Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael: I ate your brother. Or sister. Possibly both. And it was delicious.
When I walked into Muriel’s on Jackson Square, I felt a tad under dressed. My first impression was of chandeliers, cloth napkins and tablecloths, the kind of architectural embellishments and decorations you see in very old buildings, and a slightly expensive menu. They were accustomed to tourists, so they gracefully ignored my jeans as they placed a napkin in my lap. They also described themselves as “Casual Fine Dining,” which in my opinion was a contradiction in terms. So, I didn’t feel too badly about my attire. I was pleased to learn that locals also thoroughly enjoyed the fare at Muriel’s, which made it an even better splurge. My new friend and I feasted on shared appetizers, one of which was the turtle soup. A New Orleans classic. It was decadent, with a dark roux base, and an extra shot of sherry. It was probably the best turtle soup I’ve had in New Orleans. But I couldn’t help but think that I was letting down the Ninja Turtles. Even when I visit New York City and walk over street grates, I think: “hi boys! Are you down there? Need a pizza?” Child of the 80’s and 90’s, through and through. My new friend was not born and bred in New Orleans, but shared her Katrina story with me, and also the story of the New Orleans aquarium after the storm, which made me fan my eyes and face like a single girl at a wedding. I’m not going to get into the stories, but they touched my heart.
My next New Orleans seafood experiment gave me some serious shellshock (ba-dum-dum). I was on a date at the Blind Pelican in the Garden District. Yes, I had a date after about 10 days living here – I’m outgoing (sorry, Mom and Dad). We were meeting for an oyster happy hour, and I was excited, but a little nervous. Not necessarily about the date. I’ve had oysters several times, and gotten very sick twice after having raw oysters. I’m not sure if it’s an allergy, and I’m not similarly affected by other shellfish or raw food.
We ordered a dozen raw and a dozen chargrilled, and split them. I drank a local blonde ale to accompany my portion of the oysters. The raw oysters were delicious, cold and huge. The chargrilled were hot, buttery and rich. The conversation was ok, but definitely more of a getting-to-know-you vibe. Nothing too riveting. I thought I was just getting uncomfortably full, and unbuttoned my pants when he wasn’t looking. Not the classiest of moves, but it happened, and he had no idea so I didn’t think it would matter much (although I’d like to emphasize that this is not my regular behavior). Other than that, I felt fine after the first round, so we threw caution to the wind and ordered another round!
It only took one more raw oyster for me to suddenly think “Uh oh.” I excused myself and found the bathroom as quickly as possible. I only threw up a little, but knew it was just the beginning. What a pickle! I went back to the table, and immediately got my things. “I’m so sorry, but I just got sick and I need to leave right now,” I said, as I saw that our next round of 2 dozen oysters barely had a dent, and an almost full beer was on each side of the table. I thought of offering to pay for some of it, but couldn’t decide what to do on this front. On one hand, I was in a bit of a time crunch, and on the other, I wasn’t sure if that would actually be more rude than just ditching him… as soon as possible…. My date thought I was faking and said nicely (considering the circumstances), “You know, you can tell me if you’re just not interested.” My quick answer was: “I would, I promise. I’m so sorry.” And I bolted into the night. Poor guy. Very dramatic, but when impending vomit is involved, you do what you’ve got to do.
I called an uber, and a minivan pulled up after what seemed like forever. I jumped in the back, and the driver pushed the button to remotely close the side door as we took off. It was very slick for a minivan. I told him the story of the night as we proceeded through back roads to avoid traffic. The roads in New Orleans are, for the most part, in relatively bad repair, usually due to age, flooding or invading tree roots. As we bumped along towards my apartment, I said “Dude, I’m not going to throw up in your car, but the struggle is real.” He offered to open the window, and did so after my enthusiastic response while shooting me a well-earned wary look.
I think we all know what happened next. I’ll limit my comments to assure you: I made it to my apartment, shut/locked the front door, let the dog out of her crate, and made it to the bathroom. It was ugly. That’s all I have to say about that. As an update, I went out with that guy again. Unfortunately, it was still not riveting.
Then, crawfish. Oh, lovely dirty mudbugs. I enjoy them so! And fortunately, there were a few days between the oyster incident and the crawfish: amen, hallelujah. I’ve had good “Louisiana-style” crawfish in Texas (which I assume, much like Mexican food in Texas, is highly adapted), as well as the garlic-butter wonder-zone of Asian crawfish (I’m honestly not sure which country/region, so I’m being quite broad in description). I’ve also been to a garden crawfish boil in New Orleans for St. Patrick’s Day. Let’s say it was 2 years ago, and let’s also realize that I had also been drinking considerably. What I remember (from that long ago) was great!!
In long and short, I was excited to try the fare, and got some local recommendations. It took about 2 seconds for my friends to say: Big Fisherman. Not just because it’s walking distance from my apartment, but because it’s delicious. The shop is a general seafood store next to the local grocery, Breaux Mart. It is open during the day, closes at 6 pm, and sells boiled crawfish to-go. I scouted out locations so we wouldn’t make a mess at my place, and went with visiting friends to get some crawdads.
The first thing I noticed was that it was $3.99/lb (did I mention: amen, hallelujah??). The second item of import was that there was no scale or precise assessment of spiciness. Upon inquiry, the gentleman who worked there said: it’s not really spicy but it has good flavor. My friends and I bought a total of 9 pounds (3 for me!), and we took our lined brown-paper bags down to Rendezvous, a nearby bar, upon the recommendation of the fellow behind the crawfish counter. When we arrived, I asked the bartender: “Do you mind if we eat these on your back patio, accompanied of course by your excellent libations?” That’s an approximation of what I said, but it definitely included the phrase “excellent libations.” She acquiesced as long as we cleaned up the mess. We brought our own paper towels – nothing but prepared!! Side note: good bloody mary’s.
In this instance, I overly described the journey to eating the crawfish because that was just part of the fun. But the destination was worth it. Cloves of garlic, bay leaves, and long, brown, grass-like things joined the crawfish in our to-go bags to create a symphonic level of creole goodness. I feel quite ignorant not knowing the last ingredient, but I’m admitting it, and moving on. They were not very spicy at all (although I’d lose an eye if I rubbed it during the process), but the guy was right about the flavor – bangarang.
I thought about closing this post with a comment about people who are introverted or shy, and making a metaphor about retreating, or even hiding, in shells. I considered perhaps comparing it with the benefits of being more open to possibilities and exposing yourself to the world (even if the result is that you face an evening of oyster badness), but after describing so many eating experiences, I can’t in good conscience make the cheesy segue. Plus, I’ve been a little verbose.
So, instead, let’s enjoy some quotes:
“Guess why I smile a lot. Uh, because it’s worth it?”
“All he cares about is treats and snoozing, snoozing and treats.”
(all from Marcel the Shell)
And finally, from the 1990 classic:
Michaelangelo: Hey Donny, looks like this one is suffering from SHELL shock!
Donatello: Too derivative.
Michaelangelo: Well, I guess we can really SHELL it out!
Donatello: Too cliché.
Michaelangelo: Well, it was a SHELL of a good hit!
Donatello: I like it!
— Your huckleberry