Pre-Cruise: The Flight from Hell

A man cooking oysters at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, LA
Our search for the best char-grilled oysters in New Orleans begins.

For whatever reason, it seems like I—a reticent flier at best, a white-knuckling ball of panic at worst—am always destined for weather-related anxiety and a rough flight every time I set out on vacation. The prior year we dealt with a hurricane off the coast of Virginia, and this trip we faced bone-freezing cold and thirty plus MPH winds.

I’m not sure what the parameters are for flying in windy conditions, but it truly felt like we were pushing the limits of safety as we took off from National Airport. It was, without doubt, the most terrifying climb out I can recall. I’m just glad this happened on our way out, because the only thing that got me through it was thinking about the amazing vacation ahead of me, and convincing myself that I was glad that the plane felt like an out of control racecar because that meant I’d be in New Orleans that much sooner.

Landing was also more exciting than one would hope, but we managed to arrive in New Orleans in (mostly) sound mind and body. We picked up our bags and set up our airport shuttle in short order, and soon we were heading to our hotel for our first night of New Orleans fun.

We stayed at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which is a monster of a hotel a little outside the French Quarter. After checking in and walking what felt like a mile to our room in a far-off tower, we decided to immediately strike out in search of an afternoon snack.

One thing we absolutely fell in love with on our last journey to New Orleans was char-grilled oysters. They are typically cooked over an open flame, with a topping of garlic-butter and parmesan or Romano cheese, sometimes with breadcrumbs. To this day, they’re probably my single favorite bite of food in the world.

Now, there’s a bit of a debate about which restaurant serves the best char-grilled oysters, and we made it our mission to try as many versions as we could squeeze in during this trip. The two top contenders, people seem to agree, are Acme Oyster House (where we’d eaten these amazing treats on our last visit) and Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (which we were hoping to sample this time around). It just so happens that there’s a Drago’s location in the Hilton, so we worked our way back through the maze of multiple buildings and placed our first oyster order of the trip.

Unfortunately, this hotel Drago’s kind of sucked. I can’t speak to the original Drago’s, located in Metairie, but we were very underwhelmed by the food at this location. The gumbo was decent, but the oysters—for which Drago’s is famous—did not come out hot, were overwhelmingly loaded with breadcrumbs, and tasted vaguely like rubber in both flavor and texture. If you end up staying at this hotel on your trip, I strongly suggest you take a short walk to the French Quarter and order oysters just about anywhere else, and you’ll likely have a better experience.

After our quick afternoon bite, we took a walk down to the quarter to enjoy our first vacation drinks. My first stop in New Orleans is always Pat O’Brien’s for a Hurricane. If you spend any time in New Orleans, you will hear everyone express some form of the following opinion: “Go to (fill in the blank restaurant) instead of Pat O’Brien’s, they have a much better Hurricane.” I am here to tell you this is utter bullshit. You can get good hurricanes at plenty of bars, but no place makes a drink that tastes like the one at Pat O’s. It’s my favorite cocktail, probably ever, and I had more than my fair share on this trip.

Favorite drink consumed, we walked across the street to one of our other favorite bars, Maison Bourbon. While this bar is on Bourbon Street, it is always very quiet (comparatively speaking) and has excellent live jazz music and no cover. They ask that you purchase one drink during each set of music, which is not really burdensome for us. Kathleen was able to grab her favorite New Orleans cocktail, the Pimm’s Cup, and we enjoyed a set of excellent jazz.

We took a short walk through Jackson Square before we headed over to K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (by famed New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme), where we had a late dinner reservation. We have one of Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks, so we were very excited to finally try his flagship restaurant. I’m happy to say that, unlike Drago’s, this meal did not disappoint. It was so good, in fact, are enthusiasm caused us to eat with no concern for taking photos.

We each tried the gumbo, which was delicious, but for us the highlight was probably the pan-fried rabbit coated in barbeque shrimp sauce (an amazing spicy garlic and butter sauce). We also loved the complimentary jalapeno bread, which was both ridiculously soft and deliciously spicy. This was definitely one of our favorite meals, in a trip full of culinary delights.

On the go for most of the day, and with the excitement of starting a cruise the following morning, we decided to make it an early night and headed back to our hotel, full of wonderful food and ready to really get this vacation underway.

Up next in cruise day 1: cruising down the mighty Mississippi.


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