Johnny Sanchez-Food that hits close to the heart!

After another full day of eating, drinking and shopping in and around the French Quarter, it was time for dinner. If you are on a diet and decide to go to New Orleans, do yourself a favor, and leave the diet at home. We watch the Food Network quite a bit at home and had to go to one of our favorite chef’s restaurants. His name is Aaron Sanchez and his restaurant is Johnny Sanchez.

Johnny Sanchez is a fantastic upscale Mexican restaurant located in the business district of New Orleans. It’s modern, but very inviting and lively. The staff were incredibly friendly and enjoyed our passion for food. The decor was stunning. The chandeliers were funky and beautiful. There was a large mural on one wall that was just breathtaking. It was truly a beautiful restaurant and yes, you need to put this on your to-do list when you visit New Orleans. We were so excited about having dinner here. The only downside was that Chef Sanchez wasn’t present this evening. We really wanted to meet him. You owe us a visit Chef Sanchez next time we visit!

We started with their wonderful plantain and nacho chips with salsa. It was delicious, and they did not skimp on the chips. The salsa was perfect. It had a wonderful smoky flavor that you almost wanted to eat by itself. And of course for our drinks, we ordered a pitcher of margaritas. It was probably the largest pitcher of margaritas we’ve ever seen, and it was so good. We tried our best to finish it but couldn’t.

For our appetizer, we ordered the Yellowtail Ceviche. It was served with cucumber, tomato, avocado, habanero-passion fruit, and crispy hominy. It was wonderful. For our entrees, I ordered the arroz con pollo. It’s grilled chicken, crispy rice, cotija, avocado and serrano. It was so good! The level of flavors and the crispy rice were to die for. They served such a large portion that I count finish it. But luckily, I took it back to our hotel and had it for a snack later. Eric ordered two different tacos. He got the carne asada, which is wood-grilled skirt steak, pickled jalapeño, guacamole, and pico de gallo. His other taco was the Albondigas which was Chef Sanchez’s grandmothers’ meatballs, chipotle, queso fresco, and pickled onion. Both of these tacos were absolutely fantastic. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly layered flavors, these were without question, the best tacos we have ever eaten.

We almost passed on dessert until we found out that one item on the menu was flan. Eric was born in Puerto Rico and when there is flan on the menu, we have to try it and compare it to how his grandmother and mother made it. It’s a tall challenge and most of the time, the restaurant’s flan fall short. They are either too sweet or it doesn’t have enough flavor. How would Johnny Sanchez’s flan measure up? A quick lesson on flan for those who never heard of it before. Flan is a caramel or custard dessert with a layer of clear caramel sauce. It’s a staple in Latin and Caribbean cuisine.

So, back to our dessert. The flan was served to us with toasted coconut and milk chocolate. The flan itself was, in Eric’s words, perfect. He asked our server if his mother was back in the kitchen making it. It was that good. Food is an emotion and conjures up the past. It’s a part of who we are and where we are from. It defines our culture and heritage. Eric was actually tearing up while eating it. He talked about visiting Puerto Rico as a child and staying with his grandparents. He remininced about the food and flavors of the island, and how good his grandmother and mother were cooking delicous foods for their family. Our server was so touched by the emotions that the dessert evoked in us, she brought out the chef and we got to meet him. Eric gave him a great big hug! It was beautiful. I almost started crying.

I want to say to Chef Aaron Sanchez and the entire staff at Johnny Sanchez, thank you. Thank you so much for not just serving us a wonderful dinner, but giving us an experience like no other. Watching Chef Sanchez on the Food Networks’s hit show, “Chopped”, we see how passionate he is when it comes to food and cooking. That passion was passed down this evening on us. A good meal should make you happy. It should make you remember of who you are, those that came before you, and what they sacrificed to put food on the table for their families. It should make you proud of your heritage. Johnny Sanchez did all that and more. Gracias por una cena maravillosa!

Happy hour in the French Quarter: Day Two!

After a wonderful breakfast at Willa Jean, we walked back towards the French Quarter. As luck would have it, we had to pass by the historic Roosevelt Hotel. Well, we planned to go here ahead of time. The hotel and lobby are breathtaking. It’s been a hotel under different names for 125 years. The detailing and golden era theme is present everywhere. There is a magnificent time piece in the lobby that was displayed at the Paris Exhibitions of 1867 and 1878. It is an absolute must visit when you are in New Orleans. Inside the Roosevelt Hotel, there is another historic must see, the Sazerac Bar.

The Sazerac Bar is named after what some consider to be the world’s first mixed drink. The ingredients in a Sazerac are rye whiskey or cognac, absinthe, a sugar cube and Peychaud bitters. If you have never tried it before, I recommend it. It’s a wonderful, historic cocktail. The bar is on one of the most beautiful we have ever visited. There are wonderful murals throughout, and the wood bar is African walnut. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

We got here right when they opened so we had the place to ourselves. Our wonderful bartender, Matthew, was incredibly nice. Of course, the first cocktail we ordered was the sazerac. It was strong but delicious. Eric had a second one but I decided to order a cosmopolitan. I use this drink as a measuring stick to see just how good a bartender is at their craft. It’s an easy drink to make, but some make it too sweet. If I get a perfect cosmopolitan, then I know the bartender knows what they are doing! My drink was perfect. It wasn’t syrupy sweet. It had the right balance of flavors.

We were having such a wonderful time. We didn’t want to leave, but the day was young, and there were other bars we needed to visit. We finally parted ways but we will definitely be back next time we are in New Orleans.

 

We were back in the French Quarter, and headed to another wonderful historic hotel and bar. The Hotel Monteleone houses the Carousel Bar and Lounge. Yes, it’s a real carousel that seats 25 people and rotates every 15 minutes. It’s a fun place and one that you have to visit. When we arrived, the carousel bar was packed so we got a table in the beautiful lounge.

We just ordered one cocktail each. I got the Brazilian Punch, which was made with Amburana, Nocello, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice, agave nectar, and Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters. It was delicious! All these flavors just blended together so well. Eric ordered the Vieux Carre. It is the signature cocktail of the Carousal Bar, and was created in 1938. Eric loves history, and when you can mix cocktails with history, he is all in! His was made with sazerac rye whiskey, Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Berto red vermouth, Benedictine, angostura and Peychaud bitters. It was amazing. Another cocktail with so many ingredients, but it all worked and it was delicious.

The hotel and bar is a must see when you go to New Orleans. If you want a seat at the carousel bar, you have to go early because it fills up quickly. The service and staff were super friendly. The lounge area was beautiful. This is another place we will definitely visit again when we go back.

 

Our next stop was yet again another historic bar and restaurant. That’s the thing we loved about New Orleans. The amount of history here is amazing, and it’s everywhere. It was time to visit the birthplace of the Grasshopper. Welcome to Tujague’s.

Going to Tujague’s is like stepping back in time. I could write an entire article just about the history of this place, but please make sure you visit their website and see for yourself. The Grasshopper is a sweet, mint-flavored after-dinner drink. The name of the drink is from the green color, which comes from the crème de menthe. The cocktail originated at Tujague’s in 1918, and was invented by its owner, Philip Guichet.

Needless to say, the Grasshopper was the first thing we ordered. It was everything we expected and more. It was minty, sweet and delicious. When you are at the birthplace of a drink, the standards need to be high. Tujague’s did not disappoint. At this time, we were getting a bit hungry and decided to get a snack. We ordered their charbroiled oysters and their gumbo.

The oysters were good but could have been cooked just a bit longer. The gumbo was fantastic. It was full of flavor and spice. It was perhaps the best gumbo we had so far on our trip. Would we come here again? Absolutely! Tujague’s is a New Orleans must place that you visit. It’s cozy and the history is very prevalent. Make sure you put this on your list of places to visit when you go to New Orleans.

 

We had one more bar to visit before dinner. If you love history, cocktails, and bars, you absolutely have to visit this next place. Located in Bourbon Street, it is the oldest bar in America. Welcome to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar.

Lafitte was a pirate and a hero of the Battle of New Orleans. I’ll leave it up to you to read up on him. Please make sure you do so. He had a colorful past, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading about him. The bar was built between 1722 and 1732 by Nicolas Touze, and is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. If you love bars, this is a place you have to visit.

Lafitte’s Bar is located on Bourbon Street about several blocks above the epicenter of the Bourbon Street craziness. It’s located in a quieter section of Bourbon Street but when you get there, you will be glad you made the journey. The decor inside is very minimal. There is a lot of exposed wood and brickwork. The lighting was very low to add to the charm and history of the place. It’s a very old structure and the bar kept to that theme. We loved it! We got one drink, since it was getting late, we had to get back to our hotel and get ready for dinner. We were venturing outside the French Quarter for dinner tonight, but for a good reason. We were dining at a very famous chef’s restaurant. Stay tuned for our fantastic, Masterchef?!, dinner….

 

Willa Jean-The queen of biscuits!

A new day dawned in the French Quarter. We had survived our first day! Our itinerary was basically the same as yesterday. We would have breakfast, then continue to explore the fantastic restaurants and shops in the French Quarter. Our same friend that recommended Bayona for dinner, also recommended Willa Jean for breakfast. She swore that they had the best biscuits in the city. And you what to know something? She was right!

Willa Jean is located just outside the French Quarter, in the business district of New Orleans. The restaurant decor is beautiful. It’s rustic, yet modern, but also cozy and inviting. The staff, like everyone in New Orleans that we had encountered so far, were super friendly. We were ready for a hearty breakfast because we had a list of bars and happy hours that we needed to check out today. Willa Jean did not disappoint.

If you want a delicious, flavorful, and super filling breakfast, you have to come here. Everything was absolutely fantastic. We decided to start with a bottle of cava. Here’s a tip, ordering a bottle is usually cheaper than ordering by the glass, depending on how much you plan on drinking of course. The cava really good. For those who don’t know, cava is Spanish champagne or sparkling wine. If you have never tried it, I highly recommend it. For an appetizer, I ordered their granola, yogurt, and seasonal fruit snack. It was delicious. It was the perfect portion and well balanced. It was a nice little pick me up to start off the day.

Our entrees were absolutely stunning. Willa Jean is famous for their biscuits and we now saw why. I ordered the sausage, egg, pimento cheese and biscuit dish. The presentation was beautiful. A perfectly cooked sunny side up egg, over a sausage patty that was the size of a hamburger, all over a perfectly golden brown biscuit. It was delicious! The sausage was very well seasoned and the biscuit was so light and flaky. It was perfect.

Eric ordered the WJ Breakfast. It was two eggs any style, cheese grits, bacon and a biscuit. This was truly a work of art. Like my plate, everything was cooked perfectly. The cheese grits were simply amazing. They were smooth and creamy. I recommend you do what he did. Cut that beautiful biscuit in two, put an egg on each half, add a slice of bacon, and pour some cheese grits all over it. Each bite was a slice of heaven.

Once again, our friend’s recommendation was a smashing success. Willa Jean has it all. It’s in a nice spot in the business district, the food is absolutely delicious, and the staff are among the friendliest you will ever encounter. This place is an absolute must when you visit New Orleans.

Once we were finished with our breakfast, we decided to walk it off to our next destination. We were heading back towards the French Quarter but we had to stop at one place in particular. Stay turned readers. Our second day is just getting started!

 

Bayona-The perfect dinner to end a perfect day!

After a whirlwind of food and drinks on our first day in the French Quarter, it was finally time to slow down a bit and enjoy a relaxing dinner. We were really excited about trying this next restaurant that came highly recommended from a friend of ours. The restaurant is Bayona, and if you ever go to New Orleans, you absolutely have to dine here.

Bayona is a cozy, romantic restaurant, located just a couple of blocks from Bourbon Street. It opened in 1990 by Regina Keever and James Beard Award winning chef Susan Spicer. The restaurant is beautiful! It’s situated in a 200-year old Creole cottage, and you can dine inside in their lovely dining room, or outside in their beautiful courtyard.

We started out with an appetizer of duck rillette that was delicious. It was made with duck, mostarda, pickles, mustard and crostini. I also ordered a bottle of 2012 Pierre Gaillard Domaine Cottebrune Faugeres that was bold and sumptuous. It paired beautifully with our duck and the rest of the meal.

For our entrees, I ordered the seared sea scallops that came with a Thai green curry sauce, petit bok choy stir-fry and papaya nuoc cham. To this day, I am still thinking about this dish. The sear on the scallops was perfect. The Asian flavors incorporated into the dish was perfect. These may have been the best scallops I have ever tasted. Eric went traditional southern flair and ordered the Spanish sausage stuffed rabbit roulade. This came with romanesco, escarole, romesco and a lemon-olive jus. The presentation was stunning and it tasted amazing. The rabbit just melted in you mouth. Both dishes were fantastic.

For dessert, we kept it liquid, and ordered a glass of 20-year old madeira. It was, hands down, the best madeira we have ever tasted. It was smooth and flavorful, but not syrupy sweet. It was a wonderful way to end a great dinner.

We immediately fell in love with Bayona, and understood why it came so highly recommended. The decor is beautiful, inside and out. There is one wall that is covered with awards and press clippings touting the restaurant’s deserved success. As we were leaving, Eric asked the hostess if Chef Susan Spicer was in house tonight or would be around while we were visiting. As luck would have it, Bayona has a champagne lunch for a limited time on certain days of the week, and that Chef Spicer would be at the restaurant for lunch on Thursday. Needless to say, we made a reservation right then and there! We were both very excited that we were going to be able to meet Chef Spicer in a couple of days!

 

Happy Hour in the French Quarter: Day One!

There is no shortage when it comes to food and drink options in the French Quarter. There is something for every palate. Bourbon Street is probably the most famous street here because of it’s party atmosphere, inexpensive food and drinks. For our happy hour excursion, we chose a different route. On our first day, we stayed away from Bourbon Street, and found some amazing restaurants to lounge about for a cocktail or two.

It was a warm 75 degrees outside and it felt like spring. We were actually a little hot and craved a tall, cool drink. Since we were at Jackson Square, we decided to duck into a wonderful restaurant, Cafe Pontalba. It’s located in a beautiful building that dates back to the 1800’s. We stepped up to the bar and ordered the Cajun Cooler, which is a mix of vodka, orange juice, pineapple juice, and a splash of Midori melon liquor. We also ordered the Voodoo Juice, which is a blend of four Malibu flavored rums and fresh fruit juices. It was just what the doctor ordered! They both were big, full of flavor, and cooled us off perfectly. They were so good, that we ordered two more Cajun Cooler’s to-go. Yes, to-go. As long as your drink is in a plastic cup, you can take it anywhere.

 

For our next stop, we decided to go back to Brennan’s. Their breakfast was so good, that we had to give their champagne happy hour a try. This place is an absolute must when you visit. The bar area is beautiful and the staff are super friendly. I ordered the Mr. Funk, named after the former cellar-master, which consisted of sparkling wine with cranberry and Combier peach liquor. Eric ordered the champagne cocktail, which consisted of sparkling wine and a bitters soaked demerara sugar cube. Both were delicious and refreshing.

We figured that it would be a good idea to eat some food, so we ordered their duck confit poutine. It was fantastic and paired perfectly with our bubbly cocktails. The dish was a mix of duck, hand cut fries, cheese curds, bacon, kimchi, togarashi and sambal. We decided that we didn’t want to over do it, and there were still so many places we wanted to try. On to our next spot!

 

Another famous restaurant in the French Quarter that is a must visit is Broussard’s. The restaurant and bar are simply stunning. There is also a beautiful outdoor courtyard that one could easily spend hours sitting and enjoying the great weather and drinks. Since we just enjoyed a bubbly happy hour at Brennan’s, we decided to stay the course and order a couple glasses of the Ruffino prosecco. It was light and refreshing. It felt so good sitting outside and sipping on a great prosecco. This is one place that we will definitely return to and have a proper dinner.

 

Our final happy hour stop on day one was at the Bombay Club. This was a beautiful restaurant and bar known for nightly live music and fantastic drinks. It was different from any place we had visited so far. The other restaurants and bars were bright, light and full of French flair. The Bombay Club was very English, low lit, and had warm dark woods throughout. We just decided to get one cocktail each since we had a dinner reservations coming up this evening. I ordered the Champagne Cheryl that consisted of cava, peach puree, cranberry and strawberry. It was wonderful. Eric ordered the Churchill Martini. It was made with Gordon’s gin, Noilly Prat and Regan’s bitters. It was strong but delicious. This is also on our list of places we need to go back to when we visit the French Quarter. We wish we could have returned later in the evening, sit back, and listen to some great live jazz music but time got away from us. We’ll be back!

 

That’s a wrap for our first day of happy hour bars. All the places we visited were wonderful, and I highly recommend that you visit them as well. At some places, we stayed longer than others, but all of them were great. We worked up an appetite so it was finally time for dinner. That will be my next post. Stay tuned!

Tiffany

New Orleans: An introduction to food and drink in the French Quarter!!!!

As a majority of you know, and for those now joining my blog as followers, that I love food. Pick a cuisine, and I will give you the experience of a lifetime! Pair any food item with wine or cocktails, and I will either destroy your liver, or slowly guide you to heaven. New Orleans can be characterized as a food and drink mecca. There is no such thing as one cuisine that reign’s supreme. There are dozens! From cheap bites of poutine, to the elegantly plated scallop, from flambé to drink’s to-go, welcome to New Orleans!

New Orleans is a city that is so rich in history and culture. It is a melting pot of flavors. You have your pick of southern, cajun, African, Caribbean, American, and French cuisine all in one spot. I’m sure I’ve left out a few more but you get the idea. The best thing is that you can find all this and so much more in the city’s French Quarter section. It’s known for Mardi Gras and non-stop partying but if you look beyond that, it has so much more to offer.

When we arrived in the French Quarter, we were quite hungry and ready to eat some great food. Our first stop was at the renowned Brennan’s Restaurant for a wonderful breakfast. It is located in a home that was built in 1795 on Royal Street. It is absolutely beautiful. There is a wonderful bar and restaurant on the first floor, and several smaller private dining areas on the second floor. Like many restaurants in the French Quarter, they also have an outdoor courtyard that you can dine in or simply relax with a drink.

We started out with a couple of cocktails. I ordered the Sparkling Pear, that was made with fresh pear juice, St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur and sparkling wine. Eric ordered their Brandy Milk Punch that was made with brandy, heavy cream, vanilla bean and nutmeg. Not a bad way to start our trip! Both drinks were delicious. Oh, and we had to order a pot of coffee. Not just regular coffee, but single estate-grown Congregation Coffee, roasted just for Brennan’s, French pressed, and with chicory. Having chicory in your coffee is a must in the French Quarter.

For our appetizer, we split an amazing Egg Yolk Carpaccio that included grilled shrimp, crispy sweet potato and an andouille vinaigrette. It was so good! The level of flavors was simply stunning. Mixing the egg yolk with the shrimp and sweet potato was something we had never had before.

For our entrees, we ordered the Eggs Sardou and the Eggs Cardinal. The Eggs Sardou came with crispy artichokes, parmesan creamed spinach in a chyron sauce. The Eggs Cardinal came with crispy shrimp boudin, spinach, lobster cardinal in a black truffle hollandaise. If both sound incredible, that’s because they were simply delicious. The eggs were cooked perfectly. The crispy shrimp and artichokes were lightly fried and tasted wonderful, especially with the rich egg yolk covering them.

When we were finished, our wonderful server, Michael, took us on a quick tour of the upstairs dining rooms. It was absolutely beautiful! Each room is decorated tastefully and with items of past Mardi Gras celebrations. He was very knowledgeable and it was a great history lesson!

This was truly a fantastic way to start our visit to New Orleans. The food and drinks at Brennan’s was amazing. The staff were so friendly and the building was steeped in history and tradition. You have to go to Brennan’s if you ever visit the French Quarter. We will be back!

 

Ardiente: Ignite the New Year!!!

There are so many choices where to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia. We weren’t quite sure what we would be doing until Ardiente came to the rescue. If you haven’t read by now, Ardiente is one of our favorite restaurants. Located in the charming old city section of Philadelphia, the food, drinks and service are second to none. We have come to know just about everybody on staff, and they treat us like family whenever we come here. They are an amazing group of people that work here, and we are so lucky to have this restaurant in our city.

So, back to New Year’s Eve. Ardiente put together a celebration that no other restaurant could compare. The party started at 9:30 pm and went to 2 am. There were dancers and a deejay cranking out party music all night. There was an open bar for two hours, and a complementary champagne toast at midnight. The staff went around with horns, beads and hats, basically everything you needed to ring in the new year. Hungry? Not a problem. How does a 13 course chef’s tasting menu sound? Yes, I said 13 courses and everything was delicious. Settle in and get ready to go on a culinary journey like never before. I love this restaurant.

We began the night with one of our favorite cocktails, the Pisco Sour. These are to die for! The aroma, presentation and taste are just stunning. We could drink these all night except for one thing, all of their cocktails are amazing so you can’t just stop at one! We next ordered the Contessa and Cafe Sazerac. Both cocktails came with flamed orange oil and our hostess lit the place up, literally. It was quite a site.

It was time for the food to make an appearance. We started off with the pickled jicama and house made kimchi. Next up was a wonderful house salad with a light dressing. After that, one of our favorites, their traditional ceviche, which is the fish of the day, leche de tigre and tostones was served. This dish is delicious. Eric always says that the tostones are the best he’s tasted outside of Puerto Rico. He should know since he was born there. Next up was a simply amazing chilled octopus salad. The char flavor you tasted on the octopus was simply divine. It came with fennel, hearts of palm, cilantro and red onion. In one word, it was simply stunning. It’s the best octopus salad in the city in my opinion.

After a short break, the food just kept coming, although they did make sure to pace the arrival of the dishes so you didn’t feel like you were being bombarded all at once. Next up was a simply heavenly pork adobo bun. Words can’t do justice to describe how amazing this was. The bun was a soft, light wrap that just caressed the pork, and absorbed the wonderful juices and spices. It was fantastic. After that, we were served a shrimp and calamari tempura. They used just enough batter so it wasn’t heavy. The next dish was a wonderful short rib lo mein. It was covered beautifully in sauce, and the short rib just melted in your mouth. This was more than enough food to satisfy anyone, but we we were only half way into our courses.

Let’s now take a break from the food for a moment and get back to some cocktails. I ordered their wonderful Szechuan Sangria, and Eric ordered an Old Fashioned. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the best sangria I’ve ever tasted in the city. It’s made with blended red wine, Grand Mariner, brandy, Chinese five spice Szechuan peppercorn syrup, fresh apples, oranges and Asian pears. See why I think it’s the best? Alright, time for more food!

Next up, we were served a delicious cornish hen leg and thigh that was moist and juicy on the inside yet the skin was crisp and cooked perfectly. The next dish was cauliflower served with chilis and pecans. It was so good that it just melted in our mouths. We’re not even close to being done yet. The next dish served was a wonderful seared scallop paired with quinoa and cranberries. It was light but balanced perfectly with the char of the scallop. Alright, time for another break and more drinks!

I finally got around to ordering one of my favorites cocktails, an espresso martini. It’s so good that it actually makes me tear up. It’s made with fresh espresso, so fresh, that you can smell the coffee flavor before you drink one drop. Eric ordered the Hotel Nacional which is made with his favorite rum, Don Q Anejo. It was finally getting close to midnight, so it was time for the champagne toast and celebrating the new year.

Some of the final dishes that were served to us was an incredible filet mignon cooked to perfection. It just melted in your mouth, and you didn’t need a steak knife to cut it because it was so tender and juicy. They also brought out charred Brussel sprouts and dessert. By this point, we were so full that we couldn’t eat anymore. Actually, we pretty much stopped eating awhile back. Our servers were so nice that they boxed everything up for us to take home.

We had some more cocktails, celebrated the new year, and had more cocktails. To summarize the evening, it was the best New Year’s Eve celebration we’ve ever experienced. Everything was planned out and done to perfection by the entire restaurant staff at Ardiente. Before we left, we both went back to the kitchen and had to thank everyone for a wonderful meal. The food, drinks and service at Ardiente are always perfect. We really hope that they have another New Year’s Eve celebration for 2020. We’ll definitely be back and I hope you all will join us! Thank you again to everyone at Ardiente for making New Year’s Eve so special.