Cioppino, po boys, bananas foster…it doesn’t get much better than dining in San Francisco or New Orleans. O.k., it’s easy to eat decently in both cities with a little research. It’s also very easy to have a tourist trap meal you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.
These bites are the ones that prove San Francisco and New Orleans are some of the world’s great gastronomic cities. If only I could provide the jazz and fog to each picture for a truly authentic atmosphere.
Cioppino, Pesce, San Francisco
I mean it when I say this is the best cioppino in San Francisco, a city known for the Italian fish stew that has far more worthless renditions of the stew than it should. Pesce’s version is thicker, almost a spicy tomato saffron puree, and enhanced by cubes of polenta with the seafood.
Warm Apricot Bread Pudding and Vanilla Gelato, Pesce, San Francisco
It’s hard to pick which is the better dessert. Luckily, they come together for a magical tandem of luscious, melting, sweet bread pudding, and the smoothest of gelato that sings of vanilla bean.
Oyster Po Boy, Domilise’s, New Orleans
Shrimp or Oyster? They’re both exceptional at Domilise’s when fully dressed. Perfectly fried, the oysters explode with saline juice. This was my first ever po boy. It’s all downhill from here probably.
Turtle Soup, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
A deep, soulful classic, with a mandatory spike of sherry to get the turtle to leave its shell. Get a big bowl of the turtle soup, skip the gumbo and soup of the day if it’s crab and brie (tastes of neither) bisque.
Shrimp & Tasso Henican, Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc, Five Pepper Jelly, and Pickled Okra, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
On the perfect brink of being too hot, the plump shrimp receive a salty jolt from the smoked salt ham, spice from the sauce and jelly, and a welcome funk from the okra. A perfect starter.
Bananas Foster, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Make it a trio for Commander’s. I couldn’t resist this masterpiece of tableside flambé. Even the vanilla ice cream refused to melt for a few moments.
Wood-Fired Oyster Roast, Cochon, New Orleans
The greatest 30 seconds of eating you may ever have. The most mammoth, plump oysters you may ever have. With just a light Cajun seasoning, this is every bit a New Orleans masterpiece as Jackson Square.
Chocolate Toffee Mousse Cake, Cochon, New Orleans
Rhonda Ruckman is well on her way to being one of the nation’s leading pastry chefs if she isn’t being called one already. This dish sounds like all the right tools for a dry disappointment. Guess again and again. The moist yellow cake is layered with toffee mousse and on the exterior walnuts, and a dense chocolate frosting that makes all other frostings seem like Single A. This is the Cake Big Leagues. I need this every year for my birthday.
Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg, Herbsaint, New Orleans
It sounds simple and it is simple. It is also extraordinary in the way that simple, rustic dishes in Italy provide you with la dolce vita life-changing moments. It’s the egg that is the star here, quickly poached then flash fried, the yolk remains liquid, then the rich sauce for the guanciale and perfectly al dente pasta. This is to pasta what the chocolate toffee mousse cake is to birthday cake.
Strawberry Ice, Angelo Brocato’s, New Orleans
It’s hard to pick a flavor at this outstanding Mid-City Italian grocer and gelato maker. It’s spring. It’s 92 degrees. The strawberry ice is as smooth as gelato, as refreshing as a swimming pool, and tastes more of pure, fresh strawberry than it has any right to.
Barbeque Shrimp, Pascal’s Manale, New Orleans
100 years old now and still finding the largest, most succulent shrimp of Louisiana’s waters. It’s a messy, buttery, birthday party style fun mess. Essential New Orleans.
The Gambino Sandwich, Cochon Butcher, New Orleans
The description of house meats and herb vinaigrette is no harbinger of what arrives in the Gambino. Pistolette bread serves as the base for salami cotto, sopressata, and coppa, the holy trinity of charcuterie meats, then given an addictive sweetness and zip from onions and peppers. Po boy? Muffaletta? No, the best sandwich in New Orleans is this guy. Bada bing.
Bacon Praline, Cochon Butcher, New Orleans
I’ve had outstanding bacon chocolates, bacon peanut brittle, bacon ice cream…this one ups them all. Imagine the greatest pecan pie center with very smoky bacon in place of pecans. Extraordinary taste. It’s a lot less chewy than you’d think, melting like a maple candy.
The Bandito and The Arrow in the Gale, Cure, New Orleans
The first perfectly blends the usually overkill tequila and mezcal, with a bold stroke of strawberry for a drink as delicate and immaculate as a ballerina’s step. The latter seems at first like a strawberry smoothie in a lighter body. Then the scathing ginger root essence hits, with a sprinkle of pepper, and all soothed into a brilliant, refreshing cocktail by woodsy bourbon and a fascinating quirky hit of almond grappa. Don’t bother choosing between these. It’s like picking between The Mona Lisa and The Venus di Milo for the Louvre’s masterpiece.