourg Marigny a few blocks from the French Quarter. Faubourg Marigny is a hip, bohemian neighborhood just down river from the French Quarter. It is reminiscent of what the French Quarter used to be a generation or so ago. In addition to a few small hotels and B&Bs, Marigny has a number of good restaurants and some of the best music venues. Part of the city’s high ground, it escaped the worst of the post-Katrina disaster.

River House, which has been lovingly restored by owners and proprietors Csaba Lukacs and David Lummis, is composed of three elegant and exquisitely furnished apartments. The first floor, or garden apartment where we stayed, is as large as the main floor of my house and has every amenity one could image, including a dining area, a large and cheerful kitchen, and a spacious bath. The back door of the apartment opens onto a breezeway leading to a lush tropical garden filled with brilliant flowers, green plants, and succulents, a fish pond with a small waterfall, and a heated swimming pool.(photo of gazebo and pond in garden)

The second floor of the home, or gallery apartment, has its own entrance and opens onto an expansive balcony overlooking the quiet street. Both the living room and large dining room of the second floor are furnished with antiques as is most of the house. The garret apartment is decorated in a more retro fashion, befitting a loft apartment. It also has a kitchen and a huge tiled shower bath, plus a lovely view of the river or the city from the garret windows. We found it hard for us to leave the peaceful oasis of River House each morning, but the city beckoned.

With free music and delicious food everywhere for three full days, in addition to the most glorious weather one could ask for, New Orleans lived up to its name, The Big Easy. We dined on gumbo made with a rich dark roux, cold fresh oysters, and shrimp remoulade with fried green tomatoes at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, enjoyed a marvelous three course dinner at Galatoire’s (more on that in another episode), ate fried oysters Po' boys and fried oysters Eggs Benedict (one of my favorite dishes) as well as andouille sausage and etouffee. We sampled a host of other New Orleans signature dishes. New Orleans is all about food, music, and living life with gusto.

I have yet to mention the book that David Lummis is writing entitled The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, or visiting the urban garden (actually gardens) of my childhood friend Dr. Brobson Lutz and meeting John Berendt, or sipping Armagnac on Brobson’s patio at his home on Dumaine Street after our dinner at Galatoires, or our visit with the photographer Louis Sahuc. All these stories and more will be featured in the upcoming episodes of my New Orleans Journal. (photo of me in one of Brobson's garden)

Don’t miss my descriptions of the food. I am so passionate about food that other diners have been known to signal the server and say, as a patron did in the movie When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having!”

----Penne J. Laubenthal

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